An eleven-year-old orphan is reconnected to her mother's family, but her courage and strength are tested as she is put to work in a textile mill.
Flora is a young, imaginative girl who has dreamt of having a family to call her own since her parents died from pleurisy when she was three. She dreams of family dinners. She dreams of friends. But mostly she dreams of leaving the orphanage. As the diary begins, Flora is still in an orphanage in Kingston, but her Auntie Janet has just married, and she and her husband James send for Flora to come and live with them in Almonte, Ontario. Once she arrives at her aunt's, Flora begins work in the Almonte Mill, even though she is underage - typical for many children of the era. She works from dawn to dusk, near huge and noisy machines, and she sees the effects of the mill on workers who have lost an arm or their hearing. Still, this life is better than going back to the orphanage. But when Uncle James loses several fingers at the weaving machine and can't work anymore, money is really tight, and it's up to Flora and her aunt to find a way out of the predicament.
Through all her trials, Flora writes down her feelings in a journal, one she addresses to "Dear Papa and Mama", because it makes her feel close to the parents she lost when she was young. Days of Toil and Tears includes historical background giving readers the social context of young mill workers, and a map of the textile industry of Canada, as well as fascinating photographs from this era.
Sarah Ellis has written a previous Dear Canada book: A Prairie as Wide as the Sea. Her other books include Pick-Up Sticks, winner of the Governor General's Literary Award, Out of the Blue, which received the Mr. Christie's Book Award, and The Baby Project, which won the Sheila A. Egoff Children's Book Prize. In 1995 Sarah was honoured with the Vicky Metcalf Award for her outstanding body of work. In addition to her own writing, Sarah reviews children's literature for various publications.