Sunday, January 30, 2011

PB - Peppe The Lamplighter

This picture book immediately caught my eye because it was larger than most of the other books on the shelves in our middle and high school library.  Also, the cover reminded me of a small child in New York many many years ago.  And sure enough, after reading the first page, I found out that the setting was
Mulberry Street
(Little Italy) in New York.  This hooked me right away because my father’s side of the family is from Brooklyn and we go to a restaurant on
Mulberry Street
a few times each year.

Peppe, the main character is a young Italian boy (first generation) looking for work to help his family.  He was turned down by many people due to slow business and being too young.  But his determination paid off when he met a lamplighter who needed to leave for a while.  He was given the job of lighting all of the lamps on
Mulberry Street
.  He went home excited about the opportunity, and everyone was excited except for his father (who wanted Peppe to be…in his mind….so much more).  This upset Peppe because he disappointed his father each time he returned home each night after lighting the lamps.  One night Peppe decided he wasn’t going to hurt his father any longer, and he did not light the street lamps.  The area was dark and his youngest sister did not return home for fear of being in the dark.  Peppe’s father changed his tune and pleaded with Peppe to light the street lamps so that his sister would come home safe.  Sure enough, he did just that and he found his sister. 

The little morals/lessons from the story were (to name a few):
·        Believe in yourself
·        Hard work will pay off
·        All jobs are important

It’s interesting, because when you walk down the streets in the Little Italy area (namely
Mulberry Street
), gas lights luminate around some restaurants.  Now I’m going to have to research that area during this particular time period to see what did exist for lighting at night.


  1. Upon reading your review, I was curious as to whether or not Peppe was a real person. It was interesting to find out that this story is loosely based on the author’s recount of a story she heard about her grandfather’s immigration to the United States from Naples. This story sounds like something I would like to read as it may paint a picture of the true difficulties immigrants faced when chasing the American Dream. The illustrations from the book that I was able to find immediately evoked emotion for me. Perhaps it was the dark colors and pitch black that were contrasted with the illumination of the lamp. There is a dedication page with what appears to be a family portrait—the solemn faces expressing the difficulties and hardships faced during this time. Three of my grandparents immigrated to New York from Italy. I have heard their stories about the lifestyles that they lived when they arrived in America and their pursuits for the American Dream. I am curious to see what is depicted in this story and how it relates to my family. I too, will have to walk through Little Italy with different eyes the next time I am in NYC.

  2. Great literature like this makes me miss being a classroom teacher. I feel that many of the students I work with would be motivated by a story like this. There is a strong message of working hard and believing in yourself. I was also struck by how motivated the child was to go out and get a job to help provide for his family. There are opportunities for great conversations with kids through this book. It is a different era today and many children feel like their parents owe them the world.

    The book also made me reflect as a parent. My children are young and often talk about different occupations that they would like to have when they grow up. I realize that they have a long time to determine what they will be, but I must admit that I too, was guilty of thinking some jobs were not good enough for them.