The Notorious Izzy Fink
  • The Notorious Izzy Fink
  • The Notorious Izzy Fink

The Notorious Izzy Fink

by Don Brown

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Sam Glodsky lives among the rough-and-tumble gangs on the streets of New York's Lower East Side. When 13-year-old Sam falls in with fearsome gangster Monk Eastman, he joins an outrageous scheme to rescue Eastman's prize racing-pigeon from a cholera-ridden steamship quarantined in the harbor. The caper Monk hatches to snatch the bird pairs Sam with his archenemy,

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Sam Glodsky lives among the rough-and-tumble gangs on the streets of New York's Lower East Side. When 13-year-old Sam falls in with fearsome gangster Monk Eastman, he joins an outrageous scheme to rescue Eastman's prize racing-pigeon from a cholera-ridden steamship quarantined in the harbor. The caper Monk hatches to snatch the bird pairs Sam with his archenemy, the notorious Izzy Fink. Widely acclaimed for his picture book histories, Don Brown's first historical novel is a fast-paced tale of immigrant life at the turn of the twentieth century.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Brown returns to the world of his picture-book biography Kid Blink Beats the World, deftly blending fact and fiction as he ushers readers onto the bustling streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side in the 1890s. Narrator Sam, whose Irish mother died trying to drag him away from a gang skirmish, works odd jobs to help support himself and his Jewish father, a tailor who has been deeply depressed since his wife's death. In a rather convoluted chain of events, Monk Eastman (a real-life gangster) recruits 13-year-old Sam and his thuggish archrival Izzy Fink, who heads up a gang of pickpockets, to sneak onto a cholera-infected ship anchored in New York harbor and fetch a prized racing pigeon with which Monk intends to compete. They pull off this feat, yet Monk comes after the boys when he discovers that the pigeon has a broken wing. Sam's run-ins with rival gang members, corrupt Tammany Hall politicians and crooked "coppers" add to the spice of the tale, which features crude street slang and ethnic slurs. (In an afterword, Brown notes that, in that era, such ethnic slurs "were freely used, reflecting the prejudicial stereotypes of the day.") Despite a few slow sequences and loose strands, the novel delivers a hard-hitting portrait of life on the streets in a turbulent time and introduces a host of credible characters-some sympathetic, others unsavory. Ages 11-14. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Triss Robinson
Sam Glodsky is a boy that lives on the streets of New York City at the turn of the twentieth century. Sam is a member of one of the many street gangs in the city. He has an invalid father that is unable to make much money, so it falls on Sam to find odd jobs wherever he can. Izzy Fink is a member of a rival gang. There is bad blood between these two boys. All of New York hears about a ship that is docked in the harbor. There is a cholera outbreak on board, and no one is getting off. A gangster named Monk Eastman has a prize-winning racing pigeon on board. He hires Sam and Izzy to sneak on board the ship and bring it to him unhurt. Sam can't refuse the money. However, this is where things start to fall apart for him. He barely makes it off the ship before it sets sail. Izzy then takes full credit for rescuing the pigeon, so Sam is paid only a small share of the money. Monk discovers the pigeon has a broken wing, and has the pigeon killed. Monk blames both boys for his loss and makes violent threats towards them, which sends them into hiding. Together the boys help each other get away from Monk. With help from Sam's friends and his father, Monk agrees to leave the boys alone. Sam goes back to selling newspapers and resumes his life a little wiser. This realistic story gives the reader a glimpse into how poor kids learned to survive on the streets of New York, and the hardships they faced.
VOYA - Cindy Lombardo
Brown's somewhat convoluted story, filled with fights, fisticuffs, Lower East Side slang, and rooftop escapades, provides readers with a wonderful multisensory look at gang life on the streets of New York at the turn of the last century. Thirteen-year-old Sam Glodsky earns a meager living through his wits and good fortune, making just enough to keep body and soul together for himself and his widowed father. When an opportunity arises to work with his sworn enemy, the "notorious" Izzy Fink, Sam embarks on a risky scheme to rescue a valuable racing pigeon belonging to gangster Monk Eastman from the cargo hold of a ship infected with cholera. Fans of the film The Gangs of New York will relish the rough-and-tumble adventures of Sam and his friends, despite a somewhat improbable plot and one-dimensional characters. The author's discussion of what is and is not "true" in the book is as interesting as the story itself.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Gang wars, pickpockets, pushcarts, and tenements best describe New York City's Lower East Side in the 1890s, home to 13-year-old Sam Glodsky, the half-Irish, half-Russian Jewish protagonist. He and his buddy Manny hawk newspapers for pennies to help put food on their tables. Sam gets involved with the Chief Inspector of the Health Department, who enlists his help in tracking down a cholera victim who has escaped a quarantined ship and may be inadvertently spreading the disease. In order to gain access to the ship, the boy takes a job with notorious gangster/animal lover Monk Eastman, who pays him and another boy to rescue a prized carrier pigeon from the ship. The other boy turns out to be Sam's archenemy, and when Fink mishandles the bird and breaks its wing, Eastman is out to get him. Expletives and coarse language are a natural part of the characters' dialogue. Though there is some mention of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall, the main focus is on the immigrant factions; an afterword refers to the "long-held prejudices" of the various ethnic groups that heightened as they competed for jobs and housing. Even reluctant readers will enjoy this engaging, action-packed novel, and the period will spring to life.-Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Recruited from the streets of the Lower East Side in the 1890s, Sam and Izzy must retrieve gangster boss Monk Eastman's prize racing pigeon from a cholera ship anchored in the harbor, thus bringing them into a dangerous relationship with the vicious mobster. There is plenty of action-gang fights, stealing aboard the eerie death ship, facing the wrath of a displeased crime boss-but New York City itself steals the show here, and Brown does an unusually fine job of evoking children's life on the streets, hawking newspapers, picking pockets, mucking out stables-anything to make pennies. Short chapters, a brisk pace, lively dialogue and a compelling plot provide a totally engaging tale. Though readers may object to coarse words and ethnic slurs mouthed by characters, such language is as much a part of the flavor and authenticity the novel strives for as the descriptions of pushcarts, newsies and tenements. A good match with Deborah Hopkinson's Shutting Out the Sky (2003) and Brown's own picture book Kid Blink Beats the World (2004). (author's note) (Fiction. 11-14)

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Product Details

Roaring Brook Press
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.68(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.64(d)
830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
11 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Notorious Izzy Fink

By Don Brown

Roaring Brook Press

Copyright © 2006 Don Brown
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62672-675-8



I clocked Fink so hard on the side of his head I coulda sworn it rang like a bell. I can't say for sure because hitting that stone-hard skull of his stung my hand so bad that I couldn't think about nothing else.

I had spied Izzy Fink among the shoppers clogging Hester Street, him lifting apples from a pushcart while its owner was distracted by a customer. I stopped dead and tried to melt into the throng before Fink could see me, and would have succeeded, too, if it weren't for the apple salesman finally getting wise to Fink's felonious deeds and chasing him off, sending him crashing into me and leaving both of us reeling.

"Damn!" he barked as he bounced off me, then stared at me in disgust.

I expected to be swarmed by his gang, but nothing happened. He just stood there and gave the stink-eye to me. Fink's alone, I said to myself.

"Yer on the wrong street, Paddy," he said.

I smiled. Fink didn't have the nerve to shake me down and take the eighteen cents I had in my front pants pocket. Him and me might both be thirteen, but I'm taller, though skinnier.

"Ya better watch out next time, ya Mick bastard, 'cause if I catch ya with my gang, you'll really get thumped!" he snarled.

Actually, what he said was more like, "Ya betta vatch out, ya Mick bastud, cuz if I catch ya wid my gung, ya vreally get tumped." Izzy is off the boat from Russia only a few years ago, and his words spill out of his mouth like a greenhorn's, all rough edges and splinters.

He glared at me for a moment, leaning forward on his short, thick legs while balling his meaty hands into fists.

It was seeing them fists that set me off. Maybe that idiot Fink might surprise-punch me, I thought. Not seeing the angle in taking seconds, I let him have it first.


I wanted to hit him in the ear, somewhere soft, but Fink ducked at the last second and my knuckles landed at the band of his cap. My hand went numb, like it got smacked with a hammer. I blew on it and shook it, trying to get it back to life. Fink? He turned in circles, moaning, pressing both hands to the side of his head. If my hand hadn't hurt so much, I'd have hit him again in the snoot or knocked the cloth cap from his nut. He kept twirling and moaning until the crowds of Hester Street shoppers swallowed him up and he disappeared.

Geez, I thought, a fight with Fink wasn't the grandest way to start the day.

I had planned to sell newspapers with Manny Goldberg on Broadway, and had set out from home, the whole time keeping my eyes peeled for danger, like Fremont among the Red Men. Every street has its own gang, and life could be miserable for the kids from outside, getting shaken down or taking a beating or both. I thought I'd gotten by Hester Street scot-free. Meeting Fink was bad luck, him being the boss of the Hester Street gang and me being something of an interloper, if you will, coming from Forsyth Street. Traveling outside your street was a risk, but you couldn't spend your whole life on one block, could you?

I didn't want to wait for Fink to gather the Hester Streeters and come after me, so I ran away. After a few blocks, when the pain in my hand had disappeared, I let myself remember how grand it was to plant a good one on Fink. Wait until I told Manny!


Extra! Extra!

Manny was already hawking papers when I got to Broadway and Fourteenth Street, and there was no time to talk.

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Europe laid waste! Thousands dead! Read all about it!" he shouted, attracting a crowd of buyers who eagerly exchanged pennies for newspapers.

I squeezed past the people until I was pressed against Manny and said, "Sorry I'm late."

"Forget it and sell papers!" He pressed a couple dozen copies into my hands.

I'd wave a newspaper in the air, and in a blink, somebody would snatch it away and shove a coin into my open palm.

"Europe beset by death and destruction! Read all about it!" Manny yelled.

Beset by death and destruction? Manny was outdoing himself today. He'd say just about anything to sell a paper. Ship sinks! Building burns! Maiden outraged! He loved making up headlines. I think he was practicing for when he became a reporter, which was his dream. I remembered the time he yelled, "Army defeated! Many casualties!" Manny had turned a sports story about the Army baseball team, when a couple of players got brained, into a pearl of a headline. People were steamed afterward when they figured the truth, but Manny sold three dozen papers that day.

"Europe laid waste? Thousands dead? Geez," I said.

"Those are the headlines. No joke! People in Germany are dying left and right," Manny said. "Cholera."

"Cholera!" I repeated, and shuddered. "Crappin' yerself to death ain't no way to die."

The papers and coins flew, and it wasn't long before my stack of papers got thin.

"We need more papers," I said to Manny.

"Gimme yer money and I'll get some more," he replied.

Manny handed his remaining copies to me, took the money, and raced off, all long legs and loose limbs like a baby giraffe. It always made me laugh to watch him run, but the thought of losing a customer kept me from enjoying the sight and returned me to business. I lifted a copy of the paper into the air and shouted, "Read all about it! Death and destruction!"

I did a brisk business, but not as good as Manny had. It was his voice, I decided. You can't help listening to it. You can hear every word, clear and sharp. I guess it came naturally to him — Manny's voice was like his father's. His father was the cantor of a synagogue on Ludlow Street.

I was down to a couple of copies when Manny returned with a dozen more. "That's all I could get," he apologized, handing me half his stack.

We could have kicked ourselves when we sold out in minutes and watched our customers drift away to other newsboys.

"Look at that. Thems our customers!" I cried. "Why couldn't ya get more papers, Manny?"

"Whadaya think, we're the only newsies looking to get more copies? All the guys were begging Hanratty fer more!" Manny replied.

He pouted and his head fell over like the end of a wet rope. Right away, I was sorry for being sharp with him. Hadn't he sold papers without me when I was late? It was like I'd kicked a puppy.

I wanted to say I was sorry but couldn't find the words. Instead, I said, "Hanratty! I'm surprised the World hasn't caught on to that thieving mug."

The filthy slob distributed Pulitzer's paper, the World. We'd pay Hanratty a nickel for every ten copies of the paper and then turn around and sell them on the street for a penny a paper. Sometimes, when the headline was real juicy and everybody wanted to buy a paper, Hanratty would hold us up for six cents for ten copies or make us buy a busy location to hawk them, like near a ferry terminal or the stairs to the El, the elevated railroad. And don't think the extra money found its way back to Mr. Pulitzer and the World — he only wallet that got fatter was Hanratty's.

Still, selling papers was a great racket, as long as you unloaded all the copies you bought. Unsold copies were the newsie's problem.

"Hey, Hanratty, can ya buy back the unsold copies?" we joked as he drove by in the delivery wagon.

"Take it up with Jew Pulitzer," Hanratty sneered.

"Whadaya mean by that?" Manny said, his hair all up at the low talk against Jews. Manny never took guff from anybody for being Jewish. I wasn't keen on low talk either, but having both Irish and Jewish sides, each getting their share of foul words, my feelings were thicker skinned than Manny's were.

Hanratty just waved his hand toward us as he headed to Park Row and the news offices.

"Miserable mug!" Manny growled.

He found a newspaper sheet and used it as a mitt to pick up an old, hard horse turd. He started to fling it at Hanratty when I said, "Hold it. I got a better arm than you."

Taking the turd, I reared back and let it fly.

The turd flew in a long arc until it hit the wagon and exploded, spraying a fine, stinking dust over a hulking passerby.

"Watch yer driving!" the man shouted, confusing the dickens out of Hanratty, who hadn't seen or heard the turd bomb.

"Soak yerself! There's nothing wrong with my driving!" Hanratty bellowed.

Me and Manny horse-laughed at the two of them.

"I hope Hanratty gets his nose busted!" Manny guffawed.

They were still shouting at each other as we split the day's profits, each of us taking forty cents. Afterward, I said, "Let's go to Rutgers Square. We can get something to eat and sit by the fountain."

As we walked, I thought about my run-in with Fink and told Manny. I ended the story and said, "Fink stinks. Has since he got off the boat. Remember how he stank of piss and rot?"

"Everybody smells that way off the boat. It's from being cramped up so long," Manny reminded me.

"Yeah, well, he stank worse."

Manny let me burn for a bit, then asked, "Did ya hear he joined the Squab Wheelmen?"

"As a rider or a pickpocket?" I asked.

"A rider. Fink's meaty mitts could never pick a pocket. They're only good for fighting."

At Canal Street, we ducked into a kosher delicatessen and bought broken cake, paying a penny for a small paper bag of bits from the bottom of a barrel. Then we made our way to the small round Rutgers Street fountain to nibble the sweets.

I worried about being jumped by someone and swiveled my head back and forth. Manny noticed my squirrelly behavior and said, "Relax, Sam. Nobody's gonna thump ya as long as I'm around. I still got friends here."

He made me feel better and the cake tasted even better. We ate quietly until Manny asked, "Did ya read the Forward?"

"Nah. You know I'm not much of a newspaper reader," I replied.

"How are ya gonna know what's going on in the world, if ya don't read the paper?" he responded.

"I got you, Manny," I said.

Manny nodded. "There was this letter to the editor from a girl whose father was a cantor ..."

I listened to Manny tell the story of the unhappy girl and her strict father and how the man lectured the girl for not being an observing Jew. It was Manny's favorite subject, him living through the identical heartache. Manny wanted to become a newspaperman and work the Police Beat, and his father, a religious man, couldn't stomach the thought of it. The two of them fought like cats and dogs.

I had heard Manny's bellyaching many times before, but I didn't complain; Manny was my friend and I figured a friend deserved a sympathetic ear.

Then someone shouted, "Ya damn fools! Look where yer going. Ya coulda killed me!"

I looked up.

It was the notorious Izzy Fink.


The Pickpockets

Fink shouted, "Ya idiots!"

A pink-faced man, a round woman, and Fink were in a pile on the sidewalk atop a beat-up bicycle. Izzy popped to his feet and screamed, "Ya fools! Ya idiots!"

Yer the only idiot, Fink, ya clumsy oaf, I said to myself. I guessed my punch to his head hadn't slowed him down. It was clear he'd ridden the bicycle into the man and woman. I had a mind to teach Izzy some manners, but Manny's hand went to my shoulder and held me back.

"Squab Wheelmen," he said, grim.

I turned toward the scene of the accident and saw it for what it was, a Squab Wheelmen's dodge. Fink had crashed his bicycle into the innocent couple and sparked a fight to divert attention from Fink's pickpocket pals.

Fink screamed at the dazed couple. The onlookers pressed together to gawk, some people giggling, while others stood open-mouthed. They all were hypnotized by the commotion, and none noticed the half-dozen boys snaking through the crowd.

Those mugs had soft touches, they did, and they picked pockets as easily as taking pickles from a barrel. Lifted wallets and purses were quickly passed to another boy, who dropped them into his pants, where, I guessed, there was a large, secret pouch. It was a common trick — the pickpocket unloads the loot in a blink, in case a wised-up victim accuses him of theft. Without the wallet or purse, the charge can't stick.

"Why didn't youse watch where youse were going!" Fink barked, keeping up his end of the dodge.

Then the pink-faced man, having got his wits back, shouted, "You crashed into us!"

"Yer lyin'!" Fink yelled.

"Guttersnipe!" the man replied, and the onlookers pressed closer.

"Leon, come away!" cried his companion.

On the fringes of the crowd, a pimply-faced pickpocket calmly removed a woman's purse. Another boy roughly jostled a businessman, while a second boy lifted the man's coattails and plucked a wallet from his back pocket.

Another dropped a few pennies on the pavement and said to a nearby man, "Ya dropped yer money."

The man smiled at the youngster's apparent good deed, patted him on the head, and bent over to pick up the pennies. As he did, the boy relieved the man of his fat wallet.

"There's not a Hester Streeter in the bunch," Manny said, and I nodded. I didn't recognize any of the pickpockets as members of Fink's gang. I guessed Fink was splitting his time with a new crop of mugs.

"Slob!" yelled Fink.

"Lowlife!" answered the man.

"Leon, get away!" begged the woman, pulling the pink-faced man. "Let's find the police."

Leon ignored his companion and rushed Fink, with hands outstretched, in a bid to grab him. But Fink easily slipped the man's grasp, laughing cruelly.

"Ya fat slob! Ya couldn't grab yer nuts in yer own pants!" Fink taunted.

Leon's face flushed and he made another stab at Fink. And missed again.

"Hah!" Fink roared.

As Leon tried a third time, the woman grabbed hold of his coattail and tried to hold him back.

"Leon, you're behaving like a common street brawler! Call the police!" she pleaded as he dragged her forward toward Fink. Leon shook her loose and went for Fink, who planted his boot into Leon's knee, sending the man to the ground with a howl. The woman shrieked.

Fink hopped on his bike and pedaled off. The pickpockets disappeared in the hubbub. The onlookers went back to their business. After a few moments, Leon allowed himself to be led away by the woman.

"Slick job," Manny said. Him wanting to be a police-beat reporter, Manny fancied himself an expert on the ways of crooks and gangsters.

I shot him a sour look.

"Gee, Sam, I'm not siding with the Wheelmen, I'm just saying ya gotta admit they did a swell job with the dodge," he said.

I just scowled.

Manny sighed, and said, "Yeah, I know. It's all about Fink and when yer Ma —"

"Just forget about it!" I snapped.

After a few moments of silence, Manny pointed to my half-filled paper bag of broken cake and asked, "Are ya gonna finish that? Cause if ya aren't, I will."

"Oh, I'm gonna take it home. Maybe my pop will want it," I mumbled.

"Yer not going home now, are ya? We could go down to Park Row. I know some police reporters for the Journal. We could tag along with them. Maybe there's been a murder. They promised they'd let me see a dead body. That would be swell, wouldn't it?" he asked.

"Yeah, that sounds swell, but I gotta go home."

"Sure thing, Sam. I understand. If I see a dead body, I'll tell ya all about it. Ya wanna sell papers tomorrow? We could try Thirty-fourth Street. By the ferry. Whadaya think?"

"Sure," I said.

I left Manny at Rutgers Square. I shoulda been in a grand mood, what with money in my pocket and sweets in my belly, but I wasn't.

That damn Izzy Fink filled my head as I headed home.



"The lowlife," I mumbled to myself. "Stinking mug."

I was swimming in curses for Fink, when the cries of a nearby delivery wagon driver grabbed my attention.

"Git, Muffin, git," the driver called, his voice all strawberries and cream, trying to encourage the listless animal to pull the green dray she was harnessed to. Muffin's head drooped, her tail twitched, and her glassy eyes blinked.

"Come on, ole girl, you can do it," the driver said, as if speaking to a person. The man was as shiny with sweat as Muffin was.

"Come on, ole girl," the driver repeated in a low, choked voice. "Git along, sweetheart."

Muffin ignored the man and the rustling of the reins that joined man and horse. The man's shoulders fell and he seemed to sink into the wooden wagon bench. He stared at Muffin, shook his head, and screwed up his face in puzzlement. He got no sympathy from the crowd on the street. They kept their attention glued to the wares of the pushcart vendors lining the sidewalk: buckets, bananas, brooms, buttons, bread, and on and on.

The man turned back to the horse and, in a fit, hollered, "Enough is enough. Move!"

With that, Muffin collapsed to the pavement in a heap.


"Oh, God, no!" the man howled, and leaped from the wagon. His face was twisted and red, a mask of shock and sorrow. Passersby turned their heads toward the hullabaloo, but they turned away when they realized it was just a dead horse and not a real tragedy.

"No, Muffin, no!" the man blubbered, his hands still holding the leather harness straps. "Oh, Muffin, I'm sorry. I kilt you."

Tears rolled down his face and he wore the most pitiful expression. Onlookers chuckled. I felt awful for the man. That horse was probably the man's closest friend and had shared more of the man's life than any human being had. I figured the man had a right to mourn. I was going to tell him so, tell him that it was just Muffin's time and that he hadn't killed her, when the man, all of a sudden, threw down the reins and booted the carcass with a heavy kick.


Excerpted from The Notorious Izzy Fink by Don Brown. Copyright © 2006 Don Brown. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Don Brown's acclaimed picture book biographies include Mack Made Movies, an ALA Notable Book and Kirkus Editors' Choice; and Kid Blink Beats the World, a New York Public Library Best Book of the Year, praised by Kirkus Reviews for its "lively writing." He lives on Long Island, New York, with his family.

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