Reviews for Tenement : Immigrant Life on the Lower East Side


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 October 2002
/*Starred Review*/ Gr. 5-8. "Half the world doesn't know how the other half lives" goes the old saying. This book about tenement life will certainly be an eye-opener to many young people who are used to their own space where they can live and dream. Although there have been several books about tenement life, including the recent 97 Orchard Street [BKL F 15 2002], in this one, the writing is particularly clear and sharp. Calling upon and quoting the writing of reformer Jacob Riis (and featuring his compelling photographs), Bial explains simply, yet engagingly, what tenement life was like--the dank apartments, people packed against people, the noise and smells from the street that pervaded everything. Effectively weaving in quotations, laws, personal remembrances, and his own astute commentary, he paints a word picture of life at the turn of the last century. Along with Riis' photographs, Bial provides some of his own, taken at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City. These crisp color photographs bring tenement life even closer: a dresser top with medicine and photographs, a mattress covering a chest and chair--a child's makeshift bed. An excellent example of how books can bring the past to the present. ((Reviewed October 15, 2002)) Copyright 2002 Booklist Reviews

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Horn Book Guide Reviews 2003 Spring
Opening with optimistic rhetoric about the immigrant experience, Bial quickly moves to his subject: the pessimistic reality of immigrants living in tenements on New York's Lower East Side. Relying heavily on reformer Jacob Riis's words and photos, Bial documents the rise of the tenement and the appalling conditions under which those tenements ""prospered."" Bial's own photos have a compelling clarity and composition. Bib. Copyright 2003 Horn Book Guide Reviews

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Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2002 #6
The immigrant experience often invites the kind of optimistic rhetoric with which Bial opens his text. He quotes from Anzia Yezierska who, on her arrival in America, speaks of "my young, strong body, my heart and soul pregnant with the unlived lives of generations clamoring for expression." Bial quickly moves to his subject: the pessimistic reality of immigrants who ended up living in tenements on New York's Lower East Side. Relying heavily on reformer Jacob Riis's words and photographs, Bial documents the rise of the tenement to house the heavy influx of immigrants to Manhattan's lower end and the appalling conditions under which those tenements "prospered." Bial's own photographs-taken at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum-have a compelling clarity and composition that make beautiful even a starkly lit hallway or a single room functioning as both living quarters and bedroom. An opened suitcase reveals neatly folded garments, including a pair of seemingly pristine white gloves; a bed shows a spotless white nightgown laid out by the side of pure white pillowcases trimmed with lace. One needs the despairing humans (homeless boys nestled in an alley; a family of four whose blank faces stare at the camera) of Riis's stark black-and-white photographs to feel the horror of poverty. Young readers will do well to turn to the excellent further reading section that cites four Riis titles as part of its bibliography as well as children's fiction and selected websites. Copyright 2002 Horn Book Magazine Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2002 July #1
Photographer/historian Bial (Ghost Towns of the American West, 2001, etc.) sets his sights on New York City's Lower East Side, which during the decades around the turn of the 20th Century became a contender for the most densely populated area on Earth. Mixing his own color photos of apartment building facades, narrow hallways, and tiny rooms-most of the last are restored museum exhibits-with more effective old black-and-white shots of teeming streets, ragamuffin children posing in alleyways, and crowded sweatshops, he conveys a visual sense of the area's former (if not its present) bustle and squalor. This is more than just a photo album, however; quoting Jacob Riis and other reformers, Bial also presents a substantial historical overview, taking aim at the unsanitary living conditions, the economic oppression ("These immigrants received just $3.75 for every thousand cigars, and, working as hard as possible, an entire family could roll only about three thousand cigars a week"), and the periodic waves of anti-immigrant feeling residents were forced to endure. Though he writes in generalities, and sometimes repetitively, his picture is a clearer one, especially for non-New Yorkers, than Granfield's more specific but patchwork 97 Orchard Street (2001). (bibliography, Web sites) (Nonfiction. 11-13) Copyright Kirkus 2002 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2002 July #5
As the title suggests, Bial (The Underground Railroad) focuses this illuminating photoessay on the immigrants who settled on Manhattan's Lower East Side from the early 1800s to the 1930s. Rather than finding the fabled land of opportunity, many lived in poverty in rundown tenement flats plagued by poor ventilation, little light and inadequate sanitation. Through period photos as well as his own color shots (many taken at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum), the author describes and depicts typical cramped apartments. These two-room flats sometimes served as both living quarters (for a dozen or more people, often newly arrived relatives or paying boarders) and family "sweatshops." Bial touches on the sobering particulars: with no running water to allow residents to bathe or launder clothes properly, diseases were rampant, and so many babies died that tenements were known as "infant slaughterhouses." Historic photos, including many famous works by the reformer Jacob Riis, make the plight of these families startlingly real. Bial's conclusion, that most immigrants (or their children or grandchildren) eventually prospered, closes the volume on a positive note. Ages 8-12. (Aug.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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School Library Journal Reviews 2002 September
Gr 4-8-Spacious layouts, with clearly reproduced black-and-white archival photographs-from Jacob Riis's How the Other Half Lives and the author's beautifully composed, stunning color pictures, many taken at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum-show a community that has been home to thousands of immigrants past and present. The finely written, spare text, with quotes from such people as reformer Riis and author Sydney Taylor, tells of people crammed into small, dark flats, seeking fresh air on fire escapes and rooftops, lacking adequate sanitation, "protected" by rarely enforced housing regulations, and laboring long hours at home or in factory sweatshops. Bial's detailed descriptions transport readers back into the cramped quarters and crowded streets and alleys of late-19th- and early 20th-century New York, but this could be any city with a large immigrant population. The material complements and expands on that in Russell Freedman's Immigrant Kids (Puffin, 1995). Although the lack of chapters or an index makes the book first and foremost a work to browse, read, and savor, its brevity makes it suitable for a classroom read-aloud or report. The pictures are an added bonus for photography students.-Diane S. Marton, Arlington County Library, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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