Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
Written by Jonathan Auxier

Publisher’s Summary:
In nineteenth-century England, after her father’s disappearance Nan Sparrow, ten, works as a “climbing boy,” aiding chimney sweeps, but when her most treasured possessions end up in a fireplace, she unwittingly creates a golem.

Primary Source Pairing:
Through the whimsy of the memories Nan has of the Sweep, chimney sweeping is a calling not indentured servitude. After the Sweep is gone, Nan is forced to work on a crew for a Master who is more focused on money than the safety of his climbers. This fictional story sheds light on the grim reality of child labor in Victorian London and throughout history. (It is an awful reality that child labor is still a problem today all around the world.) The work children did as chimney sweeps was incredibly dangerous. As tools industrialized, children were no longer used for cleaning chimneys. For this primary source pairing, invite students to study an 1834 illustration from Mechanics’ Magazine, that is “designed to show the contrast between mechanical sweeping and children sweeping chimneys” (wikipedia.org). Use the accompanying caption to understand the diagram:

A seven-flue stack, showing how it would be cleaned by Climbing boys, or with little modification by a human cleaning machine (a brush). In the diagram:

A- is a hearth served by vertical flue, a horizontal flue, and then a vertical rise having two right-angled bends that were difficult for brushes.

B- is a long straight flue (14in by 9in) being climbed by a boy using back elbows and knees.

C- is a short flue from a second floor hearth. The climbing boy has reached the chimney pot, which has a diameter too small for him to exit that way

D (omitted) is a short flue from the third floor

E shows a disaster. The climbing boy is stuck in the flue, his knees jammed against his chin. The master sweep will have to cut away the chimney to remove him. First he will try to persuade him to move: sticking pins in the feet, lighting a small fire under him. Another boy could climb up behind him and try to pull him out with a rope tied round the legs- it would be hours before he suffocated.

F (omitted)

G How a flue could be straighten to make it sweepable by mechanical means

H A dead climbing boy, suffocated in a fall of soot that accumulated at the cant of the flue.

Questions for Discussion:

  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • How much of the text can you read? What does it say?
  • What do you see that looks strange or unfamiliar?
  • How are the words arranged?
  • What do you see on the page besides writing?
  • What other details can you see?
  • What do you think was happening when it was created?
  • What tools and materials were used to create it?
  •  What can you learn from examining this?

Book Cover and Summary: Follett
Mechanics’ Magazine, October 4, 1834: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Seven-flue_Stack_1834.png