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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children's Rights. Written by Monica Kulling and illustrated by Felicita Sala. Kids Can, 2016. $18.95 ages 8 and up

"The first day of the march seemed like it would never end, but Aidan and Gussie kept each other going. All the same, they were very happy when Mother Jones shouted, "Camp time!" While the tents were being set up, Mother Jones helped some of the women make a large pot of meat-and-potato stew. It smelled heavenly."

This is a story I had not heard. I found it very interesting to read about it as part of the Citizen Kid series which I find absorbing and very informative. Now is a good time to share it, as there are so many protests and rallies occurring around the world about issues that impact many of us.

In the early 20th century those concerned with the deplorable conditions facing young children who worked in the cotton mills of Pennsylvania decided they must act to force change. The children described in this book, Aidan and Gussie, worked long hours in unpredictable and often unsafe surroundings. They earned little for the exhausting work they did. Too often, they could not attend school because their families needed the meagre wage they were paid.

Mother Jones was bent on changing that. To that end, she lead a two-week march from the mills in Kensington, Pennsylvania to Oyster Bay, New York. One hundred miles! Aidan and Gussie were invited to march with her. Mother Jones had seen the damage done to many children due to the dangers involved in the work they were doing, and she wanted President Teddy Roosevelt to know it! She hoped that along the way they would garner support from the public, and make an impact on the future for these children. President Roosevelt chose not to meet with the marchers, but they had made an impact that would result in new legislation the following year.

The journey is long and tiring. We are witness to the toll it takes, but also to the spirit of Mother Jones who works tirelessly to keep the marchers well fed, encouraged and willing to always move forward. She talks endlessly in public places as they go, always with a message about standing up for what is right at the heart of her story.

Monica Kulling adds background information following the text to encourage readers to learn more about the march, Mother Jones, and those who continue to speak out today about some of the same issues. Such stories continue to encourage young people to work in non-violent ways to make a difference. They also encourage listeners and readers to respond with empathy and a better understanding of our history and the changes we can make for the future.

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