Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The King of Mulberry Street

The King of Mulberry Street

Donna Jo Napoli
For ages 12 and up
Random House, 2005   ISBN: 0385746539

Life in the Italian city of Napoli is certainly not easy, but Dom is happy. Living with his mother and other family members, Dom knows that they are poor but he usually has enough to eat, he has roof over his head, and best of all he has his beloved mother.

Then, one day, Dom’s mother announces that she and Dom are leaving Italy to go to America. Dom boards the ship at the port thinking that his mother is right behind him, but in fact, when the ship sails, Dom is alone with nothing of worth on his person except a pair of new shoes.

When Dom arrives in the great city of New York, all he wants to do is to stowaway on a ship going back to Napoli. He has to get back to his mother. He soon learns however that it is not going to be easy getting back home, for this time he will not be able to stowaway. Instead he will have to buy a ticket and that is going to cost him a lot of money. Of course Dom hasn’t a penny to his name, he does not speak any English, and the rules in this new city are very different from the ones he used to live by.

There are a few things about Dom that make him special, that make him survive in this very dangerous street world that he now lives in. Dom is a kind, tough, and determined boy. With the help of some other Italian street urchins, Dom establishes a sandwich business, and in the process he learns a lot about the other immigrants in the city and about himself.

This is not a book for the fainthearted, for Dom and the other boys he befriends suffer a great deal. Many of the adults in their world are out to exploit the boys, and there are very few people who are willing to help the children or protect them. At the same time, this is also a book full of hope and courage. It is extraordinary to read about what it must have been like to be a poor immigrant in New York in the late 1800’s, and there is great value in coming to understand that our now distant relatives had to fight very hard to create a life for themselves in their new home.

Donna Jo Napoli has created a character who gets under your skin and who is easy to like and relate to.