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Counting on Grace    by Elizabeth Winthrop order for
Counting on Grace
by Elizabeth Winthrop
Order:  USA  Can
Wendy Lamb Books, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Counting on Grace is set in 1910 in Pownal, Vermont, a town centered on a cotton mill, and where most of the townsfolk - including the children - work there. In 'The Story Behind the Photograph' at the back of the book, Elizabeth Winthrop tells us some of the history of child labor in Vermont, and about individuals - in particular photographer Lewis Hine - who spent years collecting evidence and campaigning against it.

Twelve-year-olds Grace Forcier and Arthur Trottier - the best readers in their one-room school - are forced to leave school and work long hours as doffers on their mothers' looms at the cotton mill. At first, Grace looked forward to the experience, and to being able to contribute income that her family counts on, but Arthur has always resisted it and wanted more from life. Grace, who is left-handed, struggles (but fails) to emulate the skills of her older sister Delia, who's graduated to her own spinning frames. She resents her Mamère's continual fault-finding, and she worries about Arthur and what he might do in his desperation.

Grace and Arthur continue learning to read and write on Sundays with the teacher hired by the mill owners, Miss Lesley. She encourages them to contact the National Child Labor Committee. They write a letter about the underage children working at their mill - and then they wait. Eventually Lewis Hine shows up. Pretending head office sent him, Hine takes pictures of the children and, with Grace's and Arthur's help, notes their names and ages. But these were hard times when there were no quick fixes. Arthur's impatience leads to tragedy. Grace loses several people close to her, but at the same time a new opportunity yields hope for her future.

It wasn't that long ago - less than a hundred years - that such poverty and hardship was common in North America. It would be nice to believe now that child labor is a thing of the past, but sadly it is still prevalent in many regions of the world. Read Counting on Grace to understand better what it's like for the children involved and why it's so difficult to eradicate.

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