Fire at the Triangle Factory
Illustrations by Mary O'Keefe Young
Ages 6 to 8
Lerner, 1996, 0-87614-868-2
Tessa and Minnie both work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory making shirtwaists for ladies who have enough money to afford the delicately made blouses. Though they come from very different backgrounds, the girls are good friends and have been working side by side in the factory since they were only ten years old.
Working in the factory is hard. The hours are long, the conditions are poor, and always there is that fear that a fire could break out. With all the sewing machine oil lying about and lots of fine fabric scraps on the floor, it is an accident waiting to happen.
On March 25th a fire does indeed break out and because no fire drill has ever been done, chaos ensues. To make it worse, the workers find that the doors to the factory have been locked and the fire escape is too dangerous to use. Minnie and Tessa end up crawling out of the work room under the tables and then trying to escape by doing down the stairs. They find themselves facing more fire. There is only one way to go and that is up - onto the roof and towards fresh air and hopefully towards help.
This simple little story about a friendship which stands firm during a terrible tragedy gives the story of the triangle shirtwaist factory fire a human and personal touch. Together these very different immigrant girls overcome their fears to find their way out of the fire and once it is over they stand together united by what they experienced. Through their story young readers can get a sense of what it was like to be an immigrant worker in New York in the early 1900's and realize how lucky we are today to have all the laws that protect workers in the workplace.
An author's note and an afterword give the historical context and background for the story explaining how the fire came to happen and what happened as a result of the tragedy.
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