Anne Dublin’s Depression-era novel deals with the ten-week strike by the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in Toronto in 1931. The story revolves around the life of fourteen-year old Sophie Abramson, who along with her sister and widowed mother, eke out a fairly miserable existence in the Kensington Market neighbourhood. Dublin has undertaken a good deal of research, including archival investigations, to bring the period and its issues to life. Sophie is forced to deal with anti-Semitism, nativism, poor wages and police brutality, all the while spending time on a picket line fighting for a reduction of the 72 hour work week that Toronto sweatshop owners considered normal then. Both she and her sister also face sexual harassment, which Dublin introduces and handles in an appropriate manner for the intended audience.
Classroom Connections: The novel includes fifteen illustrations (including a city map and more than a dozen contemporary photographs), as well as explanatory notes on actual historical figures mentioned in the work, suggestions for further reading, and a handful of website links. The twenty-two page teacher’s resource guide, which is available online, offers additional website links, suggested comprehension and discussion questions, along with extension activities for language arts, social studies, media literacy, drama, music and art. Whether writing letters from characters’ perspectives or comparing medical treatments for peptic ulcers in the thirties to what is done today, the resource guide provides a wealth of ways students can engage with this excellent piece of historical fiction.
Review by George Sheppard