Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Brooklyn Bridge Audio

Brooklyn Bridge Audio

Karen Hesse
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Unabridged audiobook (CD)
Performed/read by: Fred Berman
Macmillan Audio, 2008   ISBN: 1427205469

Joseph Michtom knows that he is lucky. He knows that it is a good thing that his parents have had so much success with their teddy bear business. But, at the same time, Joseph wishes that life would go back to the way it was before his parents were inspired by Teddy Roosevelt to make a stuffed bear. Now his parents are always busy sewing, assembling, and packing up bears. They don’t have time to do things with him. And they especially don’t have time to take Joseph to Coney Island to visit the amusement park there, and this is something that he desperately wants to do.

Now that school is out, Joseph spends his time helping his parents and minding his little brother, who is quite a handful. He longs for the life he used to have when he played stickball with the other boys in the neighborhood, but his family’s success has made it hard for him to connect with these boys in the way he used to.

Every week Joseph and his family go to visit the aunts across the river. Joseph particularly loves The Queen, who is quite different from her other sisters, and is the strong one in the family. When The Queen suddenly dies Joseph finds out that the indomitable lady not only helped her own family to come to America, but she helped many others as well. She saved many people who might well have lost their lives in the old country if she had not made it possible for them to leave. Joseph is very proud of his aunt when he learns about this. Who would have thought that his aunt could do such as thing.

Because of this loss, his little brother’s battle with “the grippe,” and his own struggles with his new life, Joseph learns a great deal about his family and himself in the summer of 1903.

As they get into this story, listeners will be taken back in time to a world that is a colorful mix of stark pain and warm happiness. Love stands shoulder to shoulder with anger and hate. The author intersperses Joseph’s tale with the story of a group of street children who spend their nights under Brooklyn Bridge. The children have all suffered greatly, and they do their best to survive in a very hostile world. What they don’t know is that something in their life is closely tied to an event that took place in Joseph’s life. Only at the very end do we realize that there is a connection between the loving Jewish family and the unloved family of lost children.

With beautiful language and acute sensitivity, Karen Hesse gives her audience a story that is powerful, heartbreaking, and full of hope. Her tale is based on the true story of the Michtom family, the family whose members made the first real “teddy bear.” Fred Berman’s narrative beautifully captures the poignant moments, and the moments of happiness, that can be found throughout this story.