Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children

h1 March 17th, 2020 by jules


Here’s a post to showcase a couple of spreads from Jonah Winter’s Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children (Schwartz & Wade, February 2020), illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. Winter doesn’t approach this story in a traditional picture-book-bio kind of way. That is, we don’t start with the birth of Mary Harris, a.k.a. Mother Jones, and end with her death. Instead, Winter kicks things off with Mother Jones in the midst of her fervent anger: “My name is Mother Jones, and I’m MAD. And you’d be MAD, too, if you’d seen what I’ve seen.”

She speaks of coal miners, “covered with soot,” in West Virginia, while mine owners sit and sip tea in their mansions. She speaks of factory workers “gettin’ SHOT AT by company guards.” She speaks of fabric mills in Philadelphia where children at the ages of nine and ten work like adults for two cents an hour. And she has seen the inside of a jail cell — all for speaking up for “the workers of the world — my children!” Mother Jones called the newspapers, formed a union, and organized a march — her famous three-week March of the Mill Children (which also included some adult textile workers) from Philadelphia to New York on July 7, 1903. It was all in an effort to get to, as Winter puts it, the “fancy-schmancy Long Island summer home of President Theodore Roosevelt himself.”

The book makes effective use of occasional all-caps words, as well as bold font, to communicate Mother Jones’s fiery indignation, and Winters writes from the perspective of Jones, who speaks in a chummy, direct manners to readers: “Well, boys and girls, I had an idea for a strike that those newsmen would have to write about in their stinking papers. …” There is a tenderness to the book’s close, in which readers learn that not all of the children made it to Roosevelt’s home (Mother Jones sent some of them back home). It was a “motley crew” who arrived at the house’s gate and was told that the president was “out.” Illustrator Nancy Carpenter depicts Jones leaning over to gently embrace two children, while one sits on the ground in tears. But the very final spread emphasizes her victory, no matter the President’s absence: “What we did that summer changed the world. The Children’s Crusade shined a great big SPOTLIGHT on child labor.”

As for what Carpenter pulls off here, you must find a copy of this one to see the masterful way in which she captures Mother Jones’s persistence and passion. Her determined walk alone is worth the price of admission. Here are a couple of spreads. …


“I called the newspapers. Course, the newspapers were owned by rich folks who were buddies with the rich folks who owned the mills. And so they weren’t about to print
any stories that made the mill owners look as EVIL and GREEDY as they really were.”

(Click spread to enlarge)


“And on July 7, 1903, one hundred boys and girls set out, armed only with knapsacks containing a knife and fork, a tin cup and plate, and placards and banners that said

(Click spread to enlarge and read text in its entirety)


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MOTHER JONES AND HER ARMY OF MILL CHILDREN. Text copyright © 2020 by Jonah Winter. Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Nancy Carpenter. Illustrations reproduced by permission of the publisher, Schwartz & Wade Books, New York.

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