For young Sammy Levin, leaving Poland for America means gaining access to the finer things in life: stick ball, matinees, and a regular supply of ice cream. Unfortunately, attaining his desired lifestyle drives him to join a Jewish gang, with kids whose moral standards continually diverge from Sammy’s own. A prankster with a good heart, Sammy now finds himself expected to skip cheder and participate in various acts of thievery. Conflict between Sammy’s desire live up to his father’s moral and academic expectations and his need to belong fuel this story, and lead him to employ creative solutions for his dilemma. This novel is based loosely on the life of the author’s father. Some of the colorful descriptions — such as how to play stick ball — contain details that bring the time alive for readers. The question of how traditional Sammy’s Judaism will remain in his new country is integrated with veracity into the more universal moral issue of stealing, which layers the novel with the multiplicity and complexity of challenges newcomers have faced. Themes of the New York immigrant story, such as Ellis Island inspections, garment worker’s sweatshops, prejudice, or tough street life are not new to the genre, but told with a lively flair. Experienced readers of the Sydney Taylor books will get a grittier and more realistic side of immigrant life from child’s point of view. For grades 4 – 6.
Natasha Bergson-Michelson MLIS, is the librarian at the Hirschberg Family Childdren’s Library at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame, CA. Previously, she was librarian for Niehaus RyanWong, Inc. and the McKEnna Group, both in Silicon Valley. She also writes for the online tutorial Googleguide.com.