Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side

Tenement: Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side

by Raymond Bial
     
 

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Life on the Lower East Side was bustling. Immigrants from many European countries had come to make a better life for themselves and their families in the United States. But the wages they earned were so low that they could afford only the most basic accommodations—tenements. Unfortunately, there were few laws protecting the residents of tenements, and

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Overview

Life on the Lower East Side was bustling. Immigrants from many European countries had come to make a better life for themselves and their families in the United States. But the wages they earned were so low that they could afford only the most basic accommodations—tenements. Unfortunately, there were few laws protecting the residents of tenements, and landlords took advantage of this by allowing the buildings to become cramped and squalid. There was little the tenants could do; their only other choice was the street. Though most immigrants struggled in these buildings, many overcame a difficult start and saw generations after them move on to better apartments, homes, and lives. Raymond Bial reveals the first, challenging step in this process as he leads us on a tour of the sights and sounds of the Lower East Side, guiding us through the dark hallways, staircases, and rooms of the tenements.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Bial] conveys a visual sense of the area's former (if not present) bustle and squalor. This is more than just a photo album... Bial also presents a substantial historical overview." Kirkus Reviews

"Bial focuses this illuminating photoessay on the immigrants who settled on Manhatten's Lower East Side from the early 1800s to the 1930s...Historic photos make the plight of these families startlingly real." Publishers Weekly

"The author's beautifully composed, stunning color pictures...[and] detailed descriptions transport readers back into the cramped quarters and crowded streets and alleys of late 19th and early 20th century New York." School Library Journal

An excellent example of how books can bring the past to the present.
Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

“Children who imagine their ancestors stepping from Ellis Island directly into the American Dream will want to take a look around the old neighborhood.” The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Publishers Weekly
As the title suggests, Bial (The Underground Railroad) focuses this illuminating photoessay on the immigrants who settled on Manhattan's Lower East Side from the early 1800s to the 1930s. Rather than finding the fabled land of opportunity, many lived in poverty in rundown tenement flats plagued by poor ventilation, little light and inadequate sanitation. Through period photos as well as his own color shots (many taken at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum), the author describes and depicts typical cramped apartments. These two-room flats sometimes served as both living quarters (for a dozen or more people, often newly arrived relatives or paying boarders) and family "sweatshops." Bial touches on the sobering particulars: with no running water to allow residents to bathe or launder clothes properly, diseases were rampant, and so many babies died that tenements were known as "infant slaughterhouses." Historic photos, including many famous works by the reformer Jacob Riis, make the plight of these families startlingly real. Bial's conclusion, that most immigrants (or their children or grandchildren) eventually prospered, closes the volume on a positive note. Ages 8-12. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This book is a fascinating look back at the influx of German, Italian, Jewish, and Irish immigrants to America—many them being European ancestors of today's readers. Through words and photographs, this book reminds us of the hardships, poverty, and disease these immigrants faced because they believed their children and grandchildren would have a better life in the "land of opportunity." They endured life in the tenements partly because the Lower East Side of New York City developed into communities where a common language and culture still existed. Bial tells us not only the history of the immigrants but also the historical background and attitudes of the tenement landlords. Laws for private and public housing evolved from this early mistreatment of the disadvantaged tenants. Photographs in the book illustrate the vivid contrasts of life in the tenements: small, dark, crowded rooms, where a few precious and cherished items from "the old country" stood like shrines to those left behind. This book is excellent for parents to share with elementary-age children to start the conversation about their own family's history, especially if their ancestors came to this country through New York City. 2002, Houghton Mifflin Company, Ages 8 to 12.
— Fran Kaiser
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Spacious layouts, with clearly reproduced black-and-white archival photographs-from Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives and the author's beautifully composed, stunning color pictures, many taken at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum-show a community that has been home to thousands of immigrants past and present. The finely written, spare text, with quotes from such people as reformer Riis and author Sydney Taylor, tells of people crammed into small, dark flats, seeking fresh air on fire escapes and rooftops, lacking adequate sanitation, "protected" by rarely enforced housing regulations, and laboring long hours at home or in factory sweatshops. Bial's detailed descriptions transport readers back into the cramped quarters and crowded streets and alleys of late-19th- and early 20th-century New York, but this could be any city with a large immigrant population. The material complements and expands on that in Russell Freedman's Immigrant Kids (Puffin, 1995). Although the lack of chapters or an index makes the book first and foremost a work to browse, read, and savor, its brevity makes it suitable for a classroom read-aloud or report. The pictures are an added bonus for photography students.-Diane S. Marton, Arlington County Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Photographer/historian Bial (Ghost Towns of the American West, 2001, etc.) sets his sights on New York City's Lower East Side, which during the decades around the turn of the 20th Century became a contender for the most densely populated area on Earth. Mixing his own color photos of apartment building facades, narrow hallways, and tiny rooms-most of the last are restored museum exhibits-with more effective old black-and-white shots of teeming streets, ragamuffin children posing in alleyways, and crowded sweatshops, he conveys a visual sense of the area's former (if not its present) bustle and squalor. This is more than just a photo album, however; quoting Jacob Riis and other reformers, Bial also presents a substantial historical overview, taking aim at the unsanitary living conditions, the economic oppression ("These immigrants received just $3.75 for every thousand cigars, and, working as hard as possible, an entire family could roll only about three thousand cigars a week"), and the periodic waves of anti-immigrant feeling residents were forced to endure. Though he writes in generalities, and sometimes repetitively, his picture is a clearer one, especially for non-New Yorkers, than Granfield's more specific but patchwork 97 Orchard Street (2001). (bibliography, Web sites) (Nonfiction. 11-13)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780618138494
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
08/28/2002
Pages:
48
Product dimensions:
8.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range:
10 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Raymond Bial is an acclaimed photoessayist for children. Four of his books were chosen as Notable Books in the Field of Social Studies by the NCSS. He lives in Urbana, Illinois, with his wife and children.

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