Growing Up in Coal Country

Growing Up in Coal Country

by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Bartoletti


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Inspired by her in-laws' recollections of working in coal country, Susan Campbell Bartoletti has gathered the voices of men, women, and children who immigrated to and worked in northeastern Pennsylvania at the turn of the century. The story that emerges is not just a story of long hours, little pay, and hazardous working conditions; it is also the uniquely American story of immigrant families working together to make a new life for themselves. It is a story of hardship and sacrifice, yet also of triumph and the fulfillment of hopes and dreams.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780395979143
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 09/27/1999
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 252,466
Product dimensions: 8.00(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.33(d)
Lexile: 1110L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 13 Years

About the Author

Susan Campbell Bartoletti is the award-winning author of several books for young readers, including Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845–1850, winner of the Robert F. Sibert Medal. She lives in Moscow, Pennsylvania. Visit her website at

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From the Publisher

Bartoletti has written a concise, thoroughly researched account of the often grim working and living conditions in Pennsylvania coal towns. An accessible writing style, as well as the abundance of stimulating information, makes for an engrossing historical account. Quotes from personal interviews with miners, as well as taped interviews and transcripts, provide a refreshing first person frame of reference. Horn Book

With compelling black-and-white photographs of children at work in the coal mines of northeastern Pennsylvania about 100 years ago, this handsome, spacious photo-essay will draw browsers as well as students doing research on labor and immigrant history. The story of these boys' lives are a part of Russell Freedman's general overview Kids at Work (1994) and of Betsy Harvey Kraft's biography Mother Jones (1995); but there's a wealth of personal detail and family story here that focuses on what it was like in the mines and in the homes and communities of these working children. Lewis Hines' famous pictures will grab readers, and Bartoletti has also gathered dozens of archival photos and heartbreaking oral histories. They show what it was like for eight-year-old breaker boys sorting coal surrounded by deafening noise and black clouds of dust, steam, and smoke; what it was like to be a mule driver underground; what it meant to be a spragger, a butty, a nipper. Drawing on personal interviews, archival tapes and transcripts, and a wide range of historical resources, Bartoletti finds heartfelt memories of long hours, hard labor, and extremely dangerous working conditions, as well as lighter accounts of spirited rebellion, mischief, and bonding. The immigrant experience is an integral part of this "coal culture": the strength of ethnic groups and the prejudice against them, and their banding together to form strong labor unions. As with most fine juvenile nonfiction, this will also have great appeal for adults.
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Growing Up in Coal Country 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
mrcmyoung on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
To read this book and look at its pictures is to enter an alien world. This feeling owes as much to strange underground landscape occupied by the coal miners as it does to the not-so-distant memory of this country's disregard for the welfare of children. Bartoletti captures daily life above and below ground for the miners and their families with vivid detail. The photographs she has collected are haunting.
abbrown1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was insightful for me because I have not read much concerning Coal Country in Pennsylvania. I thought the perspective from which the author wrote gave the topic more depth and made it more convincing. The author, as a descendant of immigrants who lived on and in coal country, successfully told the stories of many others who worked and lived off the mines. I thought the book did a great job walking the reader through the daily work lives of the miners from the youngest to the eldest. I thought the book was organized well, separating chapters into the different realities of life in coal country. The book was honest about what work was like, what the pay was like and the commonness of death and danger. There were times in the text, however, where I felt the text was in-cohesive or choppy because of the way quotes were inserted. The pictures aligned well with what the book described. Every time the author described an event or the daily occurrence in the mines she had a photograph to illustrate the point. Overall, a great text for learning about a subject that is not often talked about.
cdrake on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Growing Up in Coal Country was an awe-inspiring non-fiction story about the men, women, and children who did backbreaking work for extremely long hours and little money in the 1900's. This book would make a great addition to my science classroom when we are discussing renewable and non-renewable energy sources, such as coal, to make it more personable to the students who have never seen coal, much less know how it was mined.
ChloePalmer on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a future Social Studies teacher, I would use this book for a few purposes. First, I may assign each student a section or chapter and have them present the subject/topic to the class. I would read aloud different sections concerning economics, class structure, and immigration to help students relate the Social Studies curriculum to historical events. Lastly, I would love to have students find pictures and write about them. We did this in class and I think the quality of the pictures in this book would really help older students read pictures as well as they read words.
rosesaurora on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book underscores the grueling, dangerous, and inhuman conditions that families suffered through in Coal Country. Child labor was an especially disturbing topic--many children forces to work in order to support their families, often losing limbs or dying as a result of unsafe conditions. A majority of the children quit school at young ages to help support their families.The men who worked in the mines didn't have it any better--often dying from cave ins or inescapable fires. Those who didn't die were often crippled and lost the ability to provide for their families.Bartoletti uses many first person accounts to help readers truly understand how these people lived and felt. I think it is a great book to discuss human rights, child labor, the industrial revolution, immigration, or even class differences. It's a fairly gruesome book however--the photographs providing vivd images--and I'd only use it in a 6th and up classroom.
scnelson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story of Appalachian children who worked in the coal industry at the turn of the century. Bartoletti shows the harsh life of these mountain children and how different the world was for them than it is for most of today's children.
DustinB1983 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In ¿Growing Up in Coal Country,¿ Bartoletti pulls together the different voices of the people who worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania in the early 1900¿s. Fitting to the title, the book is organized in the way that a person¿s life would as they grow up in the coal mines and the communities that spawned from this industry. She begins by describing the deplorable work conditions experienced by even the youngest workers doing the work that only young workers were allowed to do, such as the ¿breaker boys.¿ As the book progresses, we learn how their jobs would change, though the conditions never really does get much better. We learn about their family lives and unfortunate living conditions in ¿patch villages.¿ We also learn about tragedy and death that comes for the coal mines. Just when this story is at its bleakest, we learn about triumphs and victories, small and large, which come from the strikes and the determination of these hardworking people. This is an interesting book that makes good use of photographs. The stories within, paired with the pictures, would seemingly capture and hold the attention of many young readers. There is no short of drama, as there is humor, tragedy, death, and triumph. Bartoletti packs all of this into a concise story and an easy read. There is a lesson here about working in industry before we had labor laws, or at least any with any teeth, and the role of labor unions in this period. It also demonstrates the determination of these people, largely immigrants, to overcome their plight and better themselves.
MattRaygun on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"This school will never amount to nothing until its organized."This book does a fairly impressive job of turning a lot of different stories about coal country and the child labor that surrounded it into a coherent narrative about the highs and lows of a life based around the coal industry. There are many things that this book did right:-It interviews many people that actually worked in the coal mines as children-It compares the homes that the rich mine-owners lived in to the rows of company houses that the miners occupied-The author provides a great deal of photographic evidence to support her book.-The author obviously did a good deal of research in writing this book, as the bibliography is pretty extensive for a children's book.-Labor is mentioned in a positive and productive light, but also mentioned are the hardships on the families that strike, the unemployment that follows, and the intimidation of scab workers. I was also impressed with the quotes from children in the labor movement. They were touching, and I'm surprised the author found any at all.-The quotes in the book that begin each chapter are very well chosen and very poignantly describe life as a coal worker.-Writing about the cruelty of the mine bosses is an excellent way of displaying what drove miners to turn to organized labor.Overall, this is an excellent book in the field of regional studies, coal, organized labor, and child labor. I would recommend it for ages 11&up.
Michelle_Bales on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The photographs in this book are amazing. When our group was asked to analyze one of the photographs from this book in class, it was very hard to narrow down our selection. The miners' stories of back-breaking work and barely tolerable living conditions make one embarrassed by being concerned with superfluous things today. Bartoletti's weaving of quotations, narrative, and photographs allows the reader a glimpse into the lives of the mischievous boy miners, superstitious adult miners, mules with minds of their own, and also hard-working mothers and children at home. This would be a great book to introduce students to this aspect of "the people's history" as well as techniques for analyzing photographs.
tiffanylewis0519 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The story of the children was absolutely heartbreaking. Bartoletti is truly passionate about this subject and the passion is evident. The story read like a novel and the Black and White photographs are compelling. I enjoyed this author's storytelling and will look up more books by her. Although the story is told about events that happened over a century ago, child exploitation is still very relevant. It was also interesting to find out the origins of historical figures such as Mother Jones, names I had heard of but didn't know the background of.
marciaskidslit on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So many of the people who lived and worked in coal country were immigrants who faced prejudice and discrimination. Families lived according to their social classes in company housing. Secret societies such as the Molly Maquires were instrumental in uniting and fighting back against the deplorable living and working conditions. Many died for their heroic efforts. All brought with them their ethnic customs, religions, and languages. With the exception of one drawing, all illustrations in the book are photographs from personal collections, historical societies, museums, and academic library collections. Photographs are shown on every page in the book to give the reader a visual image of its corresponding text. The inspiration and authoritativeness of this book was the author¿s husband whose grandfather emigrated from Italy and worked in the Pennsylvania coal mines for forty-five years. The book concludes with a bibliography and acknowledgements. There is no index. The book is a 1997 Notable Book from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC).
ElizaJane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reason for Reading: Read aloud to my son as part of our history curriculum.This book centres on Pennsylvanian coal country in the late 1800s to early 1900s. It also mainly focuses on the child workers though it doesn't exclude the men, nor the women back at home. The book is also profusely illustrated with contemporary photographs, some from the author's family as it was personal history that inspired her to write the book. During the author's research she listened to many interview tapes and read transcripts and has included many quotes from men who were once the boys described in the book. This makes for very interesting reading and brings the book closer to reality for the juvenile reader.The book is incredibly thorough, going through all the different jobs involved in working at the mine. Then moving on to the company village and day-to-day life for the women and such things as scrounging for scraps of coal, the company store and school. Then the book moves on to recreation after working hours. A chapter on dangers and tragedies and common accidents prefaces a final chapter on the beginning of unionization and the big strike in Pennsylvania. A conclusion then follows up with the reasons coal mining ended as such a big industry.While the book is centred on Pennsylvania, the majority of the information is general in nature and can be applied to anywhere coal mining took place in North America. The photographs are amazing and add volumes to the book's enjoyability. The text is narrative, interesting and while never written down to its audience does keep topics lively remembering who it's audience is. My son loved this book so much. Often when I read to him he will sit in another chair than me and I will hold the book up for him to look at pictures, or he likes to walk around the room but whenever I brought this book out he jumped up and ran right over to snuggle right next to me so he wouldn't miss the pictures. For myself, this is a topic I really knew little about and I enjoyed the book very much as well. A tremendously, enjoyable read about an industry once so important to everyday life and the terrible working conditions, child labour, and oppression workers had to face and in spite of it all they grew up to actually have fond memories and say it wasn't all bad. Highly
kmcinern on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed reading books of Bartoletti and this text did not disappoint. This was my first experience reading about coal country from this perspective and I found it quite interesting. I find myself most interesting in the nonfiction texts that read like a narrative and I think many students, especially students in middle school, may share this appreciation. Additionally, some of the images in this book are more descriptive than Bartoletti's already vivid text; I think this is another characteristic that may appeal to students. Growing Up in Coal Country would be an excellent text to supplement Social Studies lessons on this time period.
Jmmott on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The harsh realities of the coal business show the need for workers and children's labor laws. The exploitation of both the people and the land in the name of profit was horrifying. Bartoletti uses images from her own family's history, those from mining archives, and stories from first person accounts to make the life of those in the coal industry vivid in the minds of those with no other frame of reference. The personal connection that the author had to the subject comes across in her descriptions of the cart boys, the miners, and even the mules.
agiffin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Growing Up in Coal Country takes its readers to the heart of the coal mining industry in the United States. This book provided a very well-rounded description of the coal miner's lives, from the different job descriptions, to their superstitions, to the experiences of the women and children. While I was previously aware of the hardships faced by the men in this profession, this book opened my eyes to the child labor issues that were so prevalent in this industry. I felt this book was well organized and that each the stories and hardships discussed in each chapter built up to the climatic final showdown of the striking miners against the coal companies. This book would help stimulate excellent compare and contrast discussions related to child labor and/or visions of what constitutes a childhood, particularly with middle school students.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After completing for the second time a tour of the Lackawanna Mine near Scranton, PA, and visiting the adjacent Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum where I purchased this book, I find the text to be extremely well written, illuminating, and easy to read. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the history of anthracite mining or the ethnic diversity of the anthracite region.
Guest More than 1 year ago