Excerpt from Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Brooklyn Bridge

By Karen Hesse

Brooklyn Bridge
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  • Hardcover: Sep 2008,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2008,
    240 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry

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But I miss the old times. Every Thursday night I would clean out the shop window. And every Friday morning Papa’d set up the new one. While Brooklyn slept Papa turned the window of Michtom’s Novelty Store into a candy fantasy. That’s Michtom, rhymes with "victim," which is what Papa was in Rus sia, where the po liti cal bear was always at the throat of the Jews, but is not what he is now. In the Old Country all Michtoms were victims but here in Brooklyn we found the land of gold. In Brooklyn we got everything. Well, nearly everything.

Papa, all he has left of his entire family is three sisters. The Queen, Aunt Beast, and Aunt Mouse. That’s not their real names. It’s just what my sister, Emily, and I call them. The oldest, Aunt Golda, The Queen, she’s like a mother to Papa. He would like if she would come to Brooklyn to visit once in a while, but she never does. Papa’s sisters, they live on the Lower East Side, in Manhattan, and they don’t cross the river. Aunt Beast hates the river. Hates it. Well, I’m not crazy about it, either. No one in our family is. But at least we cross to visit them. The aunts, they never come to see us.

In my opinion Uncle Meyer more than makes up for our lack of visiting Michtom aunts. Uncle Meyer is Mama’s brother. Mama pretty much raised Uncle Meyer on her own. Now he lives a seven- minute walk from here, down on Fulton. But he’s over at our place all the time.

Uncle Meyer is a free thinker. He, Mama, Papa, they sit around the kitchen table. Yakita, yakita. The world twists its ankle in a pothole, Uncle Meyer calls a meeting. I stick around when Uncle Meyer comes. I keep my mouth shut and my ears open, packing stuffed bears, or cutting mohair, what ever needs doing. I don’t even think about slipping away when Uncle Meyer comes. You can learn a lot from grown- ups sitting around a kitchen table. Used to be they spent hours there, but lately we can hardly find the kitchen table. Mama and Papa and their bear business. It’s everywhere.

So these days, when Uncle Meyer tells me, "Pull up a chair, Joseph," you bet I do, even if the neighborhood guys are waiting a game for me, which they never used to do and which you’d think would make me happy. Except if they’re waiting a game for me and I’m late or I don’t show at all, they’re angry. They used to just start playing as soon as enough guys showed up on the street. If I made it, great. If I didn’t, well, that was okay, too. I liked it better that way. I don’t like too much attention on me.

At home I work. I listen. I look. At breakfast, Uncle Meyer drinks Mama’s tea, barely letting it cool. I don’t know how he does it. He bolts down that scalding tea like a man dying of thirst, then drums his fingers on the empty china. His fingers are like bananas. Not the color. The shape. Long fingers. I look at my hands and hope they finish up like Uncle Meyer’s. Papa’s hands are okay. But they’re small, like lady hands. And they smell like vanilla. I don’t want little, sweetsmelling hands like Papa. I want hands that can wrap around a baseball and send it whistling over home plate. Strike- out hands. That’s what I want. That’s what Uncle Meyer’s got. Uncle Meyer, I don’t know why, but he never married.

He’s younger than Mama but at thirty, he’s looking kind of old to me. I don’t know. Maybe he’s such a free thinker, he thinks marriage would get in his way.

He’s not single due to lack of free- thinking females. There’s no shortage of them in Brooklyn. In the Michtom house alone we got two, Mama and Emily. Mama. She’s the freest thinker I know. She’s Papa’s princess. Has her way in everything. On the occasions when she and Papa disagree, Mama sends me and Emily out of the room with Benjamin. "Let me have a moment with your father," she’ll say. She never yells, she never nags. As the door closes, I hear, "Now, Morris . . ." and then her voice goes a little up, a little down, a little soft, a little warm, and then comes the laughter, "the laughter of Mama’s victory," Emily calls it, and when we come back into the kitchen Mama is perched on Papa’s lap, her head tucked into his neck, her skirt draped over his legs, and Papa, he is so bewitched by Mama he doesn’t know even the day of the week anymore.

Excerpted from Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse, Copyright © 2008 by Karen Hesse. Excerpted by permission of Feiwel & Friends, a division of Macmillan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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