Cover image for Tenement : immigrant life on the Lower East Side
Tenement : immigrant life on the Lower East Side
Bial, Raymond.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, [2002]

Physical Description:
48 pages : color illustrations ; 26 cm
Presents a view of New York City's tenements during the peak years of foreign immigration, discussing living conditions, laws pertaining to tenements, and the occupations of their residents.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 7.9 1.0 66481.
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV4046.N6 B53 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HV4046.N6 B53 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf
HV4046.N6 B53 2002 Juvenile Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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Life on the Lower East Side was bustling. Immigrants from many European countries had come to make a better life for themselves and their families in the United States. But the wages they earned were so low that they could afford only the most basic accommodations--tenements. Unfortunately, there were few laws protecting the residents of tenements, and landlords took advantage of this by allowing the buildings to become cramped and squalid. There was little the tenants could do; theironly other choice was the street. Though most immigrants struggled in these buildings, many overcame a difficult start and saw generations after them move on to better apartments, homes, and lives. Raymond Bial reveals the first, challenging step in this process as he leads us on a tour of the sights and sounds of the Lower East Side, guiding us through the dark hallways, staircases, and rooms of the tenements.

Author Notes

Raymond Bial is an acclaimed photoessayist for children. Four of his books were chosen as Notable Books in the Field of Social Studies by the NCSS. He lives in Urbana, Illinois, with his wife and children.

Reviews 3

Booklist 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. --Ilene Cooper

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.