________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 3. . . .September 23, 2016


On Our Way to Oyster Bay: Mother Jones and Her March for Children’s Rights. (CitizenKid).

Monica Kulling. Illustrated by Felicita Sala.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-77138-325-7.

Subject Headings:
Jones, Mother, 1827-1930-Juvenile literature.
Child labor-United States-History-Juvenile literature.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***1/2 /4



Troubled by all she had seen, Mother Jones wanted to end child labor. But what could she do? Why, organize a children’s march and bring the message right to President Theodore Roosevelt at his summer home in Oyster Bay, of course!

A few days after arriving in Kensington, Mother Jones gathered two hundred workers, including an excited Aidan, Gussie and dozens of other children. They marched out to town playing flutes, beating drums and waving flags.

Mother Jones was leading the way to Oyster Bay!

The first day of the march seemed like it would never end, but Aidan and Gussie kept each other going. All the same, they were very happy when Mother Jones shouted, “Camp time!”

While the tents were being set up, Mother Jones helped some of the women make a large pot of meat-and-potato stew. It smelled heavenly.

Aidan and Gussie ate until they couldn’t eat any more. And later, under a blanket of stars, they slept as soundly as hibernating bears.


We regularly witness the media’s accounts of protest rallies and marches. Often, participants include children who will no doubt be affected by the issues being highlighted. How much do they understand? This picture book, part of a series called “CitizenKid”, shines the spotlight on the longstanding concern of child labour. Specifically, it presents one event in early 20th century American history: an attempt to bring attention to the plight of young children employed in Pennsylvania cotton mills. Youngsters like Aidan and Gussie were forced to work gruelling hours in dangerous conditions for low pay, and they were denied the chance to attend school. Based on the actual 1903 march led by labour activist Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, the story describes the two-week trek that succeeded in arousing public attention about the need for new child labour laws, even though it failed in its immediate objective of a meeting with President Roosevelt.

     Through eight-year-old Aidan’s viewpoint, the reader is drawn into the details that prompted a workers’ strike. The energetic character of Mother Jones sweeps both workers and the reader along, describing the day-to-day life of the marchers and how she keeps their spirits up, feeds and shelters them and even arranges a train ride for part of the journey. All the while, she spreads the word about their cause with speeches in public parks and on street corners. A day of fun at Coney Island offers an opportunity to contrast the lives of the working children with those of more affluent families. Finally, Mother Jones helps the children consider how the march achieved awareness and delivers the story’s message about the need to stand up for what’s right, even if change isn’t immediately evident.

     The illustrator has created basic representative settings, peopled with collage-style characters of the children, as well as the various citizens encountered along the way. She has portrayed the granny-like figure of Mother Jones in an authentic way as a diminutive but commanding activist who vigorously took up the role as pied piper on the historic march.

     At the conclusion of On Our Way to Oyster Bay, the author has included background information about the key elements of the book: the real Mother Jones, child labour, contemporary examples of young people who have spoken out against child labour around the globe, and ways the reader can learn more.

     The picture book format is a fine way to make issues such as child labour accessible to a young audience. Introducing the story of someone fighting for social justice in this non-violent way will kindle awareness and inspire discussion. Greater empathy and deeper understanding of the past gives young people the tools to deal with the present (in which child labor still exists) and future.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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