The Rooftop Adventure of Minnie and Tessa, Factory Fire Survivors
By: Holly Littlefield
Adapted by: Amanda Doering Tourville
Illustrated by: Ted Hammond and Richard Pimentel Carbajal
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Publication Date: January 2011
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review Date: March 2011
Minnie stood at the bottom of the stairs of a brownstone apartment building in New York City. It was a cold March day and the chill of winter was still in the air. It was seven in the morning and she was going to head out to meet her best friend, Tessa, so they could walk to work together. Minnie had “worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company since she was 10 years old,” and had been working with Tessa for four years. Minnie was Jewish and Tessa was Catholic, an unacceptable friendship in Europe, but this was America. If Minnie’s Papa knew he wouldn’t put his stamp of approval on the friendship, but what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him. The two friends worked on the eighth floor of the Ashe building. The hours were long, the days never ending, but “If they didn’t work their families would have no money to pay for food, clothes or housing.”
The Triangle Shirtwaist Company was an unsafe working environment, but there was little anyone could do about it because the factory met the safety requirements of the day. There were “fire hazards” all over the place and in fact Minnie “had seen two small fires since she had worked there.” The women worked hard to provide for their families, but were very leery of the dangerous conditions they were forced to work under. “WHIRRRrrrr….sshshhhh” went the sewing machines as Minnie and Tessa sewed the shirtwaists. It was almost time to go home, but soon the crackle of flames interrupted the sound of their machines and fierce flames began to engulf their work room. The girls ran for the elevator, but there was no more room and they soon found the doors had been locked. The flames began to rise, the smoke billowed … would Millie and Tessa escape the inferno?
Although fictionalized, this tale is based on the real life accounts of those who survived the infamous and very deadly fire on March 25, 1911 in New York City. Presented in graphic novel form, this account will appeal to many, including the reluctant reader. Due to the historical aspects of this story, it may lead to further research about the incident or others like it. The darkened panels and marvelously meticulous artwork depict the poor working conditions and capture the seriousness of the predicament the girls had found themselves in. This is one story in the “History’s Kid Heroes” series. In the back of the book is more information about the fire and additional recommended book resources to explore.
Quill says: This is a riveting story of two young women, Tessa and Millie, workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.