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Not Just for Kids: Three Knockout Biographies Bring Three Awesome Jews to Life

New books about Albert Einstein, labor organizer Clara Lemlich, and mathematician Paul Erdős will inspire readers of all ages

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Detail from On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, published by Chronicle Books. (© 2013 Vladimir Radunsky )
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Finally, we have Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909, a biography aimed at readers 4 to 8, written by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I handed this to a fellow mom-of-daughters the other night, a friend who is an immigrant herself, and she gave it back with tears running down her cheeks. Yeah, it’s that good. For parents who care about social justice and who want to raise strong, confident girls, it’s better than that good.

It opens:

A steamship pulls into the harbor, carrying hundreds of immigrants—and a surprise for New York City.

The surprise is dirt poor, just five feet tall, and hardly speaks a word of English.
Her name is Clara Lemlich.
This girl’s got grit, and she’s going to prove it.
Look out, New York!

We learn how Lemlich got a job in a factory to support her family, and how she became a leader in the burgeoning union movement.

When the seamstresses are overworked, she says, “Strike!”
When they’re underpaid, she says, “Strike!”
When they’re punished for speaking up, she cries, “Strike!”
And the girls do!

The bosses hire men to beat her and the other strikers.
The police arrest her seventeen times.
They break six of her ribs, but they can’t break her spirit.
It’s shatterproof.
Clara hides her bruises from her parents.
A few days later, she’s on the picket line again.
And the other girls think, If she can do it, we can do it too.

Sweet’s mixed-media illustrations incorporate swatches of fabric, snippets of checkbooks and timecards and ledgers, and line after line of machine-stitched thread, as well as watercolor and gouache. The afterword talks about the history of American Jewish immigration, the garment industry, the Triangle Factory Fire, and other Jewish women besides Lemlich who kept up the battle to make workplaces safer. The story concludes:

Her throat is hoarse, her feet are sore,
but she has helped thousands of people.
Proving that in America,
wrongs can be righted,
warriors can wear skirts and blouses,
and the bravest hearts
may beat in girls
only five feet tall.

Now I’m weepy too.

Buy all three of these magnificent books for yourself. If you’re very, very lucky, you’ll know an epsilon to share them with.

***

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Not Just for Kids: Three Knockout Biographies Bring Three Awesome Jews to Life

New books about Albert Einstein, labor organizer Clara Lemlich, and mathematician Paul Erdős will inspire readers of all ages

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