Touched by Fire

Touched by Fire

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by Irene N. Watts

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"Let them burn. They're a lot of cattle anyway."
A factory-owner's response regarding the use of fire drills in March 1911.

     Touched by Fire, Irene N. Watt's exquisite new novel, explores one family's journey as they flee from the pogroms of Russia in 1905, where the Cossacks burn villages to the ground, to Berlin, Germany


"Let them burn. They're a lot of cattle anyway."
A factory-owner's response regarding the use of fire drills in March 1911.

     Touched by Fire, Irene N. Watt's exquisite new novel, explores one family's journey as they flee from the pogroms of Russia in 1905, where the Cossacks burn villages to the ground, to Berlin, Germany, where Jews have a hard time living and working in peace, to the streets of the Lower East Side in New York. Teenage Miriam gives a first-hand account of the excitement everyone feels about going to America, the "Golden Land," the journey in steerage, the arrival at Ellis Island, and the discrimination the immigrants feel while seeking employment. When Miriam finally lands a job at the Triangle Shirt Waist Company as a cuff setter, she believes her future in the New World is finally secure. But on March 25, 1911, the fire that starts from overflowing bins of material scraps rages into what becomes known as the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and Miriam's life is forever changed.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Drawing from historical events, Watts (Clay Man: The Golem of Prague) addresses European anti-Semitism, immigrant life, and labor rights in early 20th-century New York City. Miriam and her Jewish family were attacked by the Cossacks in their hometown of Kiev, Russia, and they foresee trouble from Kaiser Wilhelm after they relocate to East Berlin. Miriam's father works all hours as a tailor to buy tickets to America, the "Golden Land," but the trip will separate the family. He arrives first and writes encouraging letters back. Fourteen-year-old Miriam follows in 1910, sent on the arduous two-week boat ride alone because of her baby sister's delicate health and her brother's stubborn unwillingness to leave. Miriam finds work with the unscrupulous Shirtwaist Kings, briefly enjoying new friends and freedoms, only to be struck down by disaster. Watts offers a scrupulously researched portrayal of the Triangle Waist Company fire and the conditions that led to the tragedy. Her descriptions of the threats and hurdles endured by those who left the familiar behind to immigrate to America are polished, candid, and faithful to Jewish history. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Praise for No Moon

"... Watts has written another great book of historical fiction. While the topic of death is very much a part of the story, she handles it in such a manger that it is not a morbid story, but one of hope and overcoming fear."
- Resource Links

"...Watts provides a fascinating account of what the great unsinkable ship was like. The catastrophe is rendered in a heartbreakingly graceful style, and Lou performs heroically in shepherding her two little girls to safety on a lifeboat in this uniquely engaging and satisfying coming-of-age historical adventure tale."
- Starred Review, Booklist

VOYA - Charla Hollingsworth
Miriam and her Jewish family live in Germany in the early 1900s. As the family begins to sense an anti-Jewish tone and disturbing changes in German society, Miriam's father decides it is time to move the family to America. Miriam's brother, Yuri, is against this idea—he enjoys living in Germany and wants to become a soldier. Eventually Miriam's father saves enough money for one ship passage to America, with the plan to work hard, save money, and send for the rest of the family at a later date. When the time comes for Miriam, her mother, and Yuri to make the trip to America, Yuri pretends he cannot hear which means he is not allowed to board the ship to America. Miram's mother is furious but decides she must stay in Germany to care for Yuri, so she sends Miriam off to America alone. Once Miriam arrives in America, she quickly finds work at the Triangle Waist Company as a seamstress. Conditions in the factory are difficult and one day, a history-changing fire breaks out which leads to many law changes. Touched By Fire is perfect historical fiction for fans of the Dear America series and readers who enjoy novels by Patricia Reilly Giff. While Watts tackles many issues in Touched By Fire (anti-Semitism, immigrant working conditions, assimiliation to a new country), the narrative handles the issues with thoughtfulness and sensitivity. An afterword provides historical context for the events mentioned in the novel. Reviewer: Charla Hollingsworth
School Library Journal
Gr 5–8—In this combination coming-of-age novel and early-20th-century history lesson, Miriam, a Jewish teenager, and her family dream of going to America, the "Golden Land." Miriam's long and eventful journey begins in 1905 as her family flees the pogroms and moves to Berlin to save money for their ultimate destination-New York City. Her father goes ahead of his wife and three children and settles on the Lower East Side, and his letters home record the struggles of immigrants trying to establish themselves in a new world. Ultimately, Miriam, traveling alone, endures steerage conditions on a ship and joins her father. A new friend and a job at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory seem to promise a fresh start. Fire is a real and constant threat from the novel's opening pages; at each stage of Miriam's journey, it plays a catalytic role. The details on the Shirtwaist tragedy are age-appropriately frightening and heartbreaking. The novel does not tread any new ground, but it does present a likable and determined character who is reminiscent of Francie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and it provides a solid overview of a turbulent period in world history. The novel will appeal to readers of historical fiction, but would also enhance units focusing on the first 35 years of the 20th century.—Shelley Sommer, Inly School, Scituate, MA

Product Details

Publication date:
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Random House
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
10 Years

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Meet the Author

Born in Germany, Irene N. Watts is a playwright and author who has worked throughout Canada and Europe. She has published many award-winning books for children, including Good-bye Marianne, Finding Sophie, Remember Me, Clay May: The Golem of Prague, and No Moon. Her books have been translated into several languages, including Italian, French, and Dutch. Irene N. Watts lives in Vancouver. Visit her website at The author lives in Vancouver, Canada.

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Touched by Fire 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Teaches a lot