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Nonfiction Monday: Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children

Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children
By Jonah Winter
Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Schwartz & Wade Books (Random House)

ISBN: 9780449812914
Grades 1-4
Out Now

Find it at:
McLean & Eakin | Your Library

What an infuriating, amazing time we are living in. The negative is easy to see. The positive? For me, the positive has been in people all over the world fighting for progress. It’s hard not to consider this current surge in activism while reading the nonfiction picture book Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children, a reminder that whether it’s today or 100 years ago, change can happen when people take to the streets.

My name is Mother Jones, and I’m MAD.

And you’d be mad, too, if you’d seen what I’ve seen.

It’s the dawn of the 20th century, and Mother Jones is ready to fight for worker’s rights. Especially maddening for Jones was child labor. After attempts to create change went unheeded, Jones proposed a protest to draw attention to the issue. On July 7th, 1903, Jones and a group of children began marching from Philadelphia to New York City – an act that helped pave the way for future child labor laws.

The story is “narrated” by Jones herself, which can be dicey, depending on your nonfiction storytelling opinions. Purists would say only words that came out of a historical figure’s mouth should appear in a book about that person. Not-so-purists would say that if the spirit of the historical figure remains intact, then there is some room to use words that aren’t direct quotes. Clearly, this debate was on the mind of the author, as he wrote a note preceding the title page explains how quotes were used. Actual Mother Jones quotes appear in all caps, fitting into the narration where appropriate.

We really should be talking more about Nancy Carpenter. Her watercolor and digital illustrations for this book set the industrial age tone, capturing the misery of the cruel working conditions in factories as well as the hope of a better future as the children march to New York.

A book about history. A book about today. Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Workers will make a fine addition to your nonfiction collection.

Review copy from the publisher.

About Travis Jonker

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at scopenotes@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.


  1. Winter’s text conveys both the desperation of exploited child labor and the courageous movement to promote change. The art is beautiful. We need more books like this one, helping children to understand the history of the labor movement and its urgent relevance today. A great book!