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Hinrichs takes young readers on a journey with ‘The Traveling Camera’

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Author Alexandra Hinrichs reads from "The Traveling Camera" at the book launch event, hosted by The Briar Patch. Author Alexandra Hinrichs reads from "The Traveling Camera" at the book launch event, hosted by The Briar Patch. (edge photo by Neily Raymond)

BANGOR - Local children’s author Alexandra S.D. Hinrichs has released a new book. “The Traveling Camera: Lewis Hine and the Fight to End Child Labor,” illustrated by Michael Garland, tells the story of a 20th century photographer’s quest for reform. It has been praised by Kirkus Reviews as “a searching picture of a pioneering social crusader.” 

Hinrichs, a librarian at Leonard Middle School in Old Town by day, was generous enough to answer some questions for The Maine Edge about the path that led her to “The Traveling Camera.” 

The Maine Edge: Both your previous book, “Thérèse Makes a Tapestry,” and “The Traveling Camera” feature working children across history. What inspired your interest in this subject matter?

Alexandra Hinrichs: I get a kick out of this myself, but the truth is, the like subjects were a coincidence. I did realize it halfway through the writing process, and find it fascinating that one celebrates a child working while the other condemns it, and there could be an entire article on why that is. 

The short answer is that teaching the mastery of a trade a child could use to support themselves was a far cry from using children to do repetitive, dull, and/or dangerous tasks for very little pay. However, I have always been interested in finding children in the historical record - it isn't easy to do - and in learning about how children lived at different points of time. 

TME: Maine has a long history of children working in mills, factories, and fields. You grew up in Massachusetts, and now call Maine home—do you think your New England roots influenced aspects of “The Traveling Camera?”

AH: Absolutely. While Hine grew up in Wisconsin (where I also lived!), he moved to the east coast and I definitely lingered over his many photographs in New England, including Maine and Massachusetts. One of my favorite books I read about him was “Picturing Class: Lewis W. Hine Photographs Child Labor in New England” by Robert Macieski. Having a physical memory of some of the places he photographed helps me think about the layers of history in a single place, the stories that fill an alley or door stoop. It helps me approach a subject like this with a sense of wonder.

TME: The historical accuracy of your books is outstanding. It shows tremendous respect for your young readers that you depict these complex (and sometimes painful) topics with integrity. What was your research process for “The Traveling Camera” like?

AH: Thank you so much for recognizing that it is a process with a lot of work behind it! In addition to spending a LOT of time poring over his photographs and their captions, I read every book I could find on Hine and every piece of his writing I could access. When I couldn't figure out why an author had stated something, I wrote to the author directly and other Hine experts out there. As a librarian, I'm quick to ask other librarians and museum curators for help if I'm running dry in an area. Then, of course, I compiled many notes, images, websites, and quotes into my research files in Scrivener (the writing program I use). Other than the photographs, my favorite research file for this project was one called "quotes and language" where I compiled a list of words and phrases that Hine used. I frequently turned to that when I wanted to bring in more of his voice. 

TME: What do you hope readers take away from “The Traveling Camera?”

AH: I hope readers come away with an appreciation of Hine and the children he met, and with a sense of curiosity about all the children who aren't depicted in history. I hope all people, but children in particular, understand that their stories matter. Their lives matter. They matter. I hope that “The Traveling Camera” helps raise awareness about child labor in general. It's still an issue today.  I would be remiss not to add that 2021 is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor. I did not know that until close to the end of the book's production. And I hope people think about how they can use art for social justice or how others have done so. Finally, I hope readers come away with a sense of wonder and curiosity about history and the places we live in.

(Copies of “The Traveling Camera” are available at The Briar Patch, 27 Central Street, while supplies last, as well as online.)

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 September 2021 07:22

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