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The King of Mulberry Street

The King of Mulberry Street

4.5 14
by Donna Jo Napoli

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In 1892, nine-year-old Dom’s mother puts him on a ship leaving Italy, bound for America. He is a stowaway, traveling alone and with nothing of value except for a new pair of shoes from his mother. In the turbulent world of homeless children in Manhattan’s Five Points, Dom learns street smarts, and not only survives, but thrives by starting his own business


In 1892, nine-year-old Dom’s mother puts him on a ship leaving Italy, bound for America. He is a stowaway, traveling alone and with nothing of value except for a new pair of shoes from his mother. In the turbulent world of homeless children in Manhattan’s Five Points, Dom learns street smarts, and not only survives, but thrives by starting his own business. A vivid, fascinating story of an exceptional boy, based in part on the author’s grandfather.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This tale may well offer readers insight into how their own families found their way here."—Publishers Weekly, Starred

"History comes to vibrant life for middle grade readers and almost anyone whose ancestors came from foreign lands."—Kirkus Reviews, Starred

Publishers Weekly
Napoli (Stones in Water) carefully lays out the dramatic growth of nine-year-old narrator Beniamino, from his last day in Naples, Italy, to his premature graduation into adulthood on the tough streets of New York City's Five Points neighborhood in 1891. Readers must be patient in the beginning, as the boy makes his way through the crowded alleyways of Naples, sidestepping scugnizzi ("urchins, the poorest of the poor") notorious for stealing, and making money where he can (doing errands for the nuns). The author hints at how the boy's mother gets him new shoes and smuggles him, alone, onto a ship bound for America, but wisely leaves it to older readers to discern (even the hero, by book's end, admits, "I knew she'd sacrificed to do it, maybe in ways that were awful"). All of the groundwork pays off, however, as the boy's newly acquired skills serve him well, surviving on the streets and avoiding the horrific padrone system (Italians in America paid for children to cross the Atlantic and "work off" their debt, like slaves), and the pace picks up. Napoli credibly expands the narrator's awareness, as he begins to recognize some of the unspeakable cruelties going on around him yet manages to extend kindnesses to others (earning him the nickname "the king of Mulberry Street"), and to find his own makeshift family in this new world. This tale may well offer readers insight into how their own families found their way here-or send them in search of those stories. Ages 8-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 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 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This powerfully vivid story has the immediacy of Napoli's always-immaculate prose, coupled with a basis in family lore and urban history that make it irresistible. Nine-year-old Beniamino loves his mama, his family, his city of Napoli and all of its scents and sights. His mother puts him on a cargo ship to America without her, for reasons that he may not ever figure out, arming him with the parables of his Jewish and Napoletano heritage and a new pair of shoes. Renamed Dom Napoli at Ellis Island, he tells his first-person tale of survival, exploration and learning on the streets of lower Manhattan at the end of the 19th century. Careful and smart, Dom allies himself with a pair of boys, one under control of a vicious padrone, buying huge sandwiches and then reselling them, cut in parts, on Wall Street from a borrowed cart. From his first days sleeping in a barrel to teaching his widowed landlady to make his favorite foods, Dom's voice and presence make his life as real and as tangible as possible. History come to vibrant life for middle-grade readers and almost anyone whose ancestors came from foreign lands. (postscript) (Historical fiction. 9-14)

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.35(w) x 7.65(h) x 0.65(d)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Donna Jo Napoli is the author of many distinguished books for young readers, among them Daughter of Venice, Crazy Jack, The Magic Circle, Zel, Sirena, and Stones in Water. She has a B.A. in mathematics and a Ph.D. in Romance linguistics from Harvard University and has taught widely at major universities in America and abroad. She lives with her family in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, where she is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College.

From the Hardcover edition.

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King of Mulberry Street 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Books can be adventures, they can be sad and even sometimes boring, but the book I read is a unique combination of all three of them. The King of Mulberry Street is a book based on a real historical event. It was the story of a small nine year old kid named Beniamino who lived with his mother in a small house in Napoli, Italy. Early one morning his mom took him to the ship dock where he was forced onto a ship. His mom said she would be coming too but during the ship voyage his mom was never found. Beniamino was scared, especially because he did not know where he was going. When the ship docked he realized he was in New York City. In New York, Beniamino changed his name to Dom, since it was a hole lot easier for people to understand. He meets two boys: one named Tin Pan Ally who was owned by a padroni (a boss of a miner) and Gitano another stray boy. They help Dom try to raise enough money by selling sandwiches on the street, to buy a ship passage for Dom to get back to Napoli. Dom realizes he does not want to go back to Napoli. I can not tell you more than that because you will have to read the rest of the story to find out what happens next. This story was written very well and I am sure most young readers would like it. I rate this book a nine and a half. If you read this book you will not just feel inspired but also know what life was like back in the other times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book, we read it as a class in my sixth grade class and it was AWESOME!!!!!!! Its a must read for ages 8 to (well you know)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This a great and east book to read and im only10 this book is a must read
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book portrays a young boy, that leaves italy and comes to what he finds is new york, in the United States. There he goes through some rough times.. sad, happy, lonely, and those times where you have just got to have faith and keep going on. He meets friends and enemies, and learns some valuable things from them. this book is absolutely wonderful and heartwarming and i would recommend it to anyone looking for a great book to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My favorite book. It tells you a lot about how people lived in the late 1800's. This boy is very selfless and only thinks about other people before himself. I highly recommend this book to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an absolutely incredible book. I am the parent of two boys, 9 and 10, and they loved this book. It gives a great account of the way life was a hundred years ago. If you also come from new york city its a plus. Dom, the main character, is courageous, smart, trusting and a quick learner.Dom is also only nine years old and all alone in N.Y.C., with not a cent to his name. You could not imagine how crafty and brave, yet honest and trustworthy a nine yaer old can be. Great, great storyline. You won't be able to put this one down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
“The King of Mulberry Street,” by Donna Jo Napoli is about an Italian Jewish boy named Beniamino who is from Napoli, is being sneaked into a ship full of strangers, heading to America. The thing is, that he thinks that his mother is on the cargo ship too. He soon realizes that she’s not on board. Beniamino changes his name to Dom. Dom struggles a little bit understanding and how America works. From leaving an orphanage, to getting robed, to starting a business, to escaping from a mean, evil Padrone, he has three good friends helping him along the way. Towards the end of the book Dom gets an unexpected surprise from one of his friends. I enjoyed this book because Dom has is a young boy who is serene, empathetic, appreciative, responsible, and more. A moment that compels a lot of readers is when Dom’s mother sneaks him onto a cargo ship, full of strange men, going to America. It compels people because Dom becomes friends, well aquatints with the cargo workers. A man named Eduardo warns him about America, saying that you can’t trust people because they might cheat you in NYC. Dom heard really great things about America; the thing is he doesn’t know what to believe. Should he believe Eduardo a man who’s bin America or the rumors from people in the neighborhood? It was compelling to me because Eduardo tells Dom that it would be tough, and that was the first time Dom had ever heard that. Reading this part of the book, I realized that Dom is very optimistic and has a positive attitude. Dom doesn’t really want to believe Eduardo because he’s going to America and wants to see his mamma there with the street paved of gold and hoping that his mamma would finally get a job in America because he knew that she couldn’t get one in Italy. Dom hopes that life in America would be full of freedom and money. “The King of Mulberry Street,” is full of different types of themes. One theme in this amazing book is “Sacrifice now leads to rewards later.” An example of that theme is when his “mamma,” decides to send him off to America to have a better, rich, happier life their not in Napoli were he’s poor. I realized that Dom’s dear mamma made a “HUGE” sacrifice letting him go, because now she had to live on without her son, not knowing if her son is dead or alive. Knowing she can’t give him her hugs, kisses, good nights or mornings. Knowing she won’t be able to protect him or feed him. Mothers love their children, but Dom’s mom loved him so much she had to let him go. She knew that letting him go would give him a better opportunity in life and that would later on be his reward. “The King of Mulberry Street,” is basically a book about a young Italian Jewish boy who is shipped off in a cargo ship, not ready to live in America. Dom goes through a pretty rough time. Two boys named Tin Pan Alley and Gaetano are Dom’s best friends. They help Dom as much as they could. Tin Pan Alley is a poor boy how is a slave to his “uncle” after he gets off the boat. So basically he’s a slave to his padrone. Gaetano is more like a lone wolf expect now he’s with Dom. The three boys start a nice business. They soon get a little apartment. During those days Dom thought less about his mom. He  realizes that America isn’t so bad. Dom rather not thinks that his mom left him, alone, on a ship coming to America by himself. Thieves and padrones ruin Dom’s dreams of meeting with his family and seeing his mom, in his hometown, Napoli.  by Sabrina Pena, 14 years old, Brooklyn, NY
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