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Home | LS5603 Children's and YA Literature | LS6643 Nonfiction for Children and YA




Analysis of

Kids at Work:  Lewis Hine and the crusade against child labor


In Defense of Liberty:  The story of America's Bill of Rights
Kids at Work:  Lewis Hine and the crusade against child labor
In Kids at Work:  Lewis Hine and the crusade against child labor, haunting photographs of elementary-aged children do nothing but increase the reader's shock as story after story unfolds of children who should have been in elementary school, but instead were working at manual labor jobs during the early 1900's.  A teacher and amateur photographer named Lewis Hine was hired by the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) to photograph these children as they worked in the hopes that this would call attention to their plight and help to end child labor.  Although federal regulation of child labor did not occur until two years before Hine's death in 1940, it was his pictures that helped to keep the issue at the forefront of America's consciousness until a law was finally passed. 

Freedman effectively tells a story within a story in Kids at Work.  Chapter one gives the reader a brief introduction to the issue of child labor, while chapter two gives a relatively detailed biography of Lewis Hine's life up to the point he was employed by the NCLC.  The following chapters simultaneously tell the life of Hine and the story of child laborers as they recount Hine's work in documenting the young workers in pictures.  Mary Burns, a reviewer for Horn Book Magazine, states "The narrative not only documents the abuses of the times but also traces the chronology of Hine's development as a crusader, his personal struggles, his techniques for outwitting the owners and managers who wanted to conceal their inhuman practices, and his final years of poverty when, at the end of the Great Depression, he was forced to apply for public assistance.  The account has about it the quality of a modern epic whose hero, although scorned by fortune and tried by adversity, triumphs as a visionary." (Burns 1994)

Freedman uses excerpts from primary sources such as Hine's reports to NCLC and letters to friends that allow readers a first hand glimpse into his world.  Next to a picture of a mother and four young children working diligently to make artificial flowers by the light of a kerosene lamp, Hine reports that the mother said to him "Flowers is cheap work now, too cheap work for anybody but us." (pp.16-17)  The beauty of the children's faces seems to stand out in Hine's pictures even more as they stand beside large machines that seem as if they could swallow them whole. 

Freedman himself has stated that he hopes that his books will be enjoyed by readers of all ages (Sutton 2002), and Kids at Work did not go unnoticed by reviewers of literature for adults.  In Monthly Labor Review, Robert Senser (1995) commented, "Though written for children, Kids at Work offers useful reminders to adults about some grim chapters in American history.  It also suggests a powerful lesson for today:  that all of us should open our eyes to the still-thriving exploitation of children."

A bibliography, picture credits, and an index are included at the conclusion of the book.

In Defense of Liberty:  The story of America's Bill of Rights
By beginning with a brief story that outlines what could happen to a citizen if there were no Bill of Rights, Freedman subtly makes his case for why knowing about the Bill of Rights should be important to every American.  After a brief history of how the Bill of Rights came to be written, the following chapters detail each of the first Ten Amendments.  Brief summaries of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments are also included.  The conclusion contains a picture of the original handwritten Bill of Rights along with notes, an index of Supreme Court cases, a selected bibliography, and an index.

"Careful scholarship" (Litherland 2004) noted by a reviewer is evident in the many details of the text.  For each Amendment, Freedman gives history that explains why the forefathers included the Right, and then cites real world examples of how it is applied in our society.  Historical court cases along with modern challenges or invocations of each Right not only allow the reader to see how the Amendment has applied in the past but also its applications today.  For example, in explaining the Sixth and Seventh Amendments, which give the right to a fair trial (pp.115-128), Freedman is able to show the evolution of this Amendment across time through real-world examples.  From challenges to the Amendment that changed trial juries from being comprised of white males to people of both genders and all races to defendants who spoke up and demanded that they be given a court appointed lawyer, Freedman translates the high-brow language of America's founders into readable stories that put civil rights in context.  Black and white reproductions of historical artwork and contemporary pictures further illustrate how the Bill of Rights has been applied in our society.

When the topic is something as hotly debated as the Bill of Rights, questions arise about the author's objectivity. Although he is able to give real world examples that show the different facets of each Amendment, Freedman himself admits that his own biases bleed into his writing.  In an interview for Book Links magazine, Freedman said, "I do have values and opinions and they may inevitably have an effect on my approach to a book and my attitude toward the subject, but I make a conscious effort to include both sides.  I don't think it's possible to be completely objective.  I think this comes out in how certain things are emphasized.  For example, in the chapter about gun control, I tried to give both sides, but I don't think it's neutral.  Why would I spend all that time writing this book if I didn't have an opinion about the value of the Bill of Rights?" (Giorgis and Johnson 2004)

The two books side-by-side
When comparing these two books, it quickly becomes apparent that Freedman meticulously researched both subjects.  Both include citations to works in their bibliographies and photos that cover a range of the books' topics.  The photos in each book also complement and extend the text.  Although neither book could be considered an exhaustive work, both go into great detail and do not spare their young audiences the harsher facts of their subject matter.

While these books have many things in common, there are also some elements that differ.  Kids at Work has a story line with a beginning, middle, and end.  Readers are introduced to Lewis Hine and the issue of child labor, the majority of the book follows his life as he documents the atrocities of the issue, and the conclusion reveals the sad end of Hine's life and the triumph of federal legislation that bans children from the workplace.  In contrast, In Defense of Liberty tells the facts about a historical document and leaves the reader knowing that the Bill of Rights is a living document and more could be written at a later date.

Because Kids at Work recounts the life of one man, Freedman is able to go into great depth regarding Hines history, family, thoughts, financial situation, etc.  Readers only see quick snapshots of people's lives as they relate to the Bill of Rights in In Defense of Liberty.

Although one of these works focuses on a life and the other focuses on a document, both reveal the commitment of their author, Russell Freedman.  His commitment to accuracy in his work is seen in research and documentation, and his commitment to children's literature is seen in the fact that his books are able to nimbly convey complex subject matter in a way that is understandable to children without a hint of condescension.

Author Study: Russell Freedman

Holly S.
Texas Woman's University
For partial fulfillment of the requirements for LS5603

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Holly S.
Graduate Student at Texas Woman's University