The King of Mulberry Street
Donna Jo Napoli (Juvenile Fiction)
“There was a saying that no one starved in farmlands. My city, Napoli, was surrounded by farmlands, yet we’d been hungry for months.”
Nine-year old Dom was illegitimate, poor, but loved. His mother called him “mio tesoro – my treasure”, and one day she took her beloved son to the docks and stowed him away on a cargo ship headed to a place where dreams come true—America. Before sending him away, Dom’s mother gave him one strict instruction: “Your job is to survive.” Alone, with only a new pair of shoes in his possession, Dom struggles for daily survival in this country with its strange languages and customs, all the while searching for a way to get back home.
This is a work of fiction, but Napoli says that she was inspired by the story of her paternal grandfather who, like Dom, came to New York as a young boy. Napoli sets her story in Manhattan in 1892 and gives us a main character who is scrappy, kind, generous, and honest. Moreover, he manages to hold true to his moral values and religious convictions (he is a Jewish Italian) despite his dire circumstances and outside influences. The reader can only admire and marvel at his resilience and convictions.
When recalling his life back in Napoli, Dom often remembers the proverbs his Nonna often said. One such proverb was, “You get, you give” and Dom takes this to heart as we see him always giving throughout the book. Whether he’s returning an act of kindness or helping another in greater need, he shows us that even the smallest act of goodwill often has the greatest impact. Napoli gives us a beautiful story of trust, loyalty, and friendship. As Dom begins to carve out a life for himself in America, he reminds us of the importance of being true to oneself and that family isn’t defined by bloodline or name, but by love and devotion.
* Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com