Digging a Hole to Heaven: Coal Miner Boys

Digging a Hole to Heaven: Coal Miner Boys

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by S. D. Nelson
     
 

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At 12 years old, Conall has already worked in the coal mines of West Virginia for two years. He spends his days deep underground with his faithful mule, Angel, carting loads of coal back and forth between the coal seams and the main shaft, where elevators take the coal up to the surface. One day a tunnel collapses, and his brother is trapped with others on the… See more details below

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Overview


At 12 years old, Conall has already worked in the coal mines of West Virginia for two years. He spends his days deep underground with his faithful mule, Angel, carting loads of coal back and forth between the coal seams and the main shaft, where elevators take the coal up to the surface. One day a tunnel collapses, and his brother is trapped with others on the wrong side! How can Conall and Angel help to save them?
Mixing archival images with his original artwork, in this historical fiction picture book acclaimed author and illustrator S. D. Nelson gives voice to the poverty, grueling labor, and dangerous conditions experienced by child laborers across our nation in the past, echoing conditions today, especially for migrant fieldworkers.

Praise for Digging a Hole to Heaven
"Nelson’s acrylic-paint illustrations are gritty and realistic; more evocative still are the historical photographs that appear on nearly every page. A useful and thorough piece of work combining fiction and nonfiction, with an extensive author’s note detailing the history of coal mining."
--Kirkus Reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/07/2014
Realistic acrylic illustrations sit alongside b&w archival photographs to tell the story of the boys who worked in the coal mines of 19th- and early-20th-century America. Nelson (Buffalo Bird Girl) uses Conall, a fictional 12-year-old Irish-American, and his mule, Angel, to craft a descriptive narrative around a typical day in the mine. “Conall, his face black with soot, rode on the front bumper of the empty car. The only light came from the yellow flame of his oil headlamp.” Conall sings an Irish folk song about streams and birdsong while he works, poignantly highlighting the stark difference between above ground and the bleak environment where he spends his youth. Sidebars accompanying the photographs detail the different jobs boys performed as trappers, spraggers, breaker boys, and more. Extensive author notes offer brief histories of child and animal labor, robber barons, unions, and the Industrial Revolution, as each relates to coal mining. In a sometimes didactic, yet thought-provoking tone, Nelson brings his work of historical fiction into the present with discussions of climate change and current child labor abuses. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)
Booklist - Carolyn Phelan

STARRED REVIEW
"The vivid narrative is valuable in helping readers understand not just the facts but also the experiences of miners in late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America."
Library Media Connection - Marion Mueller

"The illustrations...are alive, historically accurate, expressive, and realistically rendered."
School Library Journal
09/01/2014
Gr 4–6—This illustrated title explores 19th-century coal mines, combining features of both historical fiction and informational texts. The book brings readers into the world of fictional Conall, a 12-year-old coal miner. Mines employed boys as young as eight to separate coal from useless rock or to run beside rolling coal cars and jam sprags (thick sticks) into the wheels to stop them (the cars had no brakes.) The work was dark, dirty, and dangerous. Preteens worked as mule drivers, trapper boys, and spraggers. Daily life underground is depicted through Conall's story: his work, his family, and his role in a heroic rescue after a cave-in. The narrative comes alive with colorful descriptions, such as stout timbers that groan and a "massive mountain…forever leaning in upon itself." Beautiful textured paintings rendered in the style of 19th-century Plains Indian drawings, with acrylic on wood panels, accompany the narrative. Numerous sidebars and archival photographs ground the story in the real world. A comprehensive author's note adds context with information about the Industrial Revolution, child labor, mining disasters, and the future of coal in the global environment. The back matter adds further depth. Consider pairing this title with Michael Burgan's Breaker Boys: How a Photograph Helped End Child Labor (Compass Point, 2011) or Kashmira Sheth's compelling Boys Without Names (S. & S., 2010), a first-person narrative about child sweatshop workers in modern India. A strong, vivid look at child labor issues.—Toby Rajput, National Louis University, Skokie, IL
Kirkus Reviews
2014-06-30
Nelson departs from his usual Native American stories in this informative look at child coal miners.In the late 1800s and early 1900s, young boys worked many jobs deep underground in American coal mines. Breaker boys (possibly as young as 5) picked rock from the piles of broken-up coal, trapper boys worked doors deep underground, and spraggers stopped brakeless coal carts by jamming wooden sticks between the spokes of their wheels. In this dangerous environment, 12-year-old Conall labors as a driver of a mule named Angel, who spends her entire life underground. Conall and his older brother work to help support their family: His father's wages are not enough. The text takes readers, Conall and Angel through a representative day, then interjects some tension with a tunnel collapse that is largely ignored by the elegant mine owner. Though slight, this storyline nonetheless works in tandem with fact boxes and sidebars to illuminate the dark and dangerous world of shaft mining. Nelson's acrylic-paint illustrations are gritty and realistic; more evocative still are the historical photographs that appear on nearly every page.A useful and thorough piece of work combining fiction and nonfiction, with an extensive author's note detailing the history of coal mining. (timeline, notes, bibliography, index) (Fiction/nonfiction hybrid. 8-12)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781419707308
Publisher:
Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
Publication date:
09/02/2014
Pages:
64
Sales rank:
1,351,236
Product dimensions:
10.10(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

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