Counting on Grace

Compelling, fact-based story of child labor.
ALA Best and Notable Books

What parents need to know


A boy has his hand mangled and two fingers cut off by a machine. An old man is killed trying to board a moving train.

Not applicable

"Damned" used once.

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Drinking, drugs, & smoking


Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there is a horrifying scene of a boy deliberately putting his hand in a machine, which mangles it and cuts off two fingers, so that he won't have to work in the mill anymore. Sensitive children will find both the scene and its implications disturbing.

What's the story?

Twelve-year-olds Grace and Arthur are the best students in their one-room school in Pownal, Vermont just after the turn of the century. So their teacher, Miss Lesley, is more upset than usual when they are pulled out of school to join the many children already working in the textile mill to help support their families. Grace accepts this as the norm, but Arthur is angry and frustrated, determined to find a way to escape the mill.

Secretly, Miss Lesley begins giving them lessons on Sundays, their one day off. And she encourages them to write to the National Child Labor Committee about their mill. The NCLC sends Lewis Hines to photograph and document the children working in the mill. But as time goes by, and nothing seems to change, Arthur becomes increasingly withdrawn and angry, until he decides to take drastic measures.

Includes author's notes about Lewis Hines, his photo (on the cover) that inspired the story, and references.

Is it any good?


This fascinating and, at times, horrifying story will open kids' eyes to what the lives of some children in America were like not all that long ago. Now required reading throughout the state of Vermont, COUNTING ON GRACE is based on the true story of photographer Lewis Hines' crusade to reveal the realities of child labor to the public. It was inspired particularly by one of his photos that shows a young girl with a haunting expression, dressed in rather filthy clothing, standing in front of a spinning frame.

The author does not pull any punches here: Actions have consequences, lives are altered and sometimes shattered, and things don't turn out the way anyone in the story hopes, though there are signs in the end of a brighter future for Grace. This compelling and very readable fact-based story about a time with parallels to our own shows kids a part of history they may not have heard much about in school.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Lewis Hines and child labor. Why did Hines use a camera instead of writing? Why shouldn't children work to help support their families?

Book details

Author:Elizabeth Winthrop
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House
Publication date:March 1, 2006
Number of pages:232
Read aloud:10
Read alone:10
Award:ALA Best and Notable Books

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Teen, 14 years old Written byCSM Screen Name... October 26, 2009
age 11+

Great Book for History Lovers ages 11+

This realistically fascinating book is an eye-opener to a part of American history that can be quite appalling. A time where children like Grace and her friend, Arthur, were pulled out of school illegally to work grueling hours on machines; or where storekeepers were able to cheat their customers because of their illiteracy. Through the voice and broken English of fictional Grace Forcier, Elizabeth Winthrop weaves an endearing tale about the financial and family hardships an average mill-working family would have faced, while hinting a better future for the restless protagonist. Though some people may think this book harshly accurate, it informs readers about a history we all should know.
Kid, 10 years old April 9, 2008
age 0+


If this book it reccomended for 10 year olds, the person who decided that must be completely crazy. Only a totally phyco person could ever say that a book including content like this could be a good book for 10 year olds. The fact that this book is based on real life and true facts makes it even less appealing- if that's possible. And to think that any one could even think to call this book "COMPELLING" or "APPROPRIATE".
Kid, 11 years old June 2, 2011
age 9+

Good Book

Very interesting, true, sad, and intriguing book. Okay for ages 9 and up, younger may be fine for some children but iffy for others. It's a great book, I would recommend it.
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