Monday, September 22, 2008

Brooklyn Bridge: Newbery Pick #2

Ever since I read the incredible Out of the Dust, I've been a fan of Karen Hesse. Many have jumped on the free verse novel bandwagon, but Out of the Dust is one of the finest examples. And when an exceptional writer has a new book published when her last book was published seven years ago, it's a great day for all.

Karen Hesse returns to her historical fiction roots in Brooklyn Bridge. Like other immigrant families in 1903, life is not easy for the Michtom family. When Mr. Michtom creates the teddy bear, their situation changes. While the spirit of invention and entrepreneurship and the excitement of Coney Island are alive, the lives of street children under the Brooklyn Bridge are dismal and dangerous. At first, it appears that the Michtoms and the bridge children live in two different stories, until the reader eventually discovers their connection.

Hesse creates fantastic scenes within the novel; my two favorite are the creation of the teddy bear and Joseph's sister (Joseph is the narrator) applying for and arranging a home library for the neighborhood's use (families could apply to host home libraries for their neighborhood; the selections were chosen by librarians). Vivid historical details of early 1900s New York make the era and place come alive.

Hesse's novels straddle the divide between juvenile and young adult novels (young adult literature typically starts at the sixth grade). Brooklyn Bridge is in YA because of the age of the narrator (although that isn't always a deciding factor) and because of some mature situations (but nothing overly suggestive or graphic). This is a fine novel by one of the best YA authors writing today.

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