Nelson departs from his usual Native American stories in this informative look at child coal miners.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, young boys worked many jobs deep underground in American coal mines. Breaker boys (possibly as young as 5) picked rock from the piles of broken-up coal, trapper boys worked doors deep underground, and spraggers stopped brakeless coal carts by jamming wooden sticks between the spokes of their wheels. In this dangerous environment, 12-year-old Conall labors as a driver of a mule named Angel, who spends her entire life underground. Conall and his older brother work to help support their family: His father’s wages are not enough. The text takes readers, Conall and Angel through a representative day, then interjects some tension with a tunnel collapse that is largely ignored by the elegant mine owner. Though slight, this storyline nonetheless works in tandem with fact boxes and sidebars to illuminate the dark and dangerous world of shaft mining. Nelson’s acrylic-paint illustrations are gritty and realistic; more evocative still are the historical photographs that appear on nearly every page.
A useful and thorough piece of work combining fiction and nonfiction, with an extensive author’s note detailing the history of coal mining. (timeline, notes, bibliography, index) (Fiction/nonfiction hybrid. 8-12)