Brooklyn Bridge

( 11 )


It’s the summer of 1903 in Brooklyn and all fourteen-year-old Joseph Michtom wants is to experience the thrill, the grandeur, and the electricity of the new amusement park at Coney Island. But that doesn’t seem likely. Ever since his parents—Russian immigrants—invented the stuffed Teddy Bear five months ago, Joseph’s life has turned upside down. No longer do the Michtom’s gather family and friends around the kitchen table to talk. No longer is Joseph at leisure to play stickball with the guys. Now, Joseph works. ...

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Brooklyn Bridge

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It’s the summer of 1903 in Brooklyn and all fourteen-year-old Joseph Michtom wants is to experience the thrill, the grandeur, and the electricity of the new amusement park at Coney Island. But that doesn’t seem likely. Ever since his parents—Russian immigrants—invented the stuffed Teddy Bear five months ago, Joseph’s life has turned upside down. No longer do the Michtom’s gather family and friends around the kitchen table to talk. No longer is Joseph at leisure to play stickball with the guys. Now, Joseph works. And complains. And falls in love. And argues with Mama and Papa. And falls out of love. And hopes. Joseph hopes he’ll see Coney Island soon. He hopes that everything will turn right-side up again. He hopes his luck hasn’t run out—because you never know.


Through all the warmth, the sadness, the frustration, and the laughter of one big, colorful family, Newbery Medalist Karen Hesse builds a stunning story of the lucky, the unlucky, and those in between, and reminds us that our lives—all our lives—are fragile, precious, and connected.

Brooklyn Bridge is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for Brooklyn Bridge:


“This well-told tale—about a Jewish immigrant family in New York in the early 1900s—is fascinating and full of suspense.”—The Washington Post


“Alternating with this story line is a parallel narrative devoted to abandoned children who forge a life for themselves under the shelter of the Brooklyn Bridge. Readers will have a hard time putting down this compelling story.”—School Library Journal



“The narrative includes tightly interwoven elements of multiple genres—adventure, romance, comedy, ghost story, and family drama—without ever compromising the authenticity of the plot or the characters.”—The Horn Book


“Rooted in the Jewish immigrant experience in early-twentieth-century New York City, this story weaves together one boy’s immediate personal narrative with a community’s historical struggles. . . . . the plot reveals intricate connections, up to the very last chapter, that will make readers return to the beginning of this gripping story and see everything in a new way.”—Booklist


“It’s such a relief to be able to count on an author time and time again.”—School Library Journal


“In this tale of Dickensian contrasts in kindness and cruelty, Brooklyn comes alive with the details of time and place, but it is the shadow of pain and transcendence cast symbolically by the bridge that haunts and compels. Another work of enduring excellence from Hesse.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review


Praise for Karen Hesse:


“This intimate novel, written in stanza form, poetically conveys the heat, dust and wind of Oklahoma. With each meticulously arranged entry Hesse paints a vivid picture of her heroine’s emotions.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review for Out of the Dust


“What Copeland created with music, and Hopper created with paint, Hesse deftly and unerringly creates with words: the iconography of Americana, carefully researched, beautifully written, and profoundly honest.”—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review for Witness


“Deep, literary, and soulful, Ms. Hesse once again holds us in her spell as she reconstructs the past at an intense time in United States history. . . . The tapestry of plot and subplot is woven with brilliant craftsmanship.”—Children’s Literature for A Light in the Storm: The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin


“Sparkling with humor, poignancy and adventure . . . Hesse’s impeccable research buttresses the narrative with a wealth of detail. . . . an author’s note and extensive glossary round out this compelling volume.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review for Stowaway

Publishers Weekly

Inspired by facts surrounding the inventors of the teddy bear, Newbery Medalist Hesse (Out of the Dust) applies her gift for narrative voice to this memorable story set in 1903 Brooklyn. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Michtom's parents, Jewish immigrants from Russia, are the envy of the neighborhood when their toy bears make them prosperous. The principal narrator, Joe, copes with the ironies of their fortune: "Now it's like I got some special kind of power. Only I'm not doing anything good with it." Resented by his former friends, Joe works in the bear business, gets crushes and longs to go to brand-new Coney Island. Interspersed throughout are brief profiles of street children who make their home under the Brooklyn Bridge, haunted by a ghost they refer to as the Radiant Boy. Deftly paced story lines about Joe's extended family indirectly raise questions about different types of bridges: those from the old country to America, those that cross generations, those that link the unlikeliest individuals. Not until the final chapters does Hesse produce the connection between Joseph and the street children with their ghost, and then the novel explodes with dark drama before its eerie but moving resolution. Ages 10-14. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Inspired by the true story of how the Teddy Bear was invented, Hesse writes of an extended family, the Michtoms, who live in Brooklyn, NY in 1903. The narrator is Joseph, the 14-year-old son, who chafes at the demands of family life, especially since their family life has been turned upside-down because Teddy Bears are being made on their kitchen table. Joseph and his younger sister are responsible for the care of their toddler brother for much of each day. And, when not doing that, they are expected to help out with the bear business. So Joseph is resentful: he'd rather be playing stickball with his friends in the street, or at least having an outing to Coney Island. On the face of it, this is not a plot to bring in droves of readers, so those readers will have to be encouraged to pick this book up. Once committed to this family's story, and to Joseph's part in it, readers will wonder at the peripheral stories (in italics) of poor children huddled under the bridge, who see the ghost they call The Radiant Boy when one of them dies. By the time Joseph runs away and gets to Coney Island, only to have his clothes stolen so he has to go to the police station in his underwear, these same readers will be completely caught up in the story. Hesse is a masterful writer, of course, winner of the Newbery Medal for Out of the Dust, and she shows her enormous skill as the story unfolds in Brooklyn Bridge. I would imagine it will be seriously considered as part of the curriculum in middle schools throughout the greater New York region. As she has done so successfully in previous books, Hesse gathers the disparate parts of a story together so the ending is especially satisfying.Reviewer: Claire Rosser
School Library Journal

Gr 6-9

Karen Hesse weaves a tale (Feiwel & Friends, 2008) about early 1900s Brooklyn and the Michtom family, Russian immigrants, who invented the first stuffed teddy bear. The story is told by 14-year-old Joseph Michtom who doesn't feel like the "lucky" Joe everyone calls him. The only thing the boy really wants is to visit the new Coney Island amusement park, but now he must help out at his parents' business. Joe doesn't have time to spend with his friends and the family has little time together. Interspersed with Joe's story are newspaper headlines as well as a parallel story of lost, runaway, and cast-out children living under the Brooklyn Bridge. Fred Berman's narration is as authentic as the story. Listeners are transported to Brooklyn, into the homes, streets, and trolley cars, with fully voiced and accented characters brought totally alive. The Michtom family's emotions are clearly expressed and poignantly felt. The two layers of the story are vocally distinct in their telling, allowing listeners to shift seamlessly between the experiences. The only flaw is the mispronunciation of the author's last name in the introduction (it is correct in the closing credits). A compelling listen for school and public libraries.-Stephanie A. Squicciarini, Fairport Public Library, NY

Kirkus Reviews
An immigrant family's tale, Impressionistic glimpses of street children living under the Brooklyn Bridge and vintage newspaper excerpts braid themselves together to form this spellbinding novel. The newly arrived Michtoms (based on fact) are the lucky ones, rising from shopkeepers to successful teddy-bear manufacturers. The travails of their neighbors and extended family, the city's human flotsam under the bridge and a "Radiant Boy" who is a "death omen ghost" represent the brutal side of the "golden land." Fourteen-year-old Joe Michtom tells his own story, establishing the story's central theme of letting go: of old possessions, secrets, mistakes that limit freedom. He is also central to the mystery behind the "Radiant Boy" buried under the bridge, whose "ghost" terrorizes the street children who live there. In this tale of Dickensian contrasts in kindness and cruelty, Brooklyn comes alive with the details of time and place, but it is the shadow of pain and transcendence cast symbolically by the bridge that haunts and compels. Another work of enduring excellence from Hesse. (author's note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312674281
  • Publisher: Square Fish
  • Publication date: 11/8/2011
  • Edition description: STRIPPABLE
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 151,466
  • Age range: 10 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Karen Hesse is the author of many books for young people, including Out of the Dust, winner of the Newbery Medal, Letters from Rifka, Phoenix Rising, Sable and Lavender. She has received honors including the Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award, the Christopher Award, and the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius” Award, making her only the second children's book author to receive this prestigious grant. Born in Baltimore, Hesse graduated from the University of Maryland. She and her husband Randy live in Vermont.

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Read an Excerpt

The guys say I’m lucky. That I got everything.

     They’re right. I am lucky.

     I’m the luckiest kid in the world.

     Not everyone’s so lucky. I know this. . . .

     Five months ago we were just another family in Brooklyn. Papa sold cigars, candy, writing paper, occasionally a stuffed toy made by Mama. We weren’t rich, but we managed. And then they saw the cartoon in the paper. . . .

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 22, 2010

    An Extraordinary Novel for Everyone

    Reading Hesse's latest book is a breath of fresh air that inspired me to look at the world in a new way. The main character, Joseph Michtom, though a simple character, creates an interesting relationship with readers with his tale. The part I loved about the book was the connection it made to me. This enchanting story really grabbed my attention with its deep story, and the life lessons he learned made me think more about my own life experiences. The writing could be a bit clearer in some areas, such as the transitions between different settings, but by no means did it take away from the book. The goal overall of the story was to portray lives we never experienced, and I think it delivered on that goal, making it feel like I was actually there, experiencing Brooklyn, the streets, and his hard life.
    Though I am in the 9th grade, I found that this story was easily understandable and open to all ages- the morals and theme are adult-like, yet an elementary student could easily read the story. The vocabulary and writing quality was noticeably simple in many areas, but since I think this was necessary to bring the same ideas down to a younger audience, I am more forgiving.
    Overall, the main question is "Would I recommend this book to friends or family?" With Brooklyn Bridge, by Karen Hesse, my answer would be an absolute "yes". This almost flawless novel epitomizes on the oppression of Russian immigrants and the hard life in New York, but doesn't fail to deliver on its deep morals and amazing story. It's deep, it's inspiring, it's even funny at times, but definitely open to people of all ages.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2011

    Good book

    Very good book

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Courtesy of Mother Daughter Book

    Fourteen-year-old Joseph Michtom knows he's one of the lucky ones in New York during the early 1900s. He's the son of a successful Russian immigrant He's got a warm place to live, enough food so he doesn't go hungry, and family to love him. Although sometimes he doesn't feel so lucky, because his parents no longer spend much time with him now that they are consumed with their new venture-sewing and selling as many of the new "Teddy bears" as they can. Joseph's parents came up with the idea for creating the cuddly animals after President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot a cornered bear while on a bear hunt.

    Joseph's family has found new wealth and prestige from their invention, but the boys in the neighborhood treat Joseph differently, as though he's changed from the same old Joe who has always been a friend. Joe spends a lot of time with his sister Emily and their baby brother Benjamin. Joe and Emily dream of going to Coney Island one day, but it doesn't seem as though there parents will ever take enough time off to take them there.

    Interspersed with Joe's story are vignettes of homeless children living under the Brooklyn Bridge. They leave home for many reasons, either they are abused or orphaned or crippled in some way, but they find shelter and solace with each other.

    Karen Hesse's novel Brooklyn Bridge is a wonderful portrait of family in it's many facets as well as the story of the struggle of immigrants to leave their old lives behind and fit into their new country. It paints a rich picture of Brooklyn in the early 1900s, We get a picture of life in Russia that many of Joseph's friends and family left, and of his aunt who worked tirelessly so that many could leave their homeland and find opportunity in the U.S. There's a strong sense of family obligations, helping out your fellow man, and showing respect to adults. Issues to discuss with mother-daughter book clubs include homelessness, historical events in Russia and the U.S., immigration, sibling relationships and family dynamics. Highly recommended for clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2008

    An Imaginative Immigrant's Tale by Karen Hesse

    My Review of BROOKLYN BRIDGE by Karen Hesse: Well worth the five year wait, award winning author Karen Hesse¿s new book, Brooklyn Bridge, is a memorable mix of historical fiction with a trace of enchanting fantasy. Hesse introduces this immigrant tale with a quote by Isaac Newton:¿ We build too many walls and not enough bridges¿. This quote could be considered ¿a spoiler¿ if one could interpret its relevance prior to reading the story. However, readers must finish the book in order to see what Ms. Hesse means by using this quotation symbolically in relation to the actual Brooklyn Bridge and humanity, especially in the special era she wrote about. In the early 1900s, the family of fourteen-year-old Joseph Michtom has come from Russia to settle in America where the streets are made of gold. His is the typical lively and colorful family who has come to live the immigrant life of 1903 Brooklyn. Joseph who has a pretty good life for a kid in those days, filled with stick ball, a good home, family and lots of friends, is blessed but his dream centers on going to the new and thrilling amusement park known as Coney Island. However, Coney Island must wait. The Michtom family, in Joseph¿s mind, is doing fine with their candy store when suddenly his Dad gets an idea that instead of making toy bears out of metal or wood, they should be made of cloth. Before you can say `teddy bear¿, the idea takes off and the family is swamped with the demand for these bears. Joseph¿s family time is now devoted to this new ¿invention¿ and there is no time for Coney Island much less his ¿regular¿ boyhood life of friends and frivolity. Interspersed between the chapters that tell of Joseph and his family and friends comes the haunting story of the kids who live under the bridge. Karen Hesse writes of these somewhat mystical children in a different, almost poetic way. Theirs is a life of suffering and misery which includes their individual stories of horror, starvation, pain, and even death. The central character under the bridge is one known as the Radiant Boy who glides in like a phantom spirit and frightens the children as they know that when he comes and takes someone with him, the child never comes back. How these children relate to Joseph¿s story is almost like a parallel universe in that Joseph doesn¿t seem to even meet any of these kids or acknowledge their existence for the most part. Their connection to Joseph, however, is one that is subtly alluded to throughout the story but it isn¿t until the end that the reader will see the significance of this story within the main story. What is the connection between the kids under the bridge and Joseph? As for Coney Island, does Joseph ever get there? As you read this remarkable work by Karen Hesse, the answers to these and many more questions just may satisfyingly and incredibly be revealed. I recommend this as a perfect book for children 11 and older, as well as for adults who want to learn more about a time when our ancestors migrated to this country and settled in that magical place in New York known as Brooklyn. For those of us who know the area, the allure and magnificence of Coney Island and the wonderful Brooklyn Bridge will never cease to exist but rather be enhanced and remembered by reading Karen Hesse¿s novel, Brooklyn Bridge. Chris Sheban did the wonderful cover art and adds to this amazing book with his interior illustrations as well. Submitted by Karen Haney, August, 2008

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    Posted January 28, 2011

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