A sparkling picture-book biography of the dauntless organizer of the titular strike.
Immigrant Clara Lemlich was tiny and spoke little English, but she not only worked to support her family in a factory that made women’s clothing, but read and studied at night. When the male workers talked about a strike to protest their fearsome working conditions, they thought the girls weren’t strong enough to join them. But it was Clara who finally—in Yiddish—called for a general strike. She was arrested 17 times and beaten, but the strike won the right to unionize for workers in many factories (but not the Triangle Waist Factory, whose gruesome fire claimed 146 lives in 1911). Markel’s text is well-supported by Sweet’s watercolor, gouache and mixed-media images, some clearly based on archival photographs. What catches the heart are the bits of stitching on cloth ribbons that outline or accent some of the pages and the sweet, determined faces of these girls. They were girls indeed, some as young as 12, most in their teens and early 20s. A bibliography of primary and secondary sources and a note about the garment industry fills in some more background, including Clara’s further work in the labor movement, and the fact that 70 percent of the workers were between 16 and 25 and that most were Eastern European Jews and Italians.
Very fine indeed. (Picture book/biography. 5-9)