Date reviewed: 4/15/04 Age/Grade: YA IL 9-12
Summary: Everyone in Nathan’s Pennsylvania town is moving away, even his best friend and bully of an older brother, because the coal mines want their farmland for cheap housing tracts. Nathan is afraid of these foreign-speaking workers and his father is apprehensive that they may lose the farm. Nathan’s dad doesn’t pay much attention to him since the death of his older brother. Nathan longs for a friend and meets Arturo Tozzi, an immigrant worker, who also wants a friend. Nathan and Arturo meet in secret for fear of what each other’s families would think (Nathan’s father, and Arturo’s older brother). Nathan sometimes isn’t sure whether he can accept Arturo as an equal since he cannot read. Talks of the foreigners striking in the coal mines brings the town tensions to a boil.
Personal Reaction: Good story about cultural misconceptions and the changing of coal towns in the northeastern US.
Points for discussion with children: coal mining and its dangers; immigrants/foreign nationals and cultural bias
Possible classroom uses: This would be a good read aloud or novel study for Social Studies teachers (whether teaching industrial US) or for Language Arts team teaching with Social Studies teachers.
Connections to other books? Rockbuster by Skurzynski, possibly non-fiction about coal mining like Growing Up in Coal Country, unions like History of Labor Unions: Shmoop US History Guide, industrialization. YA fiction about immigrants/fitting in or nonfiction such as TEENAGE REFUGEE SERIES books.
Realia: coal lamp helmet, overalls, coal pieces, nonfiction books or photos of coal miners and/or disasters, spelling book or early reader
Food items connected to story: apple pie