The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

the-hired-girlBibliographic Information:

  • Publisher, Date: Candlewick Press, 2015
  • Edition, First
  • Description: 387 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm; hardback.
  • Interest Level: YA; Lexile level 810
  • Summary: Fourteen-year-old Joan Skraggs, just like the heroines in her beloved novels, yearns for real life and true love. But what hope is there for adventure, beauty, or art on a hardscrabble farm in Pennsylvania where the work never ends? Over the summer of 1911, Joan pours her heart out into her diary as she seeks a new, better life for herself–because maybe, just maybe, a hired girl cleaning and cooking for six dollars a week can become what a farm girl could only dream of–a woman with a future. Retrieved from publisher at http://www.candlewick.com/cat.asp?browse=Title&mode=book&isbn=076367818X&pix=y.
  • ISBN: 978-0-7636-7818-0
  • Subjects:
    • American History – Fiction
    • Jewish History (American) – Fiction
    • Women’s Education – Fiction
    • Social Structure / Class – Fiction

Reader’s Annotation: Burn my books will you!! I show you; I leaving home and never coming back!

Plot Summary:  Fourteen year old Joan Scraggs might as well be an orphan for all the love and care she receives in her family of farming men in rural Pennsylvania.  The youngest child and only girl, she was influenced by her deceased mother to seek education.  But, after her mother’s death, her father pulled her out of school so that she could assume the duties that had been performed by his dead wife.  Joan, who loved school and was good at it, deeply resented his actions and the treatment she received from him and her brothers.  After he burned her books and blamed her for her mother’s death, she packed her things and ran away from home, hoping to survive on the twenty-nine dollars her mother had hidden in the apron of her doll, Belinda, until she can find work as a hired girl for six dollars a week.

Eventually she finds herself in Baltimore where against all odds she attracts the attention of a kind young man who, after learning she has lost her mother and thinking her father beat her, takes her to his home where she becomes a hired girl, and finds what she has been searching for; a family who cares for her and a future.

Critical Evaluation:  Schlitz has written a book in a diary format that follows a path taken by many writers; a poor girl flees a terrible situation and is rescued by a handsome young man.  Another successful Cinderella story?  Well, yes and no.  In this case the writer resisted the urge to provide a prince charming or another other knight in shining armor to rescue the princess and give her a life of roses and diamonds.  Instead she opted to make the story a little more believable and to provide, ironically, the possibility of a real and honest happy ending.  Instead of handing the future to Joan, the author opens the door to the future by virtue of the father of the young man who rescues her.  The father sees in Joan someone with a good mind and being Jewish, with a profound respect for education and intelligence even in a girl, he helps Joan on her path to a future.  He becomes what she really needed, a father and mentor, not a prince on a white horse.

Schlitz took a chance and wrote about a girl with a brain who stumbled into a world that few women had access to during that period of time.  She is a character with flaws and weakness common to almost all fourteen year old girls; too romantic and too naïve.  But she is smart, open-minded and kind.  She makes mistakes, gets her feelings hurt, and ultimately finds a place with people who care about her.  Everything isn’t perfect but her life is on a path that will take her to the kind of future her mother would have wanted for her.  She is a great character in a believable book that was well written.  What more can you ask!

Author’s Brief Bio: Laura Amy Schlitz is the author of the Newbery Medal–winning Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, the Newbery Honor book and New York Times bestseller Splendors & Glooms, and several other books for young readers. A teacher as well as a writer, Laura Amy Schlitz lives in Maryland.

Genre Designation: Historical Fiction

Curriculum Links:

  • American History, late 1800’s
  • Women’s History and Societal Roles
  • Education Reform
  • Religion in 19th century Maryland

Book Talk Ideas

  • What if you couldn’t go to school because you are a girl? Or because you are a boy?

Materials Relating to Potential Challenges:

Reviews:

Why this book was selected. As a student of history I am always drawn to stories of plucky women trying to move past the restrictions of their time, income, family or religion to fulfill their dreams and live up to their potential.  This story is one that creates a character that is both believable and likeable.

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