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[Nonfiction Wednesday] Women on Fire: The Remarkable True Stories of Clara Lemlich and Sarah Emma Edmonds


Fats here.

We are delighted to join the Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 hosted by Alyson Beecher @ Kid Lit Frenzy. We would also be linking our nonfiction choices with our reading themes throughout the year, as well as reading challenges that we have pledged to join this year. Our reading theme for January/February is Once Upon a Childhood: Throwback Reads on Childhood Favourites and HOT for CYBILS.

I am happy to be able to contribute to Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday this week despite having only slept for 3 hours after working 3 different 8 hours shifts almost consecutively! Kinda crazy, huh? Speaking of crazy, the women featured in my post for today pulled off some “crazy” acts to fight for what they believed in. I’m excited to kick off this Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge with the remarkable stories of Clara Lemlich and Sarah Emma Edmonds.

bravegirlBrave Girl
(Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909)

Written by: Michelle Markel
Illustrated by: Melissa Sweet
Published by: Balzer + Bray (2013)
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library.

Brave Girl is the story of Clara Lemlich, a young girl from Ukraine who set foot in New York City with her family in search of a new beginning. Like many immigrants during her time, Clara found work in the booming garment industry. Because no one would hire her father, Clara decided to make women’s clothing for a living. From dawn ’til dusk, Clara joined hundreds of young women seated in rows and rows of machines and cloths. The place was crammed, and there were only two toilets, one sink, and three towels for all of these women to share.


Being cooped up in a factory every day did not stop Clara from learning. At the end of her shift, she spent time reading books at the library. Clara became a working student. I was reminded of a time when I had to go to school in the morning, and then work at night. In Clara’s case, it was the opposite.

She fills her empty stomach with a single glass of milk and goes to school at night. When she gets home in the late evening, she sleeps only a few hours before rising again.

The work condition and unfair treatment of factory workers angered Clara. She was determined to make some changes so she started going on strike. She encouraged other workers to fight for their rights. Clara got fired every time she led a walkout, was arrested by the police several times, and got six of her ribs broken. Clara’s spirit, however, was unbreakable. She led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history that encouraged thousands of women to walk out of garment factories in Philadelphia and Chicago. This led to the rise of unions, shortened workweek, and increased wages.


Clara Lemlich has an admirable fighting spirit. The book focused less on the details of her life and more on her influence on the working class. Melissa Sweet’s watercolor illustrations were a reflection of Clara’s gentle spirit and firm resolve. Last March, I wrote a special feature on one of her books, A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. Dedicated to workers everywhere, Brave Girl is another charming picturebook read.

nursespyNurse, Soldier, Spy
(The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero)

Written by: Marissa Moss
Illustrated by: John Hendrix
Published by: Abrams Books for Young Readers (2011)
Book borrowed from Wayne County Public Library.

This is a story of Sarah Edmonds. This is also a story of Frank Thompson.

In order to escape an arranged marriage, Sarah Emma Edmonds cut her brown wavy hair, put on a pair of pants, and ran away. At nineteen, she crossed the border from Canada into the United States and began her new life as Frank Thompson. She had been dressing, walking, talking – pretty much living – as a man for three years. She enjoyed “freedom unhindered by heavy skirts.”

Signed under the name, Frank Thompson, Sarah became a private in Company F, Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry of the Army of the Potomac. It was her way of giving back to the country became her new home and provided her a new life.


Sarah made friends in the army and was proud of the work she was doing, first as a soldier, then a nurse, and later, a spy. It is worth noting that Nurse, Soldier, and Spy was nominated in the 2011 CYBILS, non-fiction picture book category. The long narrative and caricature-like drawings make Nurse, Soldier, and Spy a book for older children. Readers will learn bits and pieces about the Civil War in addition to the incredible story of Sarah Edmonds.


#nfpb2015 Challenge Update: 1 & 2 of 25

11 comments on “[Nonfiction Wednesday] Women on Fire: The Remarkable True Stories of Clara Lemlich and Sarah Emma Edmonds

  1. Thanks for having this up baby girl! 🙂 Rest well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They were indeed Women on Fire! I enjoyed both these picture books. Melissa Sweet is one of my favorite children’s illustrators!


  3. I’ve read Brave Girl, & my class studied & visited the building/memorial of the shirtwaist factory fire in NYC. She was so brave. And I’m glad to know about the story of Sarah Edmonds, know of a few women who dressed as men (there’s a book in our library), but not this one. Thanks, and Happy New Year, Fats!


    • Fats Suela

      That sounds amazing, Linda! Yes, she was indeed brave, especially after all the beatings and arrests she had to endure. She just kept on swimming. I hope you find a copy of Nurse, Soldier, Spy. I noticed just now that both women were originally not from the United States, yet they had contributed much to this nation. Happy New Year, Linda! =)


  4. They both look interesting! Thanks for sharing these beautifully-illustrated non-fiction works.


  5. These titles have been so recommended, it’s almost like I’ve read them already. But, yeah, these are great for featuring strong female characters.


  6. Pingback: [Nonfiction Wednesday] Limitless: The Awe-Inspiring Life of Mary Edwards Walker in “Mary Walker Wears the Pants” by Cheryl Harness and Carlo Molinari – Gathering Books

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