The Radium Girls: Young Readers’ Edition: The scary but true story of the Poison that made people Glow in the dark – Kate Moore

 The Radium Girls: Young Readers’ Edition: The scary but true story of the Poison that made people Glow in the dark – Kate Moore, Sourcebooks; (9781728210346), 2020

Format: paperback ARC

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Genre: Nonfiction

What did you like about the book? If this weren’t a true story it would definitely be shelved in the Horror section of my library. What seemed like an amazing opportunity for young women in the early 1900s  — making good money for an independent job – turned into a death sentence for many of the women. 

When radium was discovered, it was thought by many to be a miracle chemical. It was called “liquid sunshine” and was used in food products, cosmetics, and more. It was expensive and considered beautifully luminous. Only wealthy people had access to radium, however…and the female dial-painters who ended up suffering the most for their exposure. Dial painters used radium to paint war equipment so it would glow in the dark; they commonly used a method called “lip, dip, and paint” wherein they put the brush in their mouth to get a fine tip, dipped it in the radium, painted and then repeated the process. Kate Moore lays out in great detail how dial painters were physically affected by the radium that entered their bodies — teeth falling out, jaws disintegrating, huge sarcomas growing on limbs and even on the face of one girl, etc. Gruesome black and white images accompany the text. The story follows women from two factories — one in Orange, NJ and one in Ottawa, IL and the many ways the companies lied from straight up obfuscation to hiring a “doctor” (who only had his doctorate in philosophy) to examine the girls and deem them healthy. The thrilling courtroom fights that followed resulted in some of the first successful lawsuits brought against American companies for harming their employees, saved countless lives, and eventually resulted in the creation of OSHA. The Radium Girls are presented as heroes for their unwavering demand for justice in spite of their physical limitations brought about by their exposure. 

This thrilling young readers’ edition is an essential purchase for all middle school and high school libraries. Readers should be warned that some of the content is highly disgusting and should not be read while eating food; this will likely make kids want to read it even more. Includes a timeline, a glossary, notes, and a bibliography.

To whom would you recommend this book? Students who are interested in learning more about the heroes who made today’s worker safety laws possible will be drawn to this book. Also recommend to students who like to be grossed out!

Anything you didn’t like about it? I think some students will be put off by the length and others may be disgusted by the details about body parts, teeth and jawbones falling out. 

Who should buy this book? Recommended for all middle and high school libraries

Where would you shelve it? Nonfiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City: Laura Gardner, Dartmouth Middle School, Dartmouth, MA

Date reviewed: April 29, 2020


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1 Response to The Radium Girls: Young Readers’ Edition: The scary but true story of the Poison that made people Glow in the dark – Kate Moore

  1. Leonard Grossman says:

    A wonderful review. I love your mention of the legal battles that make up the last section of the book. Of course, as the son of the attorney who represented the girls in Ottawa, Illinois, I am a bit prejudiced. How wonderful that there is now a children’s version. My father would love to have known that his great grandson will learn this story as soon as my copy arrives. How wonderful that a new generation of readers will discover Kate Moore’s book.


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