Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Bread and Roses, Too

Bread and Roses, Too

Katherine Paterson
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Clarion Books, 2006   ISBN: 978-0618654796

Rosa lives in a cramped, cold, and not too clean tenement apartment in the mill town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. Her mother and sisters work in the mills and it is a hard life. There is never enough coal, or food, and the family badly needs warm clothes and boots, but until the mill owners start paying the workers a fair wage, the people have to starve and freeze in silence. Then one day they decide that they can stay silent no longer and they strike. All the mills empty and the streets fill with Italian, Lithuanian, Irish and other workers of many nationalities, united in an effort to show the mill owners that they will not accept the current wage level any longer.

Rosa is appalled by the strike, fearing that her mother and sister might get hurt or even killed by the militiamen who have been called out to keep order. Rosa’s teacher Miss Finch insists that the leaders of the strike are violent “ungodly” anarchists who have their own agenda. Rosa’s Mamma knows otherwise and Rosa feels torn between the needs of her people and her wish for peace and order. She wants nothing to do with the strike, but at the same time she cannot deny that they do indeed need “Bread and Roses, too.” They need to have more food and they need to  have“some beauty for their children, some hope."

Then, as if things are not bad enough, Rosa’s Mamma decides to send Rosa to safety – to the town of Barre, Vermont. Rosa goes to live with a kind Italian family and her life  would not be too bad except that she feels so terribly homesick. She also has to keep an eye on an incredibly difficult street urchin from home . Rosa knows very little about Jake except that he is always hungry, often sleeps in piles of trash, and is not afraid to tell whopping great big lies. She does know that Jake is carrying some dark secret around with him and she sincerely hopes he never tells her what the secret is.

This story is based on a real strike which took place in Lawrence in 1912. Many of the characters whom you meet on the pages were real people. Katherine Paterson seamlessly weaves together fact and fiction in this remarkable story. She captures the personalities of Rosa and Jake, Mamma and the others so skillfully that readers will almost be able to see them in their threadbare clothes and hear their Italian, Irish, and “native born” accents. Readers will be shocked when they discover how members of the working class lived and how badly they were treated by their employers. They will also be able to see how much such people had to suffer before change could begin to happen.