Children’s

Brook­lyn Bridge

Karen Hesse; Chris She­ban, illus.
  • Review
January 16, 2012
In a lyri­cal mix­ture of ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can his­to­ry and fic­tion, embell­ished with a touch of fan­ta­sy, Karen Hesse’s lat­est book is the sto­ry of an all too real Jew­ish fam­i­ly ris­ing from immi­grant roots. His­tor­i­cal­ly well-researched, Brook­lyn Bridge con­sists of two seem­ing­ly unre­lat­ed nar­ra­tives which ulti­mate­ly build to a sat­is­fy­ing con­clu­sion. The pri­ma­ry sto­ry cen­ters on the dynam­ics of the extend­ed Mich­tom fam­i­ly and its young pro­tag­o­nist, Joseph. Read­ers will share the family’s expe­ri­ences with pover­ty, eco­nom­ic suc­cess, and pet­ty griev­ances inter­min­gled with moments of joy, con­flict and death. Joseph’s life is turned upside down when his father invents the stuffed ted­dy bear. While the fam­i­ly is now eco­nom­i­cal­ly sta­ble, Joseph’s time is no longer his own. His yearn­ing to vis­it the new­ly opened Coney Island sets the scene for a per­son­al adven­ture and the emer­gence of a deep, dark, fam­i­ly secret. The shad­ow sto­ry pro­vides us with a glimpse at the under­bel­ly of soci­ety through the lives of a group of street chil­dren liv­ing under the Brook­lyn Bridge. Over their dai­ly strug­gles hov­ers a ghost, the Radi­ant Boy, whose pres­ence fore­shad­ows death. The rela­tion­ship between the ghost and Joseph shapes the book’s explo­sive end­ing. Karen Hesse con­tin­ues to be an inno­v­a­tive, cre­ative and superb mas­ter of the writ­ten word. Brook­lyn Bridge is a won­der­ful­ly evoca­tive book that will res­onate with young read­ers fac­ing their own dai­ly prob­lems as they con­sid­er Joseph’s lament, What bear had I been carrying…And what would it take for me to let it go?” For ages 10 – 14.

Discussion Questions