Written By: Emily Arnold McCully
Published By: Dial Books for Young Readers
Suggested Readers: 6-10
Lowell Massachusetts was the first planned industrial city, founded entirely for the purpose of manufacturing cloth. In The Bobbin Girl, McCully sheds light on the lives of Lowell’s factory girls whom she describes as “the heroines of America’s industrial age” in a gripping, feminist, fact-based story. 10 year-old bobbin girl Rebecca Putney must work in the cotton mill to help support her family. Through her eyes, the details of life in the factory emerge; the 13-hour days, the hazardous conditions, the endlessly droning machines that make Rebecca’s ears ring “in her dreams!” The mill girls try to improve their minds by reading and attending lectures by the likes of Emerson who imparts the concept of self-reliance. They struggle to support their families, their own education, and create a better life with their earnings. When the mill owners announce that wages will be lowered, the factory girls join together in protest to stage a “turn out” (strike). Rebecca courageously leads her fellow workers into the fight for their rights and is proud of their efforts, though the outcome is not entirely successful. She learns that she has a voice and can make a difference. Caldecott Medalist McCully does double duty as illustrator and her vibrant watercolors are muted with gray tones, invoking a hazy urban setting. Historical details come through in her rendering of period dress and through various references to literary figures of the time-some of which may be lost on younger readers. This is a realistic portrayal of the early struggle for women’s rights and fair labor practices that young women in particular will find inspirational.