SHUTTING OUT THE SKY: Life in the Tenements of New York 1880–1924

Deborah Hopkinson, Author . Scholastic/Orchard $17.95 (134p) ISBN 978-0-439-37590-0

This chronicle of the challenges facing immigrants in New York's teeming tenements effectively employs primary sources to place a personal face on broader historical events, helping children make sense of the impressive statistic that about 23 million people came to the U.S. between 1880–1919, with 17 million entering via New York (the book ends in 1924, with the passage of legislation that limited immigration). Hopkinson (Fannie in the Kitchen ) follows five transplants from Belarus, Italy, Lithuania and Romania who emigrated as children or teens (all of the subjects later wrote autobiographies or articles and speeches, which serve as the foundation for Hopkinson's text). Through them the author explores issues ranging from the bewilderment of greenhorns like 16-year-old Marcus, who didn't understand why his seemingly wealthy relatives ("[they] could indulge in the luxury of meat in the middle of the day") shared their apartment with half a dozen or more boarders, to the growing unrest of exploited laborers who gradually gathered the courage to agitate for better working conditions. She balances a highly readable discussion of change and reform with a look at the culture, joy and play that also characterized these vibrant communities. Throughout, period photographs ably support and highlight the text. Ages 8-12. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 12/01/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
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