By Karen Hesse
Most enjoyed by 5th through 8th graders
In 1903, within the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Joseph Michtom's parents have created the teddy bear. Inspired by a cartoon showing President Teddy Roosevelt sparing the life of a small bear cub, Joseph's parents begin making the stuffed bears, getting closer to their goal of living the American dream. Immigrants from Russia, they work constantly either in their failing candy store or on the stuffed bears. Joseph works for them, too, but longs to break away and make a trip to Coney Island, the new amusement park everyone is talking about. With Mama and Papa working such long hours, time off to spend on fun is out of the question.
Joseph fills his time with baseball, helping Mama and Papa, and visiting the Queen, one of his favorite aunts. When the Queen dies, Joseph finds himself without the one person he can confide in. He also discovers that she's been hiding a secret, living modestly so that she can use her money to bring Russian Jews to America to escape persecution. One of those immigrants becomes the help Joseph needs to realize his dream of a trip to Coney Island.
In the background stands the Brooklyn Bridge. Joseph and his family must cross it when they visit the Queen, but underneath the bridge is a world very different from theirs. It's a world of broken and abandoned children who have formed a loose family of sorts. Joseph's world and theirs come together in a way most unexpected.
'Brooklyn Bridge' is a wonderful slice of life in New York at the turn of the century. It is really two stories in one, with the focus alternating between Joseph and the children under the bridge. It may seem at first that the two stories have no connection, and for most of the book they don't. The lives and stories of the children under the bridge are in stark contrast to the love and relative success enjoyed by Joseph and his family. But the two stories eventually merge into a satisfying conclusion at the end.
Great for historical fiction fans, 'Brooklyn Bridge' is one to add to your must-read list.