What I’m Reading: The Canary Girls

If you’ve been a blog reader for long, you know my favorite books are often historical fiction. A blog read suggested the book Canary Girls by Jennifer Chiaverini and being it was historical fiction and the cover looked good, I took a chance on it.

The story revolves around “canary girls”…Girls who worked in the munition factories in England during WWI. It is a part of history I didn’t know a lot about. Apparently, they were girls in munition factories during the war to make ammunition that needed TnT. Nowadays we know TnT was very deadly, back then, they didn’t the girls’ skin turn yellow. They become sick with respiratory-type illnesses…and no good. It was one of those books that as the reader I was yelling “NO, it’s dangerous”.

The book also talks about women’s right to vote, losing their jobs to men coming home from the war, and other wartime hardships.

Here is what Amazon had to say:

Early in the Great War, men left Britain’s factories in droves to enlist. Struggling to keep up production, arsenals hired women to build the weapons the military urgently needed. “Be the Girl Behind the Man Behind the Gun,” the recruitment posters beckoned.

Thousands of women—cooks, maids, shopgirls, and housewives—answered their nation’s call. These “munitionettes” worked grueling shifts often seven days a week, handling TNT and other explosives with little protective gear.

Among them is nineteen-year-old former housemaid April Tipton. Impressed by her friend Marjorie’s descriptions of higher wages, plentiful meals, and comfortable lodgings, she takes a job at Thornshire Arsenal near London, filling shells in the Danger Building—difficult, dangerous, and absolutely essential work.

Joining them is Lucy Dempsey, wife of Daniel Dempsey, Olympic gold medalist and star forward of Tottenham Hotspur. With Daniel away serving in the Footballers’ Battalion, Lucy resolves to do her bit to hasten the end of the war. When her coworkers learn she is a footballer’s wife, they invite her to join the arsenal ladies’ football club, the Thornshire Canaries.

The Canaries soon acquire an unexpected fan in the boss’s wife, Helen Purcell, who is deeply troubled by reports that Danger Building workers suffer from serious, unexplained illnesses. One common symptom, the lurid yellow hue of their skin, earns them the nickname “canary girls.” Suspecting a connection between the canary girls’ maladies and the chemicals they handle, Helen joins the arsenal administration as their staunchest, though often unappreciated, advocate.

The football pitch is the one place where class distinctions and fears for their men fall away. As the war grinds on and tragedy takes its toll, the Canary Girls persist despite the dangers, proud to serve, determined to outlive the war and rejoice in victory and peace.”

Amazon readers gave the book 4.5 stars. I would agree. I’ve ended up down a rabbit hole reading more about canary girls. That’s a sign I liked the book. If you’re looking for a bookclub book, I think this would be a good one. There are lots of different topics to discuss.

14 thoughts on “What I’m Reading: The Canary Girls”

  1. Thanks for the recommendation, I will definitely have to look this one up at my local library. My paternal (and favorite) grandmother worked in a munitions plant in North Carolina during WWII, at least until she turned yellow and was sent back home to KY. So this should be a very interesting read for me even though it’s different war and not the US.

    After recovering, she ended up working in the Detroit area bomber plants, which is how she met my grandpa. You could say I descend from a Rosie the Riveter.

    1. Kris, I love your grandma’s story! I can “hear the pride in your voice.” I didn’t know we had a bomber plant in Detroit. I may give that author a try if I ever get time to read again.

  2. I loved the Canary Girls! Such a good read!! All of Jennifer Chiaverini books are so good, especially the historical fiction ones. She really researches her time period.

  3. I think I own all, or close to all, of Jennifer Chiaverini’s books, including her earlier Elm Creek Quilts series. I haven’t read this one yet, though. Most of her historical fiction is pretty good, although some might think it’s too “dense” – meaning that it can be kind of dry because of all the factual background she includes. I like it. Have you read any of the Elm Creek Quilts? I think you would like them.

  4. My mother-in-law worked in a defense plant in Ohio. Her stories are fascinating. This sounds like a very interesting book.

  5. This sounds like a good book. I am a fan of this author so I will put this book on my to read list. Thank you for sharing.

  6. I have most of Jennifer’s books. This is one that I don’t have. Jo, I think you’d really like “The Switchboard Soldiers.” It takes place during WWI. I especially enjoyed all the ones about Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, Mrs. Lincoln’ dressmaker.

  7. We had the Barnbow munitions factory near us and there was an explosion in it whilst the Canary Girls were working in WW1. The site is now a housing development and some of the roads are named after a few of the workers who lost their lives in the explosion. Thanks, Jo, for telling us about the book, I’ll look out for it.

  8. I just finished reading “The Canary Girls” last week. I, too, ranked it highly. I learned some things I’d not heard before. I enjoyed reading of the camaraderie of the women and their “football” team. I’ve read many of Jennifer Chiaverini’s books. I’ve often felt the historical fiction was hard to get into in the beginning, but well worth sticking with it.

  9. I am a longtime Jennifer Chiaverini fan. I own most of her books and the ones I don’t own are on my wish list. I noticed she is very dedicated to researching her subjects and I appreciate that.

  10. I loved the Canary Girls. I appreciate stories of the bravery and sacrifices for the war effort that women made. When we remember what was done, then we know that we can step up and do the same when needed.

  11. This book has been on my reading “wish list” for a couple years. Thanks for the recommendation! I passed over the “Elm Creek” books for years. When one of my sisters sent me a volume (first three books in the series) she’d found at a used book sale, I read it because she had been thoughtful enough to send it to me, but was pretty sure I wouldn’t like it. Ha! Joke was on me – I loved it and then proceeded to blaze through the entire Elm Creek series over the next few months. Will be looking for a copy of Canary Girls today.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top