This year marks the 120th anniversary of Labor Day as an American holiday.
I love that we set apart a day to honor the dignity of work. Draw your kids’ attention, respect, and gratitude towards the multitudes of makers, cultivators, researchers, peacekeepers, caretakers, thinkers, restorers… with these titles:
Before We Eat: From Farm to Table, by Pat Brisson, illustrated by Mary Azarian published in 2014 by Tilbury House Publishers
Being thankful for those who provide our food is perhaps one of the most natural ways to raise awareness of the industrious folks that serve us. Plowers and planters, harvesters and milkers and fishers. Crate-packers. Truckers. The friendly lady who checks us out at the grocery store. And oh yes, the ones who buy our food and make a family meal.
Mary Azarian’s gorgeous woodblock prints anchor every page of this brief, lyrical text in strength, dignity, and beauty. Her Vermont roots give it a distinctly New England vibe. It’s a warm, peaceful, deeply-satisfying read for ages 2 and up.
Along these same lines, you might try a few other gems:
Migrant, by Maxine Trottier, pictures by Isabelle Arsenault published in 2011 by Groundwood Books
Little Anna and her family are migrant workers, a way of life that makes her feel a bit like a migratory bird or a rabbit that lives in an abandoned burrow.
Anna wonders what it might feel like to be stationary. Like a tree, perhaps, “with roots sunk deeply into the earth.” Watching others come and go, but remaining, season after season, in one, comforting home.
This remarkable book exploring the life of a migrant-worker’s child is deeply reflective and thought-provoking. Isabelle Arsenault’s inventive, dreamlike images escort us into Anna’s realistically-sophisticated mindspace: children really do process such profound ideas. An Author’s Note tells more about the community of Mexican Mennonites from which Anna’s family comes.
It’s a fantastic window into another’s world, for ages 4 and up.
If you’d like to read about campaigns for the just treatment of migrant workers, try:
My Cookie Baker, written and illustrated by Monica Wellington published in 1992 by Dutton Children’s Books
Some people have jobs just so plum full of kid appeal. The Cookie Bakers of the world have to be right up near the top!
Watch Mr. Cookie Baker mix, roll, bake, frost, and dole out hop-skippety-doo cookies for all the children swarming his adorable shop!
There is so much jolly good cheer on every one of these pages, I dare you not to smile! Deliciously-charming fare for little ones ages 15 months and up, with four scrumptious recipes to try for yourselves. You can be a cookie baker, too!
Who Will I Be, Lord? by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Sean Qualls published in 2009 by Random House
Here’s another deeply-contemplative child, observing the callings of those around her and pondering what her own future holds.
Her strong, multiracial family and community engage in salt-of-the-earth occupations — preaching, teaching, and making music, as well as homemaking and mothering. I am so grateful for the dignified portrayal of these monumentally-important undertakings. Even her uncle, a rascal of a pool shark, gets his moment under her gaze, and a gracious conclusion.
Who will I be, Lord? What will I be? is the repeating question lurking in her mind, just as it weaves itself through the thoughts of every child. Sean Qualls’ mixed media work is, as always, warmly-human with a jazzy, contemporary vibe. A really lovely read for ages 4 and up.
Mary Smith, written and illustrated by Andrea U’Ren published in 2003 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Some jobs grow obsolete. Mary Smith’s job, sadly, is one of them. Sadly, I say, because it is an enormously-intriguing job which I would guess would have great appeal to some members of your household!
There really was a Mary Smith who lived in the East End of London
The real Mary Smith!
at the outset of the Industrial Revolution, a time when folks had to report for work at the factory on time, but might not own one of those new-fangled alarm clocks.
Enter the “knocker-up” who would, for a few pennies, come to your window at the right time of daybreak, and shoot dried peas — ping! — at your window until you appeared, frowsy-haired. Mission accomplished, and on to the next window. This short, delightful story about Mary’s pea-shooting prowess will tickle the fancy of you and listeners ages 3 and up!
Ella Takes the Cake, by Carmela and Steven D’Amico published in 2005 by Arthur A. Levine Books
Finally, this enthusiastic little elephant named Ella! Such an earnest desire she has to be helpful to her mother in their bakery by the sea. But hot ovens and sharp knives do not mix well with small elephants, much to Ella’s dismay.
Ella comes up with a brilliant idea, however, which is very helpful and which requires tremendous perseverance! Cheer her along the way in this exuberant story, cram-jammed with charm.
There’s a bit of a Babar feel to the vintage, European-look illustrations, to my mind. Ages 3 and up. There are a bunch more Ella books if you like this one.