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The King of Mulberry Street Hardcover – October 11, 2005

4.3 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Realistic fiction for tweens
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Editorial Reviews

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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385746539
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385746533
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,407,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. R. Bird HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Assumptions are made to be broken. Here are a few of mine that have recently been put through the ringer. I always assumed that if a kid wanted a good (not mediocre, not bland) book on early 20th century immigrants, they should probably stick with Patricia Reilly Giff and look no further. Here's another assumption: If you asked me what kinds of books Donna Jo Napoli writes I would've said teen retellings of fairy tales. If you had asked me if she were capable of convincingly written historical fiction I would have adroitly curled my lip and cast ye aside. At this moment in time, however, these assumptions have shattered and lie piled up about my feet. I hold here in my hand "The King of Mulberry Street" (which makes my typing a bit complicated, but at least my point is clear). Though I'm a children's librarian, I avoid historical fiction like the plague. That is, unless the book has been recommended to me as something particularly extraordinary. This book has earned every drop of praise it has ever received and will deserve future drops as well. It's well-written, honest-to-goodness interesting (especially towards the financially inclined), and not half as depressing as it could have been. A plus for those kids who may soon be forced to read it.

Nine-year-old Beniamino knows that life in Italy may not be perfect for a Jewish kid like himself, but he's still taken completely by surprise when he's forced to leave. His mother has shipped him off on the nearest cargo ship for America with a pair of beautiful new shoes on his feet and the advice to "simply survive". The boy is shocked but smart. His arrival at Ellis Island consists mostly of him attempting to get shipped back to Napoli and failing.
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Format: Hardcover
THE KING OF MULBERRY STREET by Donna Jo Napoli is a fascinating, at times heartbreaking, account of the adventures and ultimate success of a young Italian immigrant in the world of New York, 1882. Dom's story begins with another name, in another place, the center of his loving but desperately poor extended Jewish family in Naples. Illegitimate, his presence costs his mother the opportunity of yet another job that might put food on the family table. A few days later, Dom's mother sends her son off on a boat to America as a stowaway, an ambiguous action that fuels the rest of the story.

In America, Dom's only thought is to return to Naples. To do that, however, he needs to survive the hungry and homeless who would steal his only pair of shoes, and the ruthless patroni who would press him into service that is little better than slavery. Dom figures out quickly that the only way to survive is to acquire a band of allies: another street orphan, a patroni-controlled triangle player and a shopowner. In essence, Napoli's book is about the act of creating family, and doing so can eventually turn a place into home.

THE KING OF MULBERRY STREET is written for children and Dom never fails to sound like a nine-year-old child. Nevertheless, this is an emotionally sophisticated book. While it takes both Dom and the reader some time to understand and accept that his mother was not left behind by mistake, but deliberately sent a child off to America on his own, Napoli never shies away from the ramifications of this act. Nor does she make the mother inherently evil --- it's clear that Dom's mother does love him, both from the early chapters of the book and from the lengths she goes to in order to give him a small measure of protection.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There have been plenty of books written about Jewish families escaping from Western Europe and making the grueling journey to America. In homeschooling my children I have seen a definite lack in children's fiction telling the story of immigration from other Jewish communities around the world. The King of Mulberry Street is the story of Biniamino, a young boy from Napoli, who is sent to America as a stowaway on a Cargo ship. Abandoned and alone, Biniamino wants nothing more than to return home to his family. He survives in the poverty stricken area of Five Points in Manhattan only due to his wits and his ability to make, and keep, friends. At the advice of his mother he keeps his Judaism a secret and observes his religion as best as he can.

Napoli writes well and it is easy to see the world from young Biniamino's eyes. Even in the poverty of his life in Napoli he is, at heart, a happy boy who loves his family. The trauma of being sent away is something he cannot face until the end of the book and he insists that it is all a mistake. He clings to the ethical and spiritual teaching from his Nonna (grandmother) and tries as hard as he can to keep the laws of Kashrut. As the book progresses, he grows and comes to accept that his mother may have meant to send him away and where he is may just be where he wants to be.

The book is not perfect. Large swaths of the second half are spent discussing the mathematical calculations of the boys as they begin their own sandwich business - buying cheap in Five Points and selling dear on Wall Street. This does become dull after a while. Also, the end of the book has an extremely violent encounter with a Padrone. Napoli rushes through this episode when it is probably the most traumatic in the book.
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