The Traveling Camera: Lewis Hine and the Fight to End Child Labor

By Alexandra S. D. Hinrichs, illustrated by Michael Garland. Getty Publications, 2021. 44 pages. $17.99/hardcover; $14.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 69.

Although compulsory education statutes have existed since colonial days, the U.S. Congress did not enact a law abolishing child labor until 1938. This book introduces readers to early-twentieth-century photographer, Lewis Wickes Hine, who worked for the National Child Labor Committee. Using the then-novel technology of a boxy camera with glass plate negatives, Hine documented the exhausting and penuriously compensated work of tiny employees deprived of elementary education.

Subtly lit illustrations convey the children’s fatigue while inviting readers to view them tenderly. Narrated in the first person, the book draws on Hine’s writings, sometimes quoting them, to describe his visits to various grueling workplaces.

One weary child works at a glass factory until 3:00 a.m. and must wait until 6:00 a.m. for the next trolley home. A little messenger is afraid to ride his bike alone in the dark streets, so his brother, who has worked all day, accompanies him.

The narrator lies to the supervisor of a cotton mill, saying company officials sent him to photograph malfunctioning equipment. Inside, he interviews and photographs illiterate children who earn 50 cents per day creating textiles. He notes that more children work in the mill than attend the neighborhood school.

While photographing children in a cranberry bog, the narrator describes a wrenching encounter with a small girl.

I turn to leave,
feel a tug on my sleeve.
Mellie asks me to take
a picture
of her dolly.

The book demonstrates the impact a single activist can have on a seemingly insurmountable social problem. In addition to the story, it contains a timeline of Hine’s life and work as well as several of his photographs. Parents, librarians, and teachers will find it engaging and edifying for young readers.

Sharlee DiMenichi is a member of Lehigh Valley Meeting in Bethlehem, Pa. She is an environmental educator and works as an instructional assistant to elementary students. 

Previous Book Next Book