Deborah Hopkinson

Award Winning Author of Fiction & Nonfiction for Children & Teens

Shutting Out the Sky

Life in the Tenements of New York, 1880 to 1924

What is this book about?

Author Hop­kin­son recounts the lives of five immi­grants to New York’s Low­er East Side through oral his­to­ries and engag­ing nar­ra­tive. We hear Roman­ian-born Mar­cus Rav­age’s dis­ap­point­ment when his aunt push­es him out­side to ped­dle choco­lates on the street. And about the pick­le cart lady who stored her pick­les in a rat-infest­ed base­ment. We read Rose Cohen’s ter­ri­fy­ing account of liv­ing through the Tri­an­gle Shirt­waist fire, and of Pauline New­man’s strug­gles to learn Eng­lish. But through it all, each one of these kids keeps work­ing, keeps hop­ing, to achieve their own Amer­i­can dream.

Awards and Recognition

  • ALA Notable
  • Jane Addams Hon­or Book
  • NCTE Orbis Pic­tus Hon­or Award
  • Syd­ney Tay­lor Notable Book


Here are some links to les­son plans relat­ed to Shut­ting Out the Sky and immi­gra­tion to Amer­i­ca, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the 19th century.


“In the tra­di­tion of Rus­sell Freed­man’s Immi­grant Kids (1980), but much more detailed, this his­to­ry of the 23 mil­lion immi­grants who came to New York City from south­ern and east­ern Europe at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry human­izes the sta­tis­tics by weav­ing togeth­er the per­son­al sto­ries of five young peo­ple with the social con­di­tions that caused them to emi­grate, what they left behind, what they hoped for, what they found, and how they changed Amer­i­ca. Amaz­ing doc­u­men­tary pho­tos by Jacob Riis and many oth­ers, as well as riv­et­ing quotes from archives and mem­oirs, add depth and dra­ma to the accounts of young peo­ple, from street to school to sweat­shop. At 16, Mar­cus Rav­age con­vinces his par­ents to sell the fam­i­ly cow to pay for his jour­ney from Roma­nia. Lithuan­ian immi­grant Pauline New­man becomes one of the first women labor orga­niz­ers. Ital­ian Amer­i­can Leonard Cov­el­lo is ashamed to bring his friends home, even as he learns that he can become Amer­i­can with­out reject­ing where he came from. Metic­u­lous doc­u­men­ta­tion, includ­ing full chap­ter notes, will help the many young people–and their par­ents and grandparents–who will want to know more and to research their own fam­i­ly roots.  (Book­list, starred review)

“Through the sto­ries of five immi­grants, the world of New York City’s ten­e­ments in the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­turies comes alive with descrip­tions of the new­com­ers’ strug­gles and tri­umphs as they attend­ed night school, aban­doned cus­toms, or in oth­er ways accli­mat­ed to life in Amer­i­ca. Some came as chil­dren, oth­ers as teenagers, all eager either to suc­ceed on their own or to help their fam­i­lies. Leonard Cov­el­lo, who left Italy and arrived at Ellis Island with his moth­er and younger broth­ers six years after his father, became a high school prin­ci­pal. Pauline New­man began her work­ing career in 1901 as a child labor­er in the gar­ment indus­try and lat­er became one of the first women orga­niz­ers of the Inter­na­tion­al Ladies’ Gar­ment Work­ers’ Union. Cit­ing sources, Hop­kin­son quotes fre­quent­ly from her sub­jects’ and oth­ers’ writ­ing, and pro­vides a detailed and inti­mate pic­ture of dai­ly life in Man­hat­tan’s Low­er East Side. The text is sup­port­ed by numer­ous tint­ed, archival pho­tos of liv­ing and work­ing con­di­tions. Although this book will appeal to stu­dents look­ing for mate­r­i­al for projects, the writ­ing lends imme­di­a­cy and vivid images make it sim­ply a fas­ci­nat­ing read.” (School Library Jour­nal)

“Hop­kin­son’s enthu­si­asm for research, pri­ma­ry sources, and indi­vid­ual sto­ries that make his­to­ry come alive is evi­dent through­out this excel­lent work.” (Kirkus Reviews)

author, Deb­o­rah Hop­kin­son
Orchard Books
ages 9 and up, 2008
ISBN 978–0439375900

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