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 It is full of historical references and photos throughout, making it topnotch historical fiction.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
|Date||Stop on Tour||Blog|
|March 30, 2015||Interview||Jane Kurtz|
|April 6, 2016||Review||The Book Faerie|
|April 7, 2016||Review||Laurie Thompson|
|April 8, 2016||Review/Guest Post||Welcome to Book Wonderland|
|April 9, 2016||Guest Post||My Learning Life|
|April 10, 2016||Review||Compass Books|
|April 10, 2016||Interview||Compass Books|
|April 10, 2016||Interview/Guest Post||Girl Who Reads|
|April 11, 2016||TBD||PragmaticMom|
|April 12, 2016||Interview||Orange Marmalade Books|
|April 14, 2016||Review||Randomly Reading|
|April 15, 2016||Interview||ProvatoEvents|
|April 21, 2016||Guest Post||Elizabeth 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?