Farrell, Mary Cronk. Fannie Fannie Never Flinched: One Woman’s Courage in the Struggle for American Labor Union Rights
November 1st 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central
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Fannie Sellins was a single mother trying to put food on the table for her four young children by working in Marx and Haas Clothing Co. in St. Louis. The conditions were wretchedly poor, so when she heard about seamstresses in Chicago and New York City forming unions, she rallied support from the workers to create Local 67 of the United Garment Workers of America. Although the conditions were improved at this factory, it was still a very difficult way to earn a living.
After serving as president of her local union, Fannie traveled to different cities giving talks about working conditions. In the early 1900s, these were often treacherous– buildings in poor condition, workers riddled with disease, and dangerous jobs performed by very young children. The union not only worked to get these conditions improved, but took up collections to help families affected by them. Strikes were common and often brutal. At one of these, in Black Valley, Pennsylvania, shots were fired into a crowd, and Fannie was killed. The police inquiry absolved the officer, and even commended the force for keeping the peace!
While young readers may study a little bit about the labor movement in the United States, it is often impersonal. Focusing a movement around the actions of one person is a great way to encourage empathy for it by giving it a human face.
The formatting of this book is excellent– while I’m not usually a fan of larger books (this is about 10″ x 10″), this size allows plenty of photographs and a lot of space around the text. While it may seem silly, this is a HUGE selling point. Readers are often reluctant to pick up books filled with dense blocks of text and few pictures. The buttons and cogs at the bottom of the sepia toned pages also make this a more reader-friendly book, and that will go a long way to entice children to read about this important historical figure.
I loved this author’s Pure Grit, but felt that it was too long and involved for most of my readers. Fannie Never Flinched struck an excellent balance between easy-to-read format and amount of information. It’s a great starting point for National History Day projects (especially in 2016-17, with the theme being Taking a Stand!), and will intrigue and encourage readers to investigate the other sources listed in the bibliography.