Title: The Locket: Surviving the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Author: Suzanne Lieurance
Publisher: Enslow Publishers, Inc.
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Galena, an eleven-year-old Russian-Jewish immigrant, lives in New York City with her family and works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company factory with her older sister Anya. The factory pays low wages and has terrible working conditions, making Anya yearn to join a union. Soon a horrible fire guts the factory leaving Galena with painful, horrific memories. Follow author Suzanne Lieurance in this dramatic historical fiction novel, as she describes how Galena uses the support of friends, family, and Jewish traditions to inspire her to fight for workers’ rights.
It was an early spring morning in New York City but already the day promised to be warm and sunny. I gazed out the window of our tiny apartment on Orchard Street.
Sunlight was straining to poke its way between our towering tenement and the one next to it. But the two buildings were so close and so tall, it was impossible for me to get a decent glimpse of the sky.
Oh, well. It doesn't matter. I'll be outside in the sunshine soon.
Mama and my older sister, Anya, were arguing again. Their angry words gave a chill to our apartment, and I shivered as I pulled my dress on over my head and smoothed it down to get ready for the workday.
I tied back my curly dark brown hair with a green ribbon that matched my dress, then checked my appearance in the small mirror hanging over the creamy white ceramic washbowl and pitcher set resting on the washstand.
I'll never be as beautiful as Anya. I thought as I looked at myself.
Still, with my dark eyes and lashes, full lips, and straight nose, I knew some people thought I was pretty. And that was good enough. I smiled at my reflection, then moved away from the mirror.
A curtain separated our sleeping area from the rest of the single room that made up our apartment. On the other side of the curtain, Anya was trying to make a point with Mama. But it was impossible to have a private conversation in a room that would have been crowded for one person, much less a family of four like ours. The walls were so thin, and so many families were crowded into one building, that it was not unusual for us to hear the neighbors arguing or talking loudly in our Lower East Side tenement.
Yet, although our apartment was only one room, Mama tried to make our home as cozy and as cheerful as she could. Framed photographs of family members left behind in Russia were displayed atop pretty crocheted lace doilies that decorated a pine dresser next to the door to the outside hallway. The smallest photograph of the group was actually the one Mama treasured the most. It was a photo of her older sister, Tatiana, who had died when she was a teenager and Mama was just a child.
Our sleeping area consisted of two feather mattresses (one for Anya and me to share and one for Mama and Papa) on wooden frames, along with the washstand and a line of pegs on the wall for our clothes.
I pulled open the curtain just as a teakettle whistled on the old cast-iron stove where Mama stood.
"But, Mama..." protested Anya. “Dmitri thinks…”
“Hush now, Anya. I don’t care what Dmitri thinks,” Mama said in Yiddish. She lifted the kettle from the stove and poured hot water onto a pile of crumbled tea leaves nestled inside an old chipped teapot. “He should stop filling your head with foolish notions.”
Anya sat at a small wooden table in a corner of the room across from the stove. A large white sink on the wall completed our small kitchen and living area. Anya answered in English. “But, Mama, they are not foolish notions. Dmitri says the working conditions and pay are much better for those who belong to the garment worker’s union. Did you know that if the Triangle factory hired union workers, as Dmitri’s does, I would only have to work half a day on Saturdays?”
“It pains me that you have to work on the Sabbath,” Mamma said. She cut a thick slice of heavy brown bread and handed it to Anya. “But we need the money, and a half day’s work would mean only a half day’s wages. Besides, if the union is so powerful, why do union members work at all on the Sabbath?”
I walked over to the wooden cabinet along the wall of the kitchen area and reached up to remove two teacups as I listened to Mama's protests.
No wonder Mama’s English is so poor. It will never improve if she refuses to use it.
From the time our family had immigrated to New York City from Russia over a year ago, Anya and I both had been trying very hard to become “real” Americans even though it would be a while before we could apply for actual citizenship. We spoke only English now and Anya (who was almost eighteen) wore more stylish American clothes. Mama said I was too young for the cotton shirtwaists that were currently so popular among Anya and other young women in New York City.