School Library Journal
Gr 7 UpThe notion of an idyllic past is shattered in this depressing tract on children's lives in the U.S. from colonial times to the present. An "unhappy childhood" doesn't even begin to describe some of the harsh conditions faced by indentured servants, slaves, migrant laborers, gang members, and many others. Stories of how young people have been treated are arranged in chapters that show the youngsters operating within the social realities of crime, war, disease, education, prejudice, work, and family. Within these chapters, examples are given chronologically, but they jump so quickly from one time period to the next that students without a firm grasp of American history will not understand the significance of each era. In the chapter, "Sex and Romance," the mores of Puritans, Victorians, Native Americans, flappers, hippies, and AIDS victims are summarized in just 10 pages. The bibliography lists helpful titles based on primary sources, and captioned black-and-white photographs adequately portray situations mentioned in the text. Explaining history from the perspective of children of different backgrounds is a unique approach, but students will be better served by resources that thoroughly cover concepts and trends in American history and then make the links to examine the impact on individuals.Janet Woodward, Franklin High School, Seattle, WA
The idyllic title is immediately offset by the subtitle"Three Centuries of Youth at Risk"of this book, in which Wormser (Juveniles In Trouble, 1994, etc.) asks, "Were children happier growing up in the past?" His answer is both yes and no, as he reports that the "good old days" were full of hazards for children of the past that are unthinkable today. Many children died from disease or were brutally exploited in factories before child labor laws were enacted. Crime was probably more rampant in cities, and ethnic and racial prejudice (and discrimination) were openly tolerated. Children who committed crimes were punished severely and even put to death.
The message in the book is somewhat confusing: Wormser presents lessons from the past to show how children survived terrible ordeals through their own efforts and temerity, yet also suggests that contemporary youths have inherited overwhelming problems, because "family life in the present is far worse than it was in the past . . . [and] can undermine the whole society if left uncorrected." In this comparison of past and present, readers are left with a ball of complexities that they will be unable to unravel beyond a sad thread of statistics and hardship.