Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Family Under the Bridge

The Family Under the Bridge

Natalie Savage Carlson
For ages 8 to 12
HarperCollins, 1989   ISBN: 978-0064402507

Armand is an old hobo who calls Paris home. He doesn’t have a house to live because he prefers to move from place to place pushing an old baby buggy, which is full of his possessions. It is December and Armand is now ready to go to his winter quarters under the bridge, and he cannot help feeling that an adventure awaits him.

   As he makes his way to the bridge Armand meets up with Meril, the old gypsy woman. She and her people have come to Paris for the winter months. There is plenty of work for them and they have a place where they can live for a while.

   When Armand gets to the spot that he considers is rightfully his under the bridge, he is shocked and angered to see that someone has taken it. How can this be? He dashes over and rips away a piece of canvas that the interlopers have put up there, only to discover three children on the ground cuddled up in an old quilt. The two little ones are frightened by Armand’s arrival, but the older one, a girl, guards her siblings and tells Armand that he cannot separate them. They are a family and “families have to stick together.”

   Armand is not frightened by much, but children do make him feel more than a little uneasy. Children, he knows, can make a person love them, which is dangerous. Their dog, Jojo, makes him nervous too. The oldest child, Suzy, explains that they were evicted from their home after their father died, and their mother told them to hide under the bridge so that the authorities would not take them away from her. Armand says that they have evicted him from his home, which is when Suzy invites him to stay and share the space with them. Her kindness makes Armand wary, but he ends up staying with the children. In spite of himself he shares his fire and his food with the children and Jojo. Even after the children’s mother arrives (and she is none too friendly) Armand cannot help himself worrying about the children. They are not used to lean pickings and cold nights as he is. He is distressed that he has unwittingly let them into his heart, which is where he does not want them to be.

   The next morning the children beg Armand to take them with him and he goes around the city. Being a devious old fellow he agrees to do so. Perhaps having the children with him will be to his advantage, and so he takes the children to the department store where his friend is the store Father Christmas. He never imagines that his selfish act will backfire on him in a big way and that he will find himself playing the role of Father Christmas in the days that follow.

   This heartwarming book won the Newbery Honor in 1959 and it has stood the test of time. Readers of all ages will be fascinated to see how the old hobo, who does not want to care about others, changes over time as he discovers that caring for, and being cared for, by other people is not a bad thing after all.