Thursday, April 14, 2016

Blog Tour: A Bandit's Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket by Deborah Hopkinson

When it is believed that 11 year-old Rocco Zaccaro has brought shame to his family in their village of Calvello, Italy, he soon finds himself sent to New York City to work for a man his parents believe is honorable.  Signor Ancarola is a padrone or patron and promises the Zaccaro's $20. for the next four years, it Rocco continues to work for him.  It is 1887 and such things were still done to children then.

After a long voyage in steerage, Rocco finds himself living in a cellar with a bunch of other kids on Mulberry Bend in New York's Little Italy.  There is never enough to eat and it's always cold, and each morning the children are giving musical instruments and told they must bring at least $1.00 back to Signor Ancarola or else face his paddle.

Not terribly inclined to play the triangle he is given, Rocco decides to work on getting his bearings first with the intention of coming up with a plan to leave Signor Ancarola.  And the first person he runs into is Mary Hallanan, a young Irish meddler determined to help all of the city's mistreated, overworked horses and who will weave in and out of Rocco's life for the next year or so.  Next Rocco meets Tony and Carlo, two older boys who introduce him to another, more profitable way of earning his daily dollar - pickpocketing.  Soon the three boys have quite a robust pickpocketing business going for themselves, but Rocco still suffers from homesickness and the desire to return to his family in Calvello.  Since the boys divide their plunder with the lion's share going to Tony, and Rocco handing over a dollar to Signor Ancarola everyday, it isn't surprising that he comes up with a plan to work afternoons on his own to make more money.  Of course, Tony and Carlo warn his this is a bad idea, but Rocco is nothing if not hardheaded.

This decision leads to more adventures and even a stint in the House of Refuge for juvenile delinquents on Randall's Island, working for Jacob Riis, and even doing some meddling with Mary Hallanan and her blacksmith father.  But does Rocco ever find his way out of his muddled misadventures?  Does he ever see his family again?  And what about Tony and Carlo?

I love books that are set in New York City and A Bandit's Tale is right up my alley.  It is full of historical references and photos throughout, making it topnotch historical fiction.  Rocco is a lively, personable character, who just seems bent on learning things the hard way, despite the fact that his heart is always in the right place.  His journey is divided into four books and an epilogue, each book covering one of Rocco's big misadventures and his story is set between Spring 1887 and Spring 1889, a very interesting time as anyone who has ever looked as Jacob Riis's photos of the people living there will attest to.

You would think that a book that has themes like selling children to strangers, immigration, animal cruelty, and child labor would not sound very appealing to young readers, but Deborah Hopkinson's books are always so well-written and well-researched and this is not exception and Rocco's youthful narration really speaks to them. A Bandit's Tale is a book that middle grade readers will certainly enjoy, especially since Rocco is a great picaro figure, in the tradition of the best picaresque novels and not often found in children's literature.

One important note - 2016 is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the ASPCA and one of the figures that is mentioned in the novel is Henry Bergh, who was known as "the Great Meddler" and is Mary Hallanan's hero.  And no wonder, Bergh found the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1866,  Unfortunately, he died in 1888, which is also the turning point in Rocco's life.  I don't think that is too much of a coincidence.

A Bandit's Tale is truly an inspiring work.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to my by the author, Deborah Hopkinson

Be sure to visit all the stops on the blog tour of A Bandit's Tale and watch for the hashtag #BanditBlogTour on Twitter

April 6-21, 2016
DateStop on TourBlog
March 30, 2015InterviewJane Kurtz
April 6, 2016ReviewThe Book Faerie
April 7, 2016ReviewLaurie Thompson
April 8, 2016Review/Guest PostWelcome to Book Wonderland
April 9, 2016Guest PostMy Learning Life
April 10, 2016ReviewCompass Books
April 10, 2016InterviewCompass Books
April 10, 2016Interview/Guest PostGirl Who Reads
April 11, 2016TBDPragmaticMom
April 12, 2016InterviewOrange Marmalade Books
April 14, 2016ReviewRandomly Reading
April 15, 2016InterviewProvatoEvents
April 21, 2016Guest PostElizabeth Dulemba

FYI: Here are two photos of places that factored strongly in Rocco's story:

Bandit's Roost is a photo by Jacob Riis.  The boy in the bowler could be Tony. 
A picture of the House of Refuge, which could only be reached by boat.
Could Rocco be in one of those boats?

1 comment:

  1. Firstly, I must say your blog is looking very smart Alex. I keep thinking mine could do with an update, but I have yet to find the time or the inspiration.
    I really enjoyed this post, especially the historical references. I’m sure I would enjoy A bandit’s tale – the title alone is enough to get my interest.


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