Kid Lit Review of “The Traveling Camera: Lewis Hine and the Fight to End Child Labor” by Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs

This free verse monologue told as if in Hine’s voice and using some of his actual quotes introduces kids to Lewis W. Hine, a man who became instrumental in helping to alter America’s child labor laws. Born in 1874 in Wisconsin, Hine first became a sociology teacher before realizing that the documentary photographs he took could be used as a tool for social reform.

As art critic Billy Anania observes, “Few American photographers have captured the misery, dignity, and occasional bursts of solidarity within US working-class life as compellingly as Lewis Hine did in the early twentieth century.”

In the early 1900s, Hine traveled across the United States to photograph preteen boys working at dangerous jobs, as well as 7-year-olds selling newspapers on the street and 4-year-olds picking tobacco. Child labor was widespread and widely accepted. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that around the turn of the century, almost one-fifth of all children between the ages of 10 and 15 were working.

The “breaker boys” at a Pennsylvania coal mine, photographed by Hine in 1911. (Library of Congress)

The International Photography Hall of Fame recounted:

Eventually these images helped convince government officials to create and strictly enforce laws against child labor. The impact of these photographs on social reform was immediate and profound. They also inspired the concept of art photography, not because of the subject matter, but because the images showed a stark truth that dramatically differed from an emerging artistic character.”

Hine is shown as an adult in this book, but the focus is on the child laborers whose lives he documented with his pictures. Writing as Hine at the end of the narrative, the author states:

“Perhaps you are weary of child labor pictures. Well, so are the rest of us. But I propose to make the whole country sick and tired of the whole business, to make child labor pictures records of the past.”

In the Afterword, the author notes that more states passed better laws limiting child labor as a result of Hine’s pictures.

Back matter includes additional information about Hine and child labor; a time line for both subjects; sources; and a selection of actual photos by Hine.

Illustrations by Michael Garland give the impression of a historical moment in time, with soft images and a plethora of well-researched period details.

Evaluation: This picture book for readers 8 and up may hold surprises for young readers when they see how privileged kids lives are now compared to earlier times. They will also come away with an awareness about how art and imagery can affect perceptions and have tangible effects, a subject that can be expanded with a discussion of the uses of visual propaganda.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Getty Publications, 2021

Child laborers in glasswork. Indiana, 1908 by Lewis Hine

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