Digging A Hole To Heaven:Coal Miner Boys by S.D. Nelson is just the kind of book I’ve been on the hunt for as a read aloud in our Social Studies classes during our Industrial Revolution unit.
It’s the story of 12 year old Conall who toils away in the coal mines of Pennsylvania sometime during the nineteenth century and early twentieth century- the Gilded Age of the robber barons and their sumptuous lifestyle. Conall and his family, just like hundreds of thousands of coal mining families, lived lived fraught with danger, poverty, disease, and blight. Day after day, Conall and his beloved mule Angel descend into the mines before daybreak and spend daylight hours hundreds of feel below ground harvesting and hauling the coal that powered the wonders of the Industrial Age.
S.D. Anderson tells his story beautifully, bringing to life the tedium and danger of the coal mine, where terrible accidents were commonplace. Interspersed with Conall’s story are photographs of children working in the mines and informative sidebars which lend historical accuracy to all that transpires in the story.
Although I was familiar with most aspects of this distressing time in our history, before child labor laws were even thought of, I learned about the types of assignments these children (as young as five or six) were given, as well as more about the treatment of the mules who labored just as hard. I was shocked to learn that mules were often stabled underground for the duration of their working lives, since this was cheaper than hauling them out and back every day.
Nelson’s pastel illustrations are striking, especially the way in which he has rendered the facial expressions which register so much more than words can convey. I plan to share this book with my students as a readaloud, along with first person accounts and video clips, and hope to design a writing activity based on their response to the text. I so wish I could find other books like this, which combine fiction and nonfiction so artfully. if anyone knows of any, please let me know in the comments!
Salvatore Rubbino’s exuberant A Walk in Paris took me down memory lane and back into a city I love.
A little girl (we never do discover her name) and her grandpa visit Paris for the day, hitting all the right spots and sharing the sights and scenes with us. I loved the gorgeous illustrations:
which took us into buildings and grand outdoor spaces, with many sidebars and notations to give us information, pronunciation, and juicy little tidbits. Just a delight. Now I need to find his other books, especially his A Walk in London.