A Book Impression is an opportunity to share my reading experience.
For a more detailed explanation, please visit this post.
The Family Under the Bridge
by Natalie Savage Carlson
published by HarperCollins
Newberry Honor 1959
This story is as old as I am – literally. Yet somehow I never heard of it growing up. I’m finding that to be a popular theme with these middle grade fiction posts: I missed most books of this genre at the time when when I was the intended audience. Perhaps that is why I am enjoying this reading focus at this point in my life.
Even though the book is over a half-century old, I do believe the story is still relevant today.
Some rather difficult subjects are discussed, such as homelessness, and prejudice towards those who are different (whether less fortunate, of another culture, or adhere to another moral code). It is for this reason that I recommend the book, but with the caveat an adult read the story as well. I believe this would help open the lines of communication for children to ask questions and voice concerns.
A Brief Overview:
The main character, Armand, is a hobo living under one of the famous Parisian bridges that cross the Seine. He is actually quite fond of his hobo status, taking pride in his perceived laziness and unemployment. He is an affable character, although not a fan of “starlings” (children). As we learn throughout the story, however, it is not that he dislikes children but rather he is afraid they might steal his heart.
And of course, they do.
When Armand returns to his home under the bridge, he discovers three children hiding there. He pretends to be gruff with them, but knows he cannot turn them away. The children ignore this grumpy exterior and notice only his kind generosity. They immediately begin to refer to him as Grandpa.
The story takes place in December and there are subtle references comparing Armand to Father Christmas. The only item on the children’s wish list is a home, and Armand promises to deliver.
I am a devout lover of Paris – which is what initially attracted me to this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the references to various arrondissements, particularly the Les Halles food market.
When traveling in Europe, particularly Paris, tourists are told to be wary of the gypsies. And I understand this warning. However, it was interesting to see this culture from a different perspective. While private and secretive, their hearts are wide open. They were more than willing to accept these homeless children into their community.
Initially I took exception to Armand’s pride in laziness. He almost boasted of his choice to live off the street and not answering to authority. It wasn’t that he couldn’t work – or had no opportunity; in fact, he rejected job offers throughout the story. This is not necessarily a character trait I would want to instill in my middle grade child.
But in the end, Armand sacrifices his hobo ways in order to secure a job that provides a decent wage and large enough home for himself, the children, and their mother. And he learns a valuable lesson: sharing with others enriches life; putting their needs before personal desires isn’t a burden, it is an honor.
I am always on the lookout for other MG historical fiction novels. If you have a favorite you think I would enjoy, please feel free to leave the title in the comment section.