On that day in 1903, fourteen-year-old Joseph Michtoms life changed irrevocably when his parents - Russian immigrants - created the first teddy bear. No longer did the Michtoms gather family and friends around the kitchen table to talk. No longer was Joseph at leisure to play stickball with the guys. No longer were Joseph and his book-loving sister free from watching their pesky two-year-old brother. Now - when it was summer vacation and more than anything Joseph wanted to experience the thrill, the grandeur, the electricity of Coney Island - Joseph worked. And complained. And fell in and out of love. And argued. And hoped that everything would go back to how it used to be. All the while no one let him forget that he was lucky.
Because - There are other children. The unwanted, the forgotten, the lost ones. They gather under the bridge each night to sit, to talk, to sleep. They know, they know, they know that to everyone beyond the bridge they are invisible. . . . These are the children who live under the bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge.
Newbery medalist Karen Hesse masterfully entwines Josephs coming-of-age tale (and that of his big, colorful family) with the heartbreaking stories of the children under the bridge. Riveting historical fiction that is by turns accessible and ornate, very real but with a touch of magical realism. Hesses extraordinary new novel is an insightful reminder that a life - fragile and precious - can change in a moment.
The ponderous prose, the horror stories of cruelty and abuse, the death-in-life Neverland of the street children, and the life-in-death of the wraithlike Radiant Boy subvert the novel and diminish its aesthetic success. Although Hesse connects The Radiant Boy to the living world Joseph inhabits through a series of improbable (and puzzling) coincidences, most potent are the sections of the novel in which Hesse devotes her great talents to realizing a real place and a real time in history: New York 1903, its smells, its sounds, its people. Reading about the Superbas baseball team, a deadly outbreak of the grippe, the menagerie at Prospect Park, and of course, the stupendous Luna Park is wonderful. So wonderful that I wonder if the street children's invisibility and diminished lives aren't ghostly enough without the creaky narrative machinery that conveys their stories and heralds the Radiant Boy's arrivals and departures. (Reviewed by Jo Perry).
The narrative includes tightly interwoven elements of multiple genres—adventure, romance, comedy, ghost story, and family drama—without ever compromising the authenticity of the plot or the characters.
Starred Review. Deftly paced story...the novel explodes with dark drama before its eerie but moving resolution. Ages 10-14.
Rooted in the Jewish immigrant experience in early-twentieth-century New York City, this story weaves together one boy’s immediate personal narrative with a community’s historical struggles….the plot reveals intricate connections, up to the very last chapter, that will make readers return to the beginning of this gripping story and see everything in a new way.
Starred Review. In this tale of Dickensian contrasts in kindness and cruelty, Brooklyn comes alive with the details of time and place, but it is the shadow of pain and transcendence cast symbolically by the bridge that haunts and compels. Another work of enduring excellence from Hesse. Ages 10-14.
School Library Journal
Alternating with this story line is a parallel narrative devoted to abandoned children who forge a life for themselves under the shelter of the Brooklyn Bridge. Readers will have a hard time putting down this compelling story.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Kimmy An egaging book that makes you think. I liked the book but found it hard to keep up with everything that happened. I was a good read but I would not have chosen it if it weren't for a Language Arts project.
Rated of 5
by Quin Brooklyn Bridge This was like the most inspiring book I have ever read, and I am the kind of person who reads 20 books a day and non of them inspire me this much. Definitely best book ever!3
Rated of 5
by Save Best Book Ever!!!!! This is by far the most clever yet touching book I've read so far and I've read 914 books. A lot don't you think and I'm only 11. This book is about a 14 year old boy who's parents started making teddy bears and his sister makes her own library in... Read More
Rated of 5
by Bella A fine example of what historical fiction should be-deep, fun, and thought-provoking I'm a ten year old girl who recently read this book. It was a deep, yet fun confection about growing up in the early 1900's, the time where New York was spilling with immigrants and Coney Island was at its prime. It prompted me to read online and... Read More
Rated of 5
by Jamila Ouadghiri Brooklyn Bridge I am a very lucky reader because I am the first to read the book, Brooklyn Bridge by Karen Hesse, one of my favorite authors. This story teaches a person about the true meaning of how some people really live. The main character, Joseph Michtom, is... Read More
Teddy Bears, Luna Park, and Helping Homeless Children
The Invention of the Teddy Bear
You can learn about the invention of the American Teddy Bear (Richard
Steiff invented a soft toy bear in Germany independently in the same year.) and
see Clifford Berryman's political cartoon that inspired it by visiting the
Teddy Bears and Friends Website.
Spectacular and dreamlike, Luna Park illuminates Brooklyn Bridge.
History of Amusement Parks website contains fantastic pictures of the rides,
especially the ride to the moon described in the novel, the promenades, the
lights, the animals. A visit to this site is a must after reading this novel.
Donating Stuffed Toys to Homeless Children
No one reading Brooklyn Bridge can forget the abused, abandoned teddy
bear-less children huddling under the Bridge. Project Night Night
donates stuffed animals, blankets and children's books to
homeless children. Project Night Night...
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