From School Library Journal
Grade 5-8–When Beniamino, a nine-year-old Jewish boy from Napoli, is smuggled aboard a cargo ship heading to America in 1892, he assumes his mother is onboard, too. Soon realizing that Mamma isn't with him, he makes the best of his plight, but his goal is to return home as soon as possible. Landing at Ellis Island, he evades good-hearted people who would send him to an orphanage and patrones who would put him to work begging on street corners. Assuming the name Dom Napoli, he sleeps in barrels and under bushes, and he quickly learns the lessons of the street: think fast, watch what's going on, and find friends who will help you. With the aid of two other streetwise urchins, he sets up a profitable sandwich business and eventually realizes that he likes New York and that his mother sent him there to make a better life for himself. The major characters are believable, and the minor ones–especially Mamma, landlady Signora Esposito, and grocer Grandinetti–are also wonderfully drawn, adding liveliness to the book. Though Napoli is an expert at gripping readers' emotions, which she does with consummate skill in this tale, the story occasionally lags as the boys figure out how to be successful in their chosen enterprise. Still, this richly imagined tale, based loosely on the author's family history, paints a vivid picture of the struggle many children faced when they first came to America.–Barbara Scotto, Michael Driscoll School, Brookline, MA
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Gr. 6-9. Drawing on her grandfather's experience, Napoli dramatizes a seldom-told bit of American history in this story of Italian Jewish young people in the 1890s. Beniamino, who lives in Napoli, is only nine years old when his beloved, poverty-stricken Mama bribes someone to hide him away on a cargo ship to America. His lively, immediate first-person narrative recalls the trauma of separation and the brutal struggle on the New York streets, where, renamed "Dom," he makes two Italian friends, and they start a business selling sandwiches. He keeps his Jewish identity secret, even as he tries to follow kosher rules. Always his dream is to return home. The characters are drawn with depth, especially the three kids, and the unsentimental story is honest about the grinding poverty and the prejudice among various immigrant groups. Most moving is the story of letting go, as Dom confronts the fact that Mama sent him away, and America is now his home. Connect this with Mary Auch's Ashes of Roses (2002), about Irish kids left alone in New York. Hazel Rochman
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