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Missing from Haymarket Square Review

Review of book for 4-6 graders entitled Missing from Haymarket Square by Harriette Gillem Robinet. The book serves as a great introduction for children into social justice issues and the history of the labour movement.

Missing from Haymarket Square

By Harriette Gillem Robinet

Review by christopher mitchell

Haymarket Square. The words jumped out at me. But I was somewhat confused because the book was only 142 pages long and its typeface suggested it was meant for a young audience. This was my introduction to Harriette Gillem Robinet, a Chicago based writer who has written several historical fiction books to spur children’s interest in justice and those who struggle for it.

After verifying that the book was indeed intended for a 4-6 grade audience, I figured I would give it a whirl though I feared the let-down of a watered-down history. Quite the contrary, Robinet produced a book appropriate for that age range without diluting the horrors of the time.

Dinah, the main character, is the daughter of an African-American trade unionist organizing people around the 8-hour day in 1886 Chicago. She has to deal with finding food for her family and the other families that share the apartment with them because her mother is disabled from a number of accidents in the sewing factory. The story does well in describing cities crammed with homeless immigrants, people working 12-18 hour days, and Pinkertons kidnapping anyone who organizes against the greed of the factory owners that caused those brutish conditions. In fact, the Pinkerton kidnapping of her blacklisted father is the plot of the story.

Robinet’s theme can best be summed up by Dinah’s frustration after seeing a police officer taking a bribe from a factory owner: “Who were the bigger thieves here: those who stole for food, or those who took money to overlook crimes?”

Anyone, regardless of age, who does not have passing familiarity with that famous year in Chicago should pick up this book. It’s a quick read and ends with references to track down more information. Perhaps that is the best part of this book, it does not end with Dinah but rather with an author’s note in which she quickly describes the events leading up to the Haymarket Square bombing and the reasons it came to pass.

All in all, it is a sobering reminder during the present period following September 11. People may be frustrated at organizing in an increasingly hostile, nationalistic atmosphere, but the pressures we face currently are paltry compared to the hurtles workers had to overcome in 1886 to organize.

For anyone looking for a good gift around these times – I would recommend checking out this book, or anything with Robinet’s name. I can think of few books that would more help children to understand the necessity of struggling for justice.




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