In 1903, 8-year-old millworkers Aiden and Gussie carry pickets demanding an end to child labor practices.
To provide needed income for their families, young children toiled 12 hours a day, six days a week in workplaces that were dangerous and demoralizing. Without access to education, they had no chance for betterment. In Kulling’s tale of protest, when union activist Mother Jones plans a 100-mile march all the way to Oyster Bay, New York, to confront President Theodore Roosevelt, Aiden and Gussie go with her. The march is arduous, with long days of walking, campouts, train rides, some recreation, and speeches that elicit moral and practical support along the way. In the end, the president refuses to meet them, and they must return home. The tale is based on true events and people; it is told here from fictional Aiden’s point of view, wide-eyed and admiring of Mother Jones, enjoying the adventure, and ever hopeful. Kulling follows the path of the march, quoting Jones extensively, but even Aiden and Gussie’s presence doesn’t really bring the events to life. The main characters are white, though there are some brown-skinned people depicted in the crowd scenes. Sala’s illustrations are much too bright and cheerful, with even the cotton mill appearing clean and airy.
Interesting but never compelling or heartfelt. (author’s note, websites) (Picture book. 7-9)