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A Pickpocket's Tale Hardcover – October 24, 2006


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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 4-8–Ever since her mother died of smallpox, 10-year-old Molly Abraham has survived on the streets of 1730s London by picking pockets. She is caught, and her sentence is indentured servitude in America until the age of 21. She dreads the new land, which is occupied, she has heard, by Salvages who had faces in their bellies and no heads. When the Good Intention docks in New York, a Jewish merchant, Mr. Bell, buys her. With only a vague memory of being Jewish herself, the street-savvy girl has a lot to learn about personal hygiene (she fears a bath will drown her brain), household chores, keeping kosher, and reading. The kindly Bells and their children also teach her about trust, hard work, and mitzvahs, or good deeds. Though initially fearful and determined to get back to England, in the end she chooses to help an abused slave escape rather than look after herself. Molly's choices can be judged against those of her foil, Hesper Crudge, a far less likable young exile in similar straits. Both girls patter Flash–speak the secret dialect of London thieves. Consequently, readers will need to consult the glossary quite often, which could prove inconvenient. Still, this is an engaging tale about some lesser-known aspects of 18th-century life, with memorable characters. An author's note provides additional background about pickpockets and prisons in London, as well as about the lives of Jews, indentured servants, and slaves in colonial New York.–Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In 1730, 10-year-old London orphan Molly Abraham is exiled to America for being a pickpocket. After a long, unpleasant journey, independent Molly is indentured to an observant Jewish family, the Bells, in New York. The Bells seem nice, but Molly finds adjusting difficult. Although she learns to keep house and to read, and learns about Judaism, she longs to go back to London. Her experiences, including meeting an abused African American slave, gradually sharpen and shift her perspective, bringing ethical dilemmas but also compassion and an understanding of the complexities of freedom, doing what's right, and her Jewish heritage. Written in vividly detailed prose, this debut novel introduces an engaging protagonist while immersing readers in Jewish culture and customs, rough London streets, and eighteen-century New York City. Molly's London street dialect enhances vintage cultural flavor, and an author's note provides more historical background. Enjoyable and sometimes thought-provoking historical fiction. Shelle Rosenfeld
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 810L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (October 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037583379X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375833793
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,707,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By scatter on November 9, 2006
Format: Hardcover
When my daughter finished this book she insisted that I read it. I started it with a kind of ho-hum attitude, then found myself quickly locked into the world of colonial New York, Molly the convicted pickpocket, Arabella the slave, the shady Mrs. Wilkins and mischievous little Rachel. I felt like a fly on the wall in the Bell's home and I loved the things that happened there. The book struck me as perfect for middle school children and above - lots of tension, but no terror. I'd recommend it to kids and their parents as a really good read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Gabrielle Vail on November 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book, both for its rich historical detail and the empathy with which the author treats the characters. There are heroes and villains, as in any good story, and Molly is so realistic that I felt like there was an extra person in the house as I was reading "A Pickpocket's Tale" and all the following week. I would love to hear more about her and her "adventures" in New York, and it would be neat to see how some of the other story lines developed in a second novel.

A week after finishing the book, I haven't been able to stop thinking about the story. Karen Schwabach brought the characters and the time period vividly to life!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 16, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Ever since Karen told me that this book was comming out I have been waiting for the day I could buy it. This book is wonderful! The historical detail is great. From the expression of Jewish culture, to the use of 'Flash' talk, to the straightfoward way she presents the life of the poor in London Karen has done an excellent job. This is one that you will not want to put down I read it the day that I recieved it. You will fall in love with Molly and her story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Kamin on January 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In 1730, Molly is a ten-year-old orphan who is convicted of pick-pocketing in London and deported to America. Even though her mother was Jewish, Molly is unfamiliar with Jewish customs and rituals. When a Jewish family in the new settlement of New York purchases Molly to be their indentured servant, she learns to follow and respect the Jewish traditions as well as the more civilized lifestyle of a "nib cull." She also learns about the importance of family, forgiveness, and faith. Karen Schwabach's rich descriptions of the food, clothing, living conditions, and scenery are impressive. Her use of the London dialect Flash-cant, used by pickpockets, while adding authenticity and flavor, weighs down the dialogue at times and may frustrate some readers. However, the unique plot, multi-dimensional characters, suspense, and excitement will make this meticulously researched novel a favorite among historical fiction fans. A map of the city of New York and an author's note providing historical background is appended along with a glossary of Flash-cant words and phrases. A great choice for a book club discussion and a fantastic tie-in for students learning about early-American history - highly recommended!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jewish Book World Magazine on November 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In 1730, ten-year-old Molly is a pickpocket on the London streets who is caught and sentenced to be banished to America. While waiting in prison for the trip to America, two gentlemen come to her cell and tell her that she is a "daughter of Israel" and when she gets to America she will be indentured to a Jewish family. Her mother died of smallpox when she was 7, and she has little memory of her heritage. Upon her arrival to America, the Bell family purchases her as an indentured servant until her 21st birthday. The family is very good to her, even teaching her to read, but Molly is determined to get back to the London she knows. Molly grudgingly learns about compassion, family, and the real meaning of freedom through her contact with an abused African slave. Some characters speak an old London dialect called Flash or Flash-cant, a secret language that thieves invented so they could hide what they are saying. There is a glossary at the end with the definitions of the words used in the book. Children should particularly enjoy this aspect of the book. This is an engaging novel for young readers with historically accurate information about life in London and New York that is presented with all its complexity. It is particularly useful as an excellent introduction to the life of the Jews in New York at that time, and includes a map of New York in the 1730's. This book was the winner of the manuscript award of the Association of Jewish Libraries. Ages 8 - 12. Reviewed by Barbara Silverman
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Gwynne C. Spencer on November 12, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Molly is saved from London hanging or prolonged imprisonment by a benefactor who arranges for her to be sent to New York where she learns about her Jewish ancestry, and her obligations to the world. A good slice of history, lots of slang used by the street urchins of the day, Flash-cant. Might be interesting to read aloud to kids who have crossed over to the dark side of the law.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Molly R. on April 5, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I definitely agree with previous reviewers: Karen Schwabach's book is a great read for all ages. I would have liked it as an elementary- or middle-school student, and I'm 33 now and liked it very much! Schwabach is one of those truly impressive historical fiction writers who has done her research thoroughly, but slides the information into the story so naturally that it never feels like you're reading *history*, just a good tale that happens to be set in another time. I could smell, feel, hear, and see the filthy streets of 18th century London and the quaintly pastoral roads of 18th century Manhattan. Young Molly's story of redemption, growing from orphaned pickpocket to respectable family member, is certainly as much fun as, and easier for young readers to tackle than, Oliver Twist's--and girls may especially appreciate the way female characters (both naughty and nice) take center stage.

Being a linguistics fan, I think my favorite feature might have been Schwabach's clever use of Flash-cant, the dialect and vocabulary spoken by the London thieves of the era. It added real color and delight, and for me the glossary at the back was almost as much fun to read as the story itself.
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