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 GUYS SAY I'M LUCKY. That I got everything.
Theyre right. I am lucky.
Im the luckiest kid in the world.
Not everyones so lucky. I know this.
Take Dilly Lepkoff. Dilly pushes his cart past our store every day, rain or shine. Dilly, in his long apron, he calls, "Pickles! Pickles!" Just hearing his voice Im drooling, tasting the garlic and vinegar across my tongue. Those pickles of Dillys, they suck the inside of your cheeks together. They make the spit go crazy in your mouth.
So Dilly, he knows what hes doing with a pickle. But is he lucky? That all depends on what you call luck. He and his family, they been to Coney Island, which I have not. That makes him lucky in my book. But Dilly Lepkoff, hes still looking for a land of gold.
In the Michtom house we got golden land coming out our ears. Does that make me lucky? Ever...
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).
Full Review (890 words).
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. The 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
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