I finished Counting on Grace by Elizabeth Winthrop last night. I could not put it down. It is one of the first books in awhile I felt I needed to stay right with or I was going to miss something. It was one of those fascinating historical fiction novels you feel yourself swept into and you want to become part of that world.
The story is set in the early 1900's in a small town in Vermont where working in the local mill is a way of life and child labor is rampant. The main character, Grace, is torn between continuing her schooling, or helping to support her family working in the mill. Grace is a spunky main character that carries the story through the highs and lows of her family and their lives. Her parents, while wanting the best for Grace, also must stay grounded and realistic in their dreams. Although they encourage her in a direction her teacher, Miss Lesely, and her grandfather feel is less than what she is worth, they are not bad people, they simply did not know better. It reminds me a of quote I have often heard Oprah use, "When you know better, you do better." That statement rings true the further this story is unveiled to the reader.
When Grace meets the real life photographer, Lewis Hine, her life is forever changed. As are the lives of all characters in the novel. Lewis Hine was a photographer who took photos to help crush the world of child labor in the 1900's. His photographs are well documented and are now on display at the Bennington Museum in Bennington, Vermont. There are also several books written about his photographs. (All of which are found in Winthrop's Further Reading section of this book)
The things that I like about this book are of course the historical connections, the back story to the photograph that inspired the novel, the fact that Grace is French Canadian and there is a lot of French in the book, and the gripping story of Grace's new friend, Arthur. (Gotta read the book for that one)
Something I did not like about the book is really a good thing in disguise. I was left wanting more. I wanted more of the story. I couldn't stop myself. I wanted to be in that world, in that time period, in that schoolroom, just to say "I AM HERE FOR YOU!"
This story is exactly right for fifth grade. I would recommend the novel to any real reader in my class. I would say everyone, but it would take a special fifth grade to ingest this story all on his or her own. I would love to read it aloud.
There is so much more to this story, I am just giving you my initial response. If you would like a detailed view of the story, I must again point you to Fuse #8. You may also check out these reviews:
Best Books 2006