like historical fiction.  Sometimes children like it too.  But often, I find, children’s historical fiction reads as if it were written according to some curricular checklist, to fit a particular set of standards in the most careful and efficient fashion possible.

“Bread and Roses, Too” by Katherine Paterson seems just such a novel.  Here’s the checklist I envisioned.

  1. Will it appeal to both boys and girls?  Yes, it will, because it uses Rosa and Jake as protagonists.
  2. Does it convey important ideas about a specific historical event?  Yes, it is about the 1912 Lawrence Textile strikes.
  3. Does it address important social issues of the day?  Yes, it explores immigration, ethnicity, poverty, education, alcoholism, child labor, labor unions, becoming orphans, etc.
  4. Does good ultimately win over evil?  Yes, the union wins concessions from the factory owners and Jake’s abusive alcoholic father dies.
  5. Does it have a happy ending?  Yes, Rosa is reunited with her mother and siblings, and Jake gets a new home, family, and career.

Now, I confess that these issues have been important to me as a teacher.  I can understand why an author might work to fit a story into these “needs.”  Sometimes, though, my cynicism grows to the point where I step back and evaluate my reaction.

Ultimately, if the book resonates, the formula doesn’t matter so much.  Other historical novels, such as “The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate” or “Bud, Not Buddy,” work because they feel authentic.  Readers care about the characters and learn about the history as a result.  By that standard, “Bread and Roses, Too” falls short.  The characters simply felt too much as if they had been designed by committee.  I didn’t believe in them, and as a result, I didn’t find the book that compelling.

Cross-posted at Camp Read-A-Lot