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
ages 9 and up, 2008