The Breaker Boys

( 6 )

Overview

Nate Tanner is a rich boy whose family owns coal mines near Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He has everything a kid could want or need - except a friend. Then he meets Johnny, an easygoing Polish American boy who works sorting coal in a filthy, dark building called a breaker. Unaware that Nate is the boss's son, Johnny invites him to play baseball with the breaker boys. As the summer of 1897 progresses, Nate finds himself piling lie on top of lie to keep his identity secret from Johnny, and the friendship secret from his...
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Overview

Nate Tanner is a rich boy whose family owns coal mines near Hazleton, Pennsylvania. He has everything a kid could want or need - except a friend. Then he meets Johnny, an easygoing Polish American boy who works sorting coal in a filthy, dark building called a breaker. Unaware that Nate is the boss's son, Johnny invites him to play baseball with the breaker boys. As the summer of 1897 progresses, Nate finds himself piling lie on top of lie to keep his identity secret from Johnny, and the friendship secret from his family. In the patch town where the mining families live, Nate confronts disturbing realities; back at home, he learns of his family's fears about the future. Meanwhile, the miners are joining a labor union to challenge the owners - and the owners are trying to stop a strike. As Nate's moment of truth draws near, so does a violent confrontation that will alter coal country lives forever.
Originally published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, now in paperback for the first time, "The Breaker Boys" explores both sides of a timeless issue through a nuanced portrayal of both immigrant laborers and the coal-mine owners who employed them.

In 1897, Nate Tanner, the hot-tempered twelve-year-old son of wealthy Pennsylvania mine owners, goes against his father's wishes by befriending some of the boys who work in the mines and gets caught up in a disasterous clash between mine workers and the law.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Pat Hughes (Guerilla Season) returns with another historical novel, The Breaker Boys, set in Hazleton, Penn., in 1897. Expelled from boarding school, 12-year-old Nate Tanner, son of a mine-owner, returns home and befriends Johnny, a mineworker's son. Nate conceals his identity in order to maintain Johnny's friendship and winds up in the middle of a dispute between the miners and his own family. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
At the end of the school year in 1897, Nate Turner is kicked out of boarding school and is sent home to his family's mansion in Pennsylvania. He has no friends, his family disapproves of his surly behavior, and he has trouble getting along with his stepmother. The only person who he gets along with is his grandfather who is the patriarch of the family, a Civil War veteran, and the owner of the local coal mines. As the summer progresses, Nate makes friends with young boys who work in the coal mines. In order to make these friendships work, Nate lies to his friends about his family. He also lies to his family about how he spends his days. As the summer comes to a close, Nate discovers how hard it is to live with lies. He also learns about the difficulties of working in the mines, living in a patch town, and shopping at the company store. This story sheds light on the time in history when monopolies ruled business and unions were fighting for the working man. It presents issues of race, prejudice, and class in a fair and thoughtful manner. Young readers will also identify with Nate's struggle to find his voice and place within his family. This is an excellent choice for teachers who want to teach students about this history period, the immigrant experience, and diversity. 2004, Farrar Straus Giroux, Ages 8 to 12.
—Louise Parsons
VOYA
This novel recounts the adventures of Nate Tanner, the son of a wealthy Pennsylvania coal operator, during the summer of 1897. Nate is thrilled one afternoon when he meets a group of Polish boys who invite him for a game of baseball. He soon realizes, however, that they are "breaker boys"-young workers who separate slate and rocks from coal in one of his father's mines. Nate decides to remain silent about his true identity, a choice that weighs on his conscience as he witnesses the harsh policies that his family's company has imposed on its workers. When talk turns to a strike, Nate sets his heart on protecting his friends, even though it means that he must face his family as a traitor. This well-researched book is suitable for readers in middle school through early high school, especially as a reading group selection or as an incentive for classroom discussion. The author includes a glossary of Polish words but does not include definitions for historical vocabulary that modern students will not know. Younger readers may stumble over a few advanced concepts, such as when Nate practices Latin verbs or recites the poem Gunga Din, but with clarification it should not be an issue. A suggested companion text for middle school readers is Theodore Roosevelt: Letters from a Young Coal Miner by Jennifer Armstrong (Winslow Press, 2001/VOYA August 2001). VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P M J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2004, Farrar Straus Giroux, 256p., Ages 11 to 18.
—Christina Fairman
School Library Journal
Gr 7-9-In 1897, Nate Tanner is kicked out of boarding school and sent home to Hazelton, PA. His mother has died, and his father has married the family's youthful governess. The 12-year-old is lonely and experiences unexplained rage that manifests itself in fights. His father decrees that Nate will work with a tutor in preparation for the next year at another boarding school, and the boy sees a long summer ahead. While on a bicycle ride, he meets up with a bunch of "breaker boys," immigrants his own age who work at sorting coal in the mines owned by Nate's family. Soon, he is playing baseball with them, and he grows particularly close to Johnny. When Nate is invited to a birthday dinner, he begins to wonder about his family's role in the miners' dire living conditions. When the breaker boys participate in a labor strike, Nate witnesses the brutality of management yet must reconcile it with loyalty to his family. Hughes has created a complex protagonist who's likable even when acting "ugly." The author doesn't provide pat answers, but offers the hope that the questions Nate faces will be resolved. Readers-especially boys-will relate to him, and they will learn about coal production and the everyday life of both workers and owners. An author's note discusses the historical events on which this novel is based.-Elizabeth M. Reardon, McCallie School, Chattanooga, TN Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Nate Tanner gets booted out of boarding school and comes home to Pennsylvania, where his wealthy father is a coal mine operator. When Nate makes friends with Johnny, a breaker boy, and discovers a plot against his father's company, Nate's loyalties are tested. Though readers learn a fair amount of history, this is really a story about truth and the difficulty of discerning it. "There are three sides to every story," Nate is told. "Y'rs, mine-and the truth." But when you're caught between a mine-owning father and a friend who's a mine worker in a time of labor unrest, where does the truth lie? Rooting her story in family history and on the Lattimer Massacre of 1897, Hughes writes simply, relying on solid dialogue to carry much of this fine work. Though the story comes almost full circle, with Nate heading back to boarding school, he is a different person and has affected the lives of those around him. A strong story of family and friendship, rooted in a fascinating period of American history. (author's note, glossary) (Fiction. 9-13)
From the Publisher

“A strong story of family and friendship, rooted in a fascinating period of American history.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A compelling fictional narrative.” —Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books

“Hughes has created a complex protagonist . . . Readers—especially boys—will relate to him, and they will learn about coal production and the everyday life of both workers and owners.”
School Library Journal

“Well-researched.” —VOYA

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780615881676
  • Publisher: Backshore Books
  • Publication date: 1/28/2014
  • Pages: 284
  • Sales rank: 605,415
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Pat Raccio Hughes is an author of children's and young adult books. Her mom claims Pat taught herself to read at age 4 by perusing the obituaries in the local newspaper. Soon after that, she started writing stories and poems. Her most recent work is "Five 4ths of July" (Viking) a historical novel about a Connecticut boy's tumultuous life during the American Revolution. ALA/YALSA named it as one of 2014's Popular Paperbacks for teens. It was also in Booklist's Top Ten Historical Novels for Youth in 2012. Other books include "The Breaker Boys" (Backshore), set in 1897 Pennsylvania coal country; "Guerrilla Season" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a novel of guerrilla warfare in Civil War Missouri; "Seeing the Elephant" (FSG), a picture book set during the Civil War; and "Open Ice" (Random House), a contemporary novel about a high school hockey star forced to quit playing after his third concussion. "Open Ice" was an ALA/YALSA Popular Paperback in 2008. "The Breaker Boys" and "Seeing the Elephant" were National Council on Social Studies/Children's Book Council Notable Books. "Guerrilla Season" and "Seeing the Elephant" were Bank Street Best Books. "Guerrilla Season" was also a Junior Library Guild Selection.
Pat was born and raised in Hamden, Connecticut, and now lives just outside Philadelphia. She is married with two sons.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2008

    A reviewer

    I read this book as a Read Aloud to a group of 6th grade students while studying the state of Pennsylvania. It was a great book to use as the time of the conflicts between the union miners and the mine owners became alive in the classroom. Students listened intently to every word read and would complain when read aloud was over for the day. They became involved in both the lives of the workers and the owners. When conflict arose between the two, we were all on the edge of our seats. I highly recommend this book for a read aloud to an upper intermediate group of students. Especially if you are studying anything to do with mining and the dynamics of a mining town, this book is for you and your class!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2008

    A Well Written Novel

    The Breaker Boys by Pat Hughes is a great book. It really captures the mood of the industrial revolution and all of the hardships that occurred during its time. I could tell this was going to be a great book from the start, when Nate Tanner reveals that he does not get along with his father. Nate faces a problem when he must choose between his friends and his family while he searches for truth. Jonny and his fellow breaker boys allow Nate to see the painful reality of what Nate's family puts them through. But Nate¿s family shows him how scared they are about losing everything. There are many twists and turns in this novel, but that is what makes is all the more exciting!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2008

    The Breaker Boys

    The Breaker Boys was a great book. I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it for anyone who loves historical fiction. It definitely displays how times were in the factories. It keeps your attention from beginning to end. It also had a little comedy in it as well. Great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2008

    A Book Worth the Time

    This book is great, because it has revealed the conditions of the factories in the time it was based. This book is also great because it is a book that captures the reader's attention from the first page, and it keeps on making the reader want to read more until the book is finished. I also recommend this book because this book is a book that is laid out in a easy manner, which makes it easy to understand. I would recommendthis book to anyone who loves to learn about history, loves to read books about people's lives, and anyone in middle school and higher.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2008

    The Breaker Boys: A Very Well-Written Novel

    I found The Breaker Boys to be an outstanding novel. I really liked how brave and outgoing Nate was. My favorite part of the story was when Nate¿s father took him to the mine and all of his friends saw him. It was very suspenseful as the reader does not know what Johnny and the others will say and if they will still want to be friends with Nate. Not only did I enjoy this part, but I also really liked the ending. He had grown to like his teacher over the summer and I think that he will please his father by how well he does at boarding school with him. Therefore, I believe that The Breaker Boys is a very well-written book and I recommend it to any young reader looking for a suspenseful and adventurous book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2006

    Great American Historical Fiction

    This was a very good book that shows what it was like growing up with child labor during the turn of the century. A great non-fiction to pair with this novel is Growing Up in Coal Country. It seems to match the fiction chapter for chapter.

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