A Bundle of Trouble

Published in 2011; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrator Sergio Giovine


New neighbors are moving in downstairs, the Brodsky family, a young couple and their baby girl. The wife has trachoma, an eye condition common in the tenements, that has at least temporarily robbed her of most of her sight. The condition is contagious, but with proper hand-washing no one else should be affected. The baby, Nora, is very upset by the move. Rebecca's mother offers to watch her for an hour or two while Mrs. Brodsky rests. Rebecca and her mother discover that Nora has a bad diaper rash, which Mrs. Brodsky couldn't see with her affliction, and Mr. Brodksy missed due to exhaustion from working two jobs. Rebecca takes Nora on a walk to the drugstore for diaper rash ointment. There, a boy about Victor's age is oddly taken with the baby. A six-month-old boy was recently kidnapped (and returned safely) so Rebecca gets very nervous with his curiosity. Once Nora's rash has been treated, Rebecca takes her to a nearby park to try to calm her down (I think by this point the tired four-month-old probably wants to nurse and fall asleep). Victor wants to go too, but he's falling behind in school so their mother makes him stay in and study. At the park Rebecca starts talking with a girl about her age, Francesca, an Italian immigrant out with her baby sister Vincenza, who was born in America. Francesca is very nice, even sharing her ice cream with Rebecca. And chatty. Nora perks up and the babies play a bit. The girls have a nice visit before a storm blows in and they part ways.

Back at the apartment, Rebecca gets another chance to watch Nora. She's so happy now! And the rash is totally healed already...and her dress has a little Italian symbol embroidered on it? This isn't Nora! It's Vincenza!

Rebecca's glad to quickly find Francesca, but Francesca is adamant that her family has the right baby, despite the embroidered gown. She rushes off to her father's shop and by the time Rebecca catches up, the store is locked. She runs into her friend Rose moments later and they surmise that Francesca and her family know they have the wrong baby but don't want to switch them back. Rose somberly recalls that her friend's brother died as an infant, first growing quiet and listless. Could Vincenza be ill, and Francesca switched her with the fussy Nora, who clearly has healthy lungs? Rebecca confesses the mix-up to her parents, but they reassure her that she must be mistaken. Surely the Brodskys would have noticed. Rebecca can't be swayed though. 

Things get complicated. After a couple days, Rebecca gets another chance to take the baby for a walk. She goes straight to Francesca's and sees her mother playing with the baby. After a flurry of activity, the truth is out: Francesca did switch the babies. But only because her prankster brother (who met Rebecca in the store) switched them first! The Brodskys used to live in the same tenement, and he wanted to see how long it would take his sister to notice. It just so happened that it was the Brodskys' moving day. So Francesca was near, and dressed Nora in a gown identical to the one she'd embroidered as a baby gift and was lucky enough to have the chance to switch the babies back. Both babies are healthy. Vincenza was only crying because of colic, and Nora is a mellow baby.

But it's not over yet. When Rebecca was trying to find Francesca the first time, she saw a woman throwing out perfectly good baby clothes. One bonnet stood out to her, and she reads in the paper that a baby was kidnapped--wearing that distinctive bonnet. She gets a police officer and the woman and her accomplice are soon arrested, with the help of Rebecca thwarting their getaway. When things settle down, Rebecca and Francesca make plans to visit together in the park again.

Looking Back

In Rebecca's time, it was very common for older daughters to care for younger siblings while their mothers did housework (boys often took paying jobs, like selling newspapers, early). Then as now, a concern for anyone watching a young child was kidnapping. While a sharp eye and precautions remain the best defense, some people also used charms and amulets or other traditions for protection.


This book is dedicated to " my 'Play Group Tea Ladies'--Sangeeta, Katie, Sheri, Leslie, and Kathy--whose weekly chats about our own bundles of trouble have provided more than a decade of laughter, encouragement, and comfort: this one's for you. And a special welcome to a brand new bundle: Hannah June Elliott Kaganovich, born June 9, 2010. Huge thanks, too, to Laura Klaus Abada for stories of Sukkot celebrations, and to Louise Reiss for her Italian expertise. Grazie!"

When I first saw this title and the cover of Rebecca with a baby, I thought the plot was about her finding a baby, like Abby--also Jewish--does in Abby and the Mystery Baby

This was a surprisingly entertaining read. I'm normally not a fan of mysteries.

Nora has a lot of pink things, like blankets and the ribbon on her rattle. In the early 1900s, pink was for boys and blue for girls (not long before both were usually dressed in white so soiled clothing could be easily bleached). Pink was viewed as a shade of red, a masculine color, the color of Mars, the Roman god of war. Blue was thought of as the color of the Virgin Mary, a paragon of femininity. Around World War II, the colors switched. The popular children's book Pat the Bunny was published before the change, and if you look you'll notice the girl has a blue dress and the boy has a pink-striped shirt.

Rebecca recalls a story she heard about a woman whose baby died and then kidnapped another woman's baby to replace hers. Considering she's Jewish, I would have expected her to mention King Solomon instead.

Rebecca's parents would still prefer to her to a teacher rather than an actor.

Rebecca gets written up in the paper. She, a minor, is mentioned by her full name, but the kidnappers, who have confessed to their crimes, are not. I'm glad the couple turned out to be foiled kidnappers. I thought the woman was tossing baby clothes because her child had died.

 Most kidnappers are people known to the family, often a non-custodial parent (like Dawn and the Impossible Three, although that was sort of accidental). Child abductions by strangers are rare, and child abduction in general isn't very common. So yes, watch out and use common sense, but don't be paranoid.

The above aside, reading about kidnapping while my girls are asleep upstairs is making me nervous and I'm going to go check on them. (They're sounds asleep and fine; the coming-up-on-four-year-old has her cat, Joel curled up next to her--see Mary Anne and Miss Priss--and the fifteen-month-old has her special toy, a stuffed cow named Gow.)


The Crystal Ball

Published in 2012; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrator Sergio Giovine


While on the way to watch the famed escape artist Harry Houdini give a free performance in Times Square, Rebecca and her family see several street vendors selling fortunes and good luck charms. Back at home, Rebecca, Sadie, and Sophie dabble in fortune-telling, learning about suspending a needle on sewing thread and watching its movements and other things. Sadie bought a good luck crystal prism from a vendor, and she bets Rebecca the crystal against Rebecca's heirloom brooch that she can learn to escape from a tied rope before Rebecca can. 

Rebecca ends up talking with Mr. Rossi about good luck and fortune-telling too. She does a fake prediction for him, but he takes it more seriously than Rebecca intended. A little bit later, Mr. Rossi attempts to tackle a pickpocket going after Rebecca's father's wallet. The pickpocket escapes, but Mr. Rossi saves the wallet...at the expense of two broken fingers and sprained wrist. It'll be difficult for him to do his job properly. Fortunately, a man who helped Mr. Rossi after the incident, Mr. Silver, is a handyman who can help out. With Mr. Silver on the job, Mr. Rossi thinks he should accompany his brother to visit their sick sister in Italy--Rebecca said he'd be taking a long journey after all (she thought she was just talking about going to see his brother in New Jersey). Predictably, Mr. Silver starts acting suspicious, digging around in odd places under the guise of trying to help Mr. Rossi. Rebecca has a bad feeling about him, but can't quite pinpoint why. Then when she's feeding the pigeons, a homing pigeon arrives with a message. It's not one that Mr. Rossi recognizes, and the message is for "Mio carissimo leone" which was his late wife's pet name...and it's signed with her name. Could she be communicating from beyond the grave? 

While this is going on, several valuable items go missing from the apartment's tenants. Rebecca's cousin Josef, who is living with her family, is the prime suspect as he's been doing carpentry work all around the building. He denies any wrong-doing, pointing out that Mr. Silver has access to all the apartments too. Rebecca brings up that none of them really know the man. The next day Rebecca sees some familiar looking items in a nearby pawnshop, but the owner won't tell her who brought them in. 

On the way back home, she sees Mr. Rossi exiting a fortune-teller's storefront. The woman he saw told him some very specific things about his late wife, and says she needs her candlesticks to see more. Rebecca agrees to lend them to Mr. Rossi, but wonders if the woman is somehow conning Mr. Rossi. But how would she know so much? Cold reading alone wouldn't reveal what she knows. Something's off about this situation. Rebecca and her sisters try to accompany Mr. Rossi to the fortune-teller's in case she tries to swindle him, but she says no visitors are allowed. Outside the building and wondering what to do, the girls see a scruffy-looking boy who has been loitering around their father's store and their apartment building. He exits the pawnshop and Rebecca sees him disappear into a a trap door in an alley. She follows him, and discovers that it leads into the fortune-teller's store. She's telling Mr. Rossi that the candlesticks are cursed and convinces him to give them to her so she can destroy them. He relents but quickly changes his mind. Just then, a hand is clapped over Rebecca's mouth. It's Mr. Silver--and he tells her not to move a muscle or make a sound.

He binds Rebecca's hands and feet and leaves her in the dark cellar, gloating that the pawnbroker will pay nicely for the candlesticks. He, the boy, and the fortune-teller have been running an elaborate scheme, and using the information gleaned from working in the apartment to steal from Mr. Rossi as well as the tenants. Using a trick her sister Sophie showed her, Rebecca gets loose and goes back out the passage. She breathlessly explains to her sisters and Mr. Rossi, who are talking, that they need to get to the pawnshop. There, she tells the pawnbroker what's going on. He calls the police, and just then Josef comes in. He's been saving up to buy back the ring his mother had to pawn, but the pawnbroker has been raising the price over and over. With the police on the way, he decides it's better to be honest and returns the ring for a lower price. 

Mr. Silver comes in next, stunned to see Rebecca. He tries to leave when it's clear that everyone knows what's going on, but Josef blocks his path long enough for the police to arrive. Soon everything is smoothed over--Mr. Rossi learns that his sister is better and makes plans to visit when war isn't so much of a threat, the crooks are behind bars, the stolen items are returned, and Josef gets a commendation for helping stop the thief. Rebecca's father makes plans to introduce him to some fellow shopkeepers who need new display shelves built.

Looking Back

The historical section starts with a biography of Harry Houdini (skipping his death). One cool thing I hadn't known before is that he was so indignant that con artists would pose as mediums to take advantage of grieving people that he used his knowledge of magical sleight of hand and other illusions to prove that they couldn't really communicate with the dead. It also talks about how people preyed on others' innocence and superstitions to make money, pretending to tell the future or selling items meant to bring good luck or money. Things got so bad that New York actually enacted a law that no one but a priest or minister could claim to tell the future. It continues to describe how pawn shops work, and homing pigeons.


This book is dedicated to "Matthew and Ken, my first fans."

Rebecca's mother gives a brief overview of cold reading, the method that people use to pretend they're psychic.

Mr. Rossi joins Rebecca and her family for Sabbath dinner on Friday evening, and Rebecca gets to light the candles like she wanted to in Meet Rebecca, housed in the candleholders Mr. Rossi gave her in Candlelight for Rebecca. It's not mentioned whether Mr. Rossi, who's Catholic, takes any of the chicken. I only noticed because in Secrets at Camp Nokomis one character specifically mentions Catholics not eating meat on Fridays, and this book is still set well before Vatican II (Catholics are still obliged to give up something on Fridays but it no longer has to be meat except during Lent).

Rebecca learns here that the candlesticks were a wedding gift from Mr. Rossi's in-laws.

Cold onions make eyes water less when cut. If the stinging bothers you, store onions in the fridge.

Related to swindlers selling good luck items, someone broke into a Catholic church in Seattle a while back and stole a relic (item belonging to a saint--second-class relic--or a piece of a saint's body, like a bone--a first-class relic). To combat this sort of thing, the Catholic church long ago declared that relics have no fiscal value and can't be bought or sold. A holder can be (for example, I have a third-class relic--something touched to part of a saint's body--that's attached to a holy card), but not the relic itself. So whoever stole that will have a hard time selling the thing itself.


Secrets at Camp Nokomis

Published in 2010; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrator Sergio Giovine


Rebecca's excited and nervous for her first time at camp. She's never been away from her family like this and she won't know anyone at the camp, but she settles in quickly. Her bunkmate, Tina, is very nice but somewhat reserved and shy--she changes in the outhouse instead of the tent, and rarely talks about herself. Even though Rebecca feels doesn't really know Tina, they get along well. Another girl in the tent, Mary, is very take-charge and overbearing...and a bully. Rebecca gets on her bad side by being chosen as narrator for a performance of Hiawatha. Mary also has something against Tina, who she calls Teeny behind the counselors' backs, because Tina is physically very slight. She has a bit of a limp, and Rebecca figures she's getting over an injury. She tells Tina how her cousin hurt his leg coming to America and is healed now, wanting to encourage her, and to prompt Tina to open up. Tina doesn't but is still friendly, just closed-off.

Meanwhile, Rebecca overhears a conversation between the cook and the director and surmises that there's some secret about one the people at the camp. It doesn't make much sense though; it's something about extra snacks and the health department.

Mary conspires with the other girls in the tent to vote against Rebecca and make Mary narrator instead. Tina's on Rebecca's side, but even though Mary doesn't know the lines and reads them haltingly and flatly, she gets the part. The camp counselor doesn't do anything about it and Rebecca and Tina figure there's no point bringing it up. One night someone puts a frog in Rebecca's sheets, and the letter her mother sent--the first piece of mail Rebecca's ever gotten, which she treasures--is gone. Who was behind it? Tina didn't seem to mind touching the frog when she put it outside, and she disappears a lot, but she seems so nice. Another girl wanted the stamp from the letter for her collection, but why take the letter, too? Mary's been a jerk, but now that she has the role of the narrator what does she have to gain? While she's pondering, she's asked to return a pitcher to the kitchen, and sees Tina eating there. No one else gets extra food. Why does she? Rebecca gives the pitcher to the cook and pretends to have not seen Tina. It's not like Tina would give her a straight answer if she asked, and the cook clearly doesn't want Rebecca--or anyone else--to know what's going on. 

The next day Rebecca discovers that Mary bribed the girls to vote against her. She's doing everyone's chores and giving them her desserts. At least one girl didn't want to vote against Rebecca, but she was threatened with snakes and frogs in her bed. Rebecca's angry, but when Tina asks her to be her partner for canoeing, Rebecca feels better that she doesn't have to bribe anyone to be friends with her. On the lake, Rebecca compliments Tina's arm strength and Tina explains she used crutches a lot because of her leg. Rebecca's stunned that Tina opened up but she won't elaborate any further. Rebecca's hurt that Tina doesn't trust her. 

She soon finds out the truth, though. While playing a game in the tent, Mary starts insisting they see what's in Tina's footlocker. Rebecca protests weakly while Tina does so strenuously, but Mary gets it open anyway. Inside is a leg brace. Tina had polio last year but isn't contagious anymore. However, it left one of her legs weak and she sometimes needs the support of the brace. The other girls aren't convinced--kids back in their cities are dying of polio. If Tina really isn't any danger, why would she keep it a secret? Tina says she didn't tell them because knew they'd react like this. That night, Tina and Rebecca have a brief whispered argument after lights out about friendship and trust. Rebecca sleeps for a few hours and wakes up in the middle of the night. She feels guilty for not making more of an effort to keep the footlocker closed, and wants to apologize to Tina. But Tina's gone. Rebecca slips out into the dark to look for her. Mary sees her and follows. At first Mary defiantly says it was just a prank, a game; like everything else she's done. Rebecca counters that she's just mean to everyone, and if Tina gets hurt it's Mary's fault. Mary starts crying and agrees, and they search together. They spy a fire, but when they arrive it's their camp counselor and another male employee, who are dating. The girls tell them about Tina and they understand right away. 

It turns out Tina's mother is the camp cook, and they live a short distance from camp. The director wanted Tina's mother to be the camp cook, so in exchange Tina was allowed to come. The exercise (and extra food) has been making her stronger, and she's hopeful that her old friends at school will no longer fear catching polio from her if they see that she's really well, especially if she can manage to go without the leg brace. Tina went home, too hurt and disappointed to stay in the tent. Rebecca and Mary make up with her and the next morning she's back at camp. Rebecca and Mary told the other girls in their tent about their nighttime excursion, and they're all ready to stand up for Tina and be good friends to her. Mary has turned a leaf too, seeing now how to make real friends. She tells Rebecca to take back the part of the narrator, and also returns the letter--she'd taken both the role and the letter out of jealousy. The performance is on what should be the last night of camp, but because of the rapid spread of polio back in New York City (where most of the girls are from), they're going to stay for a bit longer. Silver lining to the morbidly dark crowd, I suppose.

Looking Back
Summer camps for boys had been around since the late 1800s, but were new opportunities for girls in the 1910s. Parents wanted to let their children to get out the city and have clean, fresh air in healthier environments. Not all families could afford the costs for camps, but they could apply for scholarships and other charities in hopes of having their children's summer activities sponsored. In 1916, parents were especially motivated to get their children out of New York City, which was in the grip of a polio epidemic, killing one in four children and paralyzing many of the survivors. Over 9,000 children came down with the disease.


This book is dedicated to "my editor, Jennifer Hirsch, and historian Mark Speltz, with gratitude and friendship."

Rebecca's friend Rose was supposed to go to camp too, but her building is under polio quarantine.

Rebecca doesn't know how to swim, which should have come up in Rebecca to the Rescue when the family ponders if they have enough money to rent swimsuits.

I adore the camp counselor, Virginia, for attempting to be sure that a timid camper wasn't saddled with a nickname she hates.

I also love how Rebecca just quietly passes by the bacon without taking any (so she doesn't eat non-Kosher foods). She doesn't draw attention to herself and when someone else offers her a piece just politely declines. I don't eat meat on Fridays for religious reasons and I'm also pretty picky about foods but I've found that almost no one notices if I don't make a big deal about it. Later on marshmallows are mentioned, which aren't Kosher, but Rebecca wouldn't necessarily know that, and they don't actually eat them anyway because everyone's distracted by the reveal about the leg brace.

Well, that's depressing. This book was published four years ago, and praises Dr. Jonas Salk for developing the vaccine for polio, stating that "his pioneering work finally eliminated the threat of polio." In 2010 the disease was nearly wiped out, but now lower vaccination rates (due to unfounded fears ranging from side effects worse than polio to government tracking devices in the vaccines), it's making a comeback. It went from being almost completely eradicated in 2012 to a world health emergency just two years later. Remember: there is no cure for polio. It is not just mildly unpleasant. My grandparents remember their classmates dying of it. The vaccine is oral. You don't even need to deal with getting a shot. My daughters swallowed theirs enthusiastically because it's in a sweet liquid suspension. They were a few months old; my husband said it was their first soda pop.


A Growing Suspicion

Published in 2014; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrator Sergio Giovine


Rebecca is spending a whole week with Ana during spring break. Ana shows her the little garden she's starting, with the seedlings still in pots. They go to transfer them to the raised bed only find the weeds gone, which is good, but Ana's second-hand gardening tools gone as well.While they puzzle over why someone would take the tools but also prepare the garden for planting, Ana's neighbor, Mr. Tanaka, comes to visit. He and his wife moved to New York City from Japan some time ago, shortly after their teenage son died. He tells Ana about a gardening class to be held at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens that summer. Ana doesn't have the ten cents ($2.38 in 2014) it costs to take the class, nor is she old enough--the class is for people twelve and up, and she's only eleven. But Mr. Tanaka says that if she helps him with the Japanese garden section of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, he might be able to get her into the class. Stranger things have been happening, as if someone's trying to cause trouble for the new section. Rebecca comes along, too. The cousins are fascinated with the beautiful and often-silent Mrs. Tanaka (although she's very standoffish to them), and enjoy seeing the Japanese garden. Mr. Tanaka has a sand garden that needs daily raking, and he asks the girls to tend to it. They spend the whole morning carefully sculpting the sand, but when the find Mr. Tanaka and the three return, they find a pair of tourists tromping around the off-limits parts of the Japanese gardens. The sand has been disturbed, but when Rebecca points out that the tourists were the likely culprits, Mr. Tanaka counters that she shouldn't blame people without evidence and says the girls must not have raked carefully enough. 

The next day more things go wrong. Part of it is Rebecca's fault--she sees the tourist couple and tries to tail them but gets distracted and falls, damaging a railing. Still, she wouldn't have fallen if a stepping stone anchor weren't mysteriously broken. Someone also put a potted fern in Ana's lunch, and it fell and smashed when she opened her lunchbox. The woman in charge, Miss Ward, wants both Rebecca and Ana barred from the Garden, but Mr. Tanaka points out that things have been showing up damaged for a few weeks now, before either girl stepped foot in the place. Miss Ward relents, but the girls better not be near any more trouble. Ana is upset too, worried Rebecca will cost her the summer class. When the next day brings yet more vandalism even before Rebecca and Ana arrive, Mr. Tanaka has them go to watch Mrs. Tanaka make Japanese flower arrangements. On the way there, the girls overhear a worker, Nathaniel, arguing with someone, but the conversation is too far away to hear clearly. Rebecca wants to go investigate, but Ana insists they not deviate from the plan. Rebecca does go a short way down the path where Nathaniel was, but sees nothing and turns back before Ana gets too annoyed with her. 

That night, the mystery of Ana's garden is solved. Mr. Tanaka has been using a shed near her raised beds to grow bonsai trees secretly. He did her work for her so she wouldn't have reason to linger near the shed and possibly see what he was doing. He think he'll soon lose his job, but he can sell the bonsai trees. However, if he sells them, then he's using the shed for business and the landlord will want to charge him extra rent. The Tanakas can't afford that, especially if the Garden deem them unnecessary for the Japanese garden upkeep. As Mr. Tanaka explains, Rebecca has a flash of insight. She and Ana must get to the Garden early tomorrow.

It takes some convincing, but Rebecca gets her cousin to the Garden first thing the next morning. They see Nathaniel prowling about and Ana follows him. But Rebecca sees Mrs. Tanaka...destroy a fountain! There's a flurry of activity. Nathaniel confesses to being homeless (he's sixteen and aged out of his orphanage) and living at the Garden. Miss Ward knew about this and was allowing it for a little while, but without her boss's permission. Rebecca and Ana are blamed the damages and about to be banned from the Garden permanently. Then Mrs. Tanaka speaks up. She confesses that she's been trying to create work for her husband so that he won't loose his job. Her apology and desperation impact the Garden director and he insists that Mr. Tanaka's job is secure. He also says that Nathaniel has proven himself capable of a promotion, but he can't live on the Garden property. The Tanakas have a solution: he can live with them. Amends are made all around, and Rebecca can hardly wait to visit her cousin again.

Looking Back

Learning about nature through the experience of growing one's own food was an important part of the schooling of many children in Rebecca's time, particularly those in crowded cities. A Brooklyn teacher named Ellen Eddy Shaw was especially vocal about this belief. She ended up working at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and set aside part of it as garden space where schoolchildren could claim one of 150 small plots in which to tend their plants. Today there are more than a thousand plots. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden also houses a Japanese garden, first opened in 1915 when Americans were growing more curious about Japanese culture. It also still operates today.


This book is dedicated to "Ken and Doug, the wizards of Hudson Valley Seed Library, saving gardens one seed at a time."

I have a little container garden too (the yard isn't suitable for gardening...too muddy and gross...later when we have a house, though...). So far the potatoes are doing well and the lettuce is okay. The carrots might work, the onions maybe, and the cucumbers are an inch long.


Changes for Rebecca

Published in 2009; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


Rebecca and Ana are pretending they're in a movie about an immigrant girl coming to America. In their script, Rebecca plays the girl who works in a factory and Ana is the cruel owner. Ana plays the part too well, angering Rebecca on behalf of her character. She doesn't understand why Ana has to be so mean, but Ana explains that she's not exaggerating: that's how it is to work in a factory. Rebecca doesn't quite believe Ana--surely it can't be that bad. But then she sees some editorials in her aunt and uncle's newspaper detailing factory working conditions, and when she and Ana take lunch to Uncle Jacob and Josef at the coat factory, she sees the truth.

Shortly after she spends the night with Ana's family. The girls sleep on the fire escape, a common thing for tenement children to do to escape the August heat. When Jacob and Josef arrive home late that night, Rebecca and Ana overhear Uncle Jacob talking about the possibility of a strike at the factory. Rebecca quietly shows Ana a letter she's written to the newspaper editor. Ana's doubtful it will help--it's just one letter against so many powerful and corrupt factory owners. But Rebecca has to try something. If enough people write letters, maybe the mayor of New York City will see that change is needed. 

The next day the workers at the coat factory do indeed strike. Aunt Fanya goes down to march with her husband and eldest son, not questioning the dangers of a 1910s picket line, only focused on supporting her family (her resolve is actually pretty moving, and I have a lot of respect for this fictional character). Michael, Ana, and Rebecca are instructed to stay in the tenement and continue painting the shelves Uncle Jacob has carved--they're both beautiful and functional and he hopes to sell them to raise more money for his family. But the younger children feel they have to do more. After all, soon Michael and then Ana will be older and might have to work in a factory. They head for the picket line.

When they arrive, the workers are marching with their signs, but strike-breakers are also there, with clubs to beat the workers and force the strike to dissolve. Police come, but they only arrest some strikers, not the men instigating the violence. A well-known workers' rights advocate, Clara Alder, makes an impassioned speech before she's knocked to the ground and disappears in the din. Rebecca tries to calm things down by reading her letter to the editor, still in her pocket, but someone throws a rock at her and it hits her in the head. Dizzy, she falls down and before things get hazy, she sees Uncle Jacob and Josef being shoved into a police car. 

Back at home, Rebecca's mother, aunt, and grandmother scold the younger children for going to the strike, more out of concern for their safety than anger. They point out that the rock that hit Rebecca near her hairline could have hit her eye, and all of them could have been hurt worse. Lily quietly comforts Rebecca, telling her that she was right to follow her heart--although she should be careful. Rebecca's father arrives home with Jacob and Josef, having bailed them out of jail. Uncle Jacob has good news and bad news: the factory owner has agreed to meet with the workers to figure out a plan, but everyone who was arrested is fired and blacklisted from other factories. He and Josef won't be able to get new jobs. 

The family puts their worries aside for a bit to enjoy the Labor Day picnic. They go to a large gathering at Battery Park, and applaud speeches about workers' rights. One of the speakers then invites Rebecca herself onstage! Everyone's heard about the speech she started to give at the strike. She speaks from the heart about her family's plight and hopes the right people get the message. When she returns to her family's picnic sight, Max has a little speech to make as well. He's moving to California with his movie studio, and Lily's coming with him--after they get married, that is. Rebecca and Ana find one of the men who Rebecca met at Max's movie studio and he gets the band to announce Max and Lily's engagement. It turns out he was the one who told the event organizers that Rebecca was in the crowd. He's not going to California, preferring instead to move to Brooklyn to start his own carpentry business (he used to build sets). And he could use a cabinetmaker. Guess what Uncle Jacob did in Russia? Sure enough, he's given a job on the spot, and will earn enough money that Josef can attend school instead of working and the whole family can move to a better home.

Capitalizing on everyone's good mood, Rebecca tells her parents about having acted in the movie, and Max and Lily back her up that she's naturally talented. Much to her relief, the only scolding is light and related to not telling her family so that could go see her in the movie. Her parents aren't totally sold on her being an actress, but they will think about it.

Looking Back

Immigrants who came to the United States to escape poverty and oppression in the own countries were sometimes caught off guard by the working conditions in their new home. Factory workers were pushed to work twelve-hour days, six days a week, in poorly ventilated and uninsulated crowded rooms for little pay. At first some immigrants jumped at the chance to get any job, but soon they realized that they'd never make enough money to get out of poverty. If they quit, there would be a line of other destitute people to take their places, and they'd probably just end up in a different factory. But what if everyone at a factory stopped working at the same time and refused to return until they had humane conditions and a living wage? Going on strike was a powerful form of protest. Many strikes in the early 1910s were lead by Jewish immigrants. Gradually the word got out about their treatment and unions formed to protect workers' rights. While some less-than-ideal jobs still exist in the US, conditions are generally better than a hundred years ago.


This book is dedicated to "my husband, Mal, who shared the kvetching and the kvelling."

The movie Rebecca acted in is in theaters, and Max and Lily take her and Ana to see it. Only those four know she's playing the part of the girl.

Rebecca's mother has a very brief moment when she seems a little sad the Benny's about to start school. Her youngest is growing up. 

Had I been in charge of this book, I would have asked the illustrators to put a young adult Nellie O'Malley in the background of a picture of the protest. She would be living in New York City then, and I'm sure that she would want to support workers' rights.


Rebecca to the Rescue

Published in 2009; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


The book opens with Victor doing some last-minute practicing for his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. The family heads off to synagogue (Max meets them there...with Lily!). He recites the prayers perfectly, and the whole family is proud of him. Then their father announces what they're doing to celebrate: a trip to Coney Island! Rebecca is thrilled; she was hoping for Central Park but this is much better. There, the children quickly settle in to the fun atmosphere. Rebecca and Ana take Benny wading in the surf straight away. Lily, wearing a scarf and hat to cover her bob lest her haircut look too modern, plays the part of a prim and proper lady with Rebecca's grandparents, who seem offended that the children have bare legs for playing in the water (they don't have swimsuits, and it costs too much to rent them). 

Then the adults give Victor several ride tickets to pass out to the children--except Benny, who is too young but must be furious at being left out--and go off to more sedate things, like the rose garden. They'll meet up in a few hours (and then Benny can ride the carousel). Victor has let his new status go to his head somewhat, ordering the girls around, even Sadie and Sofie who are older than he is. Michael and Josef join in, declaring that the girls aren't allowed to do some things. Wanting to prove them wrong, Rebecca tries a (probably-rigged) carnival game but ends up only wasting a third of her spending money. She and Ana go to explore the park on their own, despite Victor refusing to give them their tickets. Rebecca has enough money for them each of them to do one more ride. Ana wants to ride the Ferris wheel again while Rebecca wants to try the fun house. They decide to split up briefly, even though their parents wanted everyone to stay together. By the time Rebecca goes through the fun house and pauses to pantomime with a collapsible bench for a crowd, she discovers that the Ferris wheel has broken down. Ana is stuck on it! A work crew uses ladders to get people down, but Ana is frozen with fright in a high car. The rest of Rebecca's family has returned by now, and she tells them what happened--and why. While the Rebecca's parents, aunt, uncle, and grandparents try to figure out how to get Ana down with a police officer and some workers, Rebecca acts. She climbs the ladder up to her cousin and coaxes her down. She knows she'd never actually be allowed to do anything like this, but she also knows it's fastest, best way to get her cousin to safety.

Back on the ground, everyone claps and cheers. There is a touch of scolding for splitting up and doing something dangerous, but no more than necessary. Lily's scarf has slipped down during the excitement, and Rebecca's grandmother notices but seems to accept it. It turns out her grandparents let themselves have fun, even playing a carnival game.Victor played one as well, the one Rebecca tried. Since he's had practice playing baseball, he was able to win twice--and the second time picked the prize his sister wanted, a Kewpie doll. The family goes to a nearby restaurant for lemonade, and when the manager realizes that Rebecca was the one who climbed the ladder, he gives them a big pitcher on the house and tickets for the carousel. And I'm happy because Benny gets to go on a ride!

Looking Back

East of the Rocky Mountains, summer means heat and humidity (part of the reason I love living in the Pacific Northwest instead!). Before air conditioning, people escaped the stifling climate with trips to the shore. Coney Island was especially popular. One aspect people loved was that everyone could feel equal, regardless of income or immigration status. Another was that people felt allowed to be silly and a little improper. They could relax from the strict social rules still lingering from Victorian times, and actually have fun.


This book is dedicated to "Monty, Laurie, Martha, and Jane, who cheered me on even when the road got bumpy."

 While there have been coming-of-age ceremonies for Jewish girls for literally thousands of years, there wasn't a truly analogous one until 1922 when a rabbi had his daughter perform the same rite and declared her Bat Mitzvah ("bar" means "son" and "bat" means "daughter"; so, son or daughter of the Covenant).

Kewpie doll. Anyone else thinking of Dawn on the Coast?


Rebecca and the Movies

Published in 2009; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


Rebecca's birthday is nearing, but so is Passover, and she thinks that with all the preparations for the holy day, her birthday will be forgotten. Even if her family does remember, she won't be able to have a cake, because of the religious restrictions on food at this time of year. So she's stunned when she and her friend Rose arrive at Rebecca's to a surprise party,complete with Passover versions of treats! Her sisters give her an IOU for a day out at the movies with them (she's only seen a movie once before, when her mother's cousin Max treated them after he got a job with a movie company). And Max invites her to visit his work! Although her parents and grandparents don't really approve of girls being in show business and want Rebecca to be a teacher, they acquiesce and let her go.

After an exciting trip to New Jersey via subway, ferry, and bus, Rebecca gets to see the movie studio. She's in awe of all the things there, and gets to meet a rising young actor, Lillian Armstrong. Lily shows Rebecca her dressing room and some of the ins and outs of show business. Rebecca thinks she couldn't be happier as she settles in to quietly and unobtrusively watch Max film a scene. But then the director decides the scene needs a child for drama--and picks Rebecca! She can hardly believe it, and with the director's help, films the scene! However, during the lunch break, she embarrasses Max without realizing it when she calls him out on thinking about eating non-Kosher and non-Passover foods. But she also notices that Lily is flirting with Max and contrives to get them dancing together. It turns out Lily is Jewish too, and has some proper Passover food to share with Max. Both adults seem pleased, and stay near each other the rest of the day.

Before leaving for home, Rebecca learns that she won't be listed in the credits. She's a bit disappointed, but acknowledges that it's good her disapproving parents and grandparents won't know. She wonder if she'll ever be able to really pursue acting. The director says she's naturally talented, but she knows what her family thinks of acting. She decides to satisfied with the one day for now. As payment, the director gives her a prop: a working phonograph!

Looking Back

In Rebecca's time, there was of course no television to watch, and children had fewer toys than they do today (families were often larger too; Rebecca's would have been small). Kids played outside when they could, various games like hopscotch and baseball. In a crowded city with small dwellings and no lawns, entertainment was also available by watching the interactions of the street vendors. But most exciting were movies. Many early movies were produced in New York and New Jersey, but soon people sought out southern California, for its warmer climate that allowed more filming outdoors. A lot of early movie companies were headed by Jewish immigrants, who were more willing to take the risk of making movies. Movies originally didn't have much respect; they were seen as a lower, common form of live theater, and natural-born citizens didn't think they'd do well enough to invest much in. But immigrants were eager to jump at the opportunity to try something new.


This book is dedicated to "my father, George Debmar, and to Julie, Gloria, Shirlee, and Jack for sharing their memories."

At one point, Max describes himself as not being in the same "heavenly constellation" as Lillian Armstrong. I hope that's a pun relating to Neil Armstrong being the first man on the moon.

EDIT: Never mind, this book takes place in 1915. As the comments explain, the Rebecca's worry that her birthday will be ignored makes sense. In 1914, Passover started at sundown on Friday, April 10 and would have been over April 17. Rebecca's birthday is April 4. Doesn't quite line up. It does, however, make sense that she'd have the following Monday off from school, as Easter was that Sunday, April 12, and it used to be more common for places to close on Easter Monday, or it could have been spring break at her school.

I hope Rebecca waits to take her sisters up on the movie deal until hers comes out, to see if her sisters recognize her.

There's a fan theory that when Kit or Molly go to the movies, Rebecca is acting in some of them.


Candlelight for Rebecca

Published in 2009; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


Winter brings conflicting emotions for Rebecca. She loves Hanukkah, but so much of the city around her is getting ready for Christmas. She sees menorahs all around her neighborhood, but at school the teacher leads the class in making a Christmas centerpiece (greenery around a red candle), and says that Christmas is something all Americans celebrate, not just Christians. Her father puts some evergreen boughs in his shop and her mother thinks Christmas decorations are pretty for other people, but her grandmother scolds her for singing "Jingle Bells"--Rebecca dares not mention that in class they sing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." She's helping her sisters make gifts for people because they reason if their Christian friends exchange gifts in December they can too, but their father says they already have the best gift in the form of religious freedom. Is she supposed to celebrate Christmas because she lives in the United States? It it okay to enjoy some parts of it? Does doing either mean she's neglecting her Jewish heritage?

She also has a new responsibility: the property manager, Mr. Rossi, is ill, so Rebecca tends to his pigeons keeps on the apartment roof--including a homing pigeon who brings messages--and his cat, Pasta, who has just had two kittens. Mr. Rossi lives alone in his drab apartment and doesn't like children, but he grudgingly accepts Rebecca's help.

But back at school, the centerpiece is giving Rebecca grief. She's made a beautiful one, but what is she supposed to do with it? One Jewish classmate, Gertie, is giving it to her mother. Their family doesn't celebrate Christmas but does like to put up some Christmas decorations. Her other Jewish classmate, Rose, is going to toss hers in the trash. Her family doesn't do anything Christmas related. Rebecca thinks her parents would react the same way, but she feels bad wasting such a beautiful thing, especially the generously donated candle. She tries to sneak it home to ask her mother's counsel, but her grandmother sees her first. Rebecca apologizes profusely, explaining that it was a school project. Her grandmother stops her, saying she would never be angry at Rebecca for doing well with her schoolwork, and complimenting the centerpiece. She's not sure what to do with it either, but says they'll figure that out later and has Rebecca help her make latkes for Hanukkah.

Then Rebecca goes to get the animals' food from Mr. Rossi. She's also been bringing him homemade soup to help him get well, and he's warmed up to her enough to tell her that the message the homing pigeon brought was from his brother in New Jersey, inviting him to Christmas dinner. Rebecca comments that New Jersey isn't very far, and Mr. Rossi brightens a bit, saying he could go if Rebecca tends to his animals. He even lets Rebecca attach a note for the homing pigeon to carry to his brother! She happily completes the errand, and on her way to return the bird seed buckets, her sisters stop her, imploring her to try on her fancy dress she wore for Jewish New Year (Rosh Hoshanah, which falls in September). She thinks they're teasing her because she's outgrown it, but they insist and reveal that for her Hanukkah present they've let it out so it fits her now. 

Inspired by her sister's generosity, Rebecca grabs the centerpiece on her way out. She gives it to Mr. Rossi, who is very touched. In turn, he presents Rebecca with gorgeous blue and white glass candlesticks that had belonged to his late wife. She gets back to her apartment just in time for cousins to arrive for the first night of Hanukkah.

Looking Back

The historical section is about the origins of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish celebration commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jewish people had been oppressed and their culture nearly wiped out by the Seleucids (a Hellenistic state), and overthrew them in the Maccabean Revolt in the second century BC. When the reclaimed the Temple, there was hardly enough oil to light the sacred lamp, which was supposed to burn continuously. It was an eight-day round trip to get more, but the little bit of oil lasted the whole time, a symbol that God was indeed on their side.

For most of history and in much of the world, Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday. But in America it gained more prominence. It's celebrated near Christmas, which is a federal as well as Christian holiday (in fact, it was more secular than religious when the US was founded, and most Christians didn't celebrate it in churches for the first few decades; Christmas itself was minor holiday for the first few centuries of Christianity). More so in Rebecca's time than today, celebrating Christmas was considered part of being American. Some non-Christians went along with Christmas, just as today, but others weren't comfortable with even the secular parts of it. They wanted to honor their own cultural traditions, and so for many Jewish people Hanukkah got a greater emphasis than it had previously, and became more associated with gift-giving.


This book is dedicated to "my aunts and uncles, who made every holiday memorable."

I know that there are different ways to spell Hanukkah, because the Jewish alphabet is different from the Latin alphabet. I'm using the spelling the book does.

In 1914, Hanukkah ran from December 14 to 20.

When Mr. Rossi gives Rebecca a dish of milk for his cat, I'm reminding of Mary Anne's warning way back in Mary Anne and the Search for Tigger that cats don't digest milk well.

Sadie says that Christmas is the most important holiday for Christians. Easter is supposed to be, but with all the pomp and circumstance around Christmas it's easy to see why some people consider Christmas more important. And I have to admit, I like Christmas a lot more!

Rebecca's gifted at math.

One of my mom's good friends is Jewish, and out of respect for her religion my mom doesn't include her on the Christmas card list. But she also doesn't want to leave her friend out. Conveniently, her friend's birthday is in December, so Mom makes her a fancy birthday card and includes the Christmas newsletter in it.

Even though this book is about Hanukkah and not Christmas, it still makes me excited for Christmas. I love giving gifts, and I just recently finished a few more. Plus, I love snowflakes and candlelight for decoration. 


Rebecca and Ana

Published in 2009; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


It's now early November. Rebecca's cousins (nine-year-old Ana, thirteen-year-old Michael, and fifteen-year-old Josef) and Aunt Fanya and Uncle Jacob are arriving at Ellis Island. Rebecca can hardly contain her excitement. She's also nervous that Ana might still be sick and won't be allowed to enter the country. So she's very relieved to see her father with her aunt and uncle and Ana beside them. Michael's there too, but not Josef. He hurt his leg and the immigration officials need to inspect him before they'll let him come. His parents are terrified that they'll be separated, but Rebecca's father reassures them that he'll take with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to make sure everything works out.

They take their Russian family home, and everyone gets cleaned and dressed in new clothes. Rebecca happily gives Ana some clothes from the twins, so the two girls can match. Despite the worry about Josef lingering in the backs of their minds, everyone settles in to show and learn American customs. Because Ana and Michael already know a decent amount of English, they're able to go right into their proper grades at school. Ana's in Rebecca's class, and Rebecca tries to help her cousin learn the ropes. But there are a lot of things Ana isn't used to, and when Rebecca tries to furtively explain something in Yiddish, she gets punished for not speaking English. Still, the cousins make it through the school day. When it's done, they head to a shopping district to buy sheet music for the ten-year-old song "You're a Grand Old Flag." Their teacher is going to hold auditions to select one student to sing a patriotic song for an assembly celebrating the new 48-star American flag, and Rebecca wants to win. Ana watches Rebecca haggle with the seller, and catches on quickly. Rebecca has enough money left to buy a banana for each girl, a food Ana's never had, and Ana negotiates getting four bananas for the same price. 

At school the next week, Rebecca is one of four students to audition a song (the other students will all recite poems) and earns the solo. Almost immediately after, the teacher decides that asking Ana to memorize a poem is too much for a new immigrant, and so declares the song will be a duet. Because songs aren't poems set to music, I guess. But Ana doesn't know the song, doesn't understand the meaning of some of the words, and her accent prevents her from properly pronouncing some of them! Rebecca is angry at the teacher for putting her in this position, especially when some other students warn Rebecca that she better make sure Ana doesn't screw things up, or the whole school will laugh at them. Rebecca's worries quickly shift when she and Ana are practicing the song, and Michael interrupts to tell them that Josef's injured leg is now infected and there's a chance he'll lose it (no antibiotics back then). If his leg has to be amputated, he'll be sent back to Russia. None of his family can afford to go back with him (the ship will pay only his fare, and Jacob has only just now found a low-paying job), so it's likely that he'd die there. The book doesn't point that out, but with a war going on and the way Russia treated Jews it's not a huge leap of logic. Michael's going to have to quit school to work, and the family is moving into a small tenement building. 

Even with all this going on, when she's at school and faced with the song issue, Rebecca can't help but worry about that too. She hates seeing her classmates mock her cousin. Rebecca asks Rose, a classmate who immigrated a while ago, for help, and realizes that the worst that will happen is she'll be embarrassed, but that will pass. Rose encourages Rebecca to put herself in Ana's position, and Rebecca is able to focus on how hard her cousin's trying and all she's been through. A few slip-ups on a song don't really matter. But it's too late, because Ana overheard Rebecca talking with another student and thinks no one wants her to sing. Rebecca's able to convince her in time for the assembly, though. The girls sing their song in matching outfits, and as they reach the end, Ana pulls out a little American flag she was given at immigration and waves it. Rebecca has her aunt's, and does the same. The audience claps and cheers, and over the noise Rebecca asks Ana what prompted her to pull out the flag. Ana says she's feeling patriotic and points the audience: her brother Josef is there!

Looking Back

Since many immigrants had little money and came from countries that (at the time, at least) didn't have public education, the children had often never been to school before arriving in the United States. They were happy for the opportunity, and so were their parents. Students would usually spend some time in a special class to learn English, and then a few months later be matriculated into the mainstream classrooms (learning English was a point of pride, and many immigrants considered it shameful to speak their native tongues). There, all students had hygiene checks every morning. With as many as fifty students to a classroom, illness could spread quickly! There were no gym classes or recess, but students did stationary exercises at their desks and sometimes teachers would have classes outside for some fresh air. In a crowded city like New York, that could mean class on the school roof. Teachers were stricter than they often are today, sometimes employing corporal punishment or shaming in the form of dunce caps. But they were revered by immigrant families, as teachers were the ones who educated their children and opened so many doors to new opportunities in the new world.

While the law required children to stay in school until age 14, poorer families often had to pull their children out to work (like Nellie in the Samantha books) or watch younger children while the parents worked. These families usually lived in crowded tenements, dilapidated and tiny apartments, miserable places to try to raise a family. While Rebecca's apartment--a converted row house--could get crowded, it was at least comfortable. Education was especially desirable for these needy children, for without an education, they would likely stay in poverty.


This book is dedicated to "my great-grandparents, Max and Yetta Webber, who bravely left Dvinsk, Russia, to make a new life in America."

Rebecca's father is named Louis.

Rebecca has a set of Russian nesting dolls, seven altogether, and she named the second smallest one Beckie. Sometimes she carries it for good luck.


Meet Rebecca

Published in 2009; author Jacqueline Debmar Greene; illustrators Robert Hunt and Susan McAliley


Rebecca Rubin is the fourth of five children, a daughter of Russian immigrants. Her family--housewife mother, shoe-store-owner father, fourteen-year-old brother Victor, twelve-year-old twin sisters Sadie and Sophie, and five-year-old brother Bennie--lives in New York City. The story opens on a Friday, as Rebecca's mother is busy preparing for the Jewish Sabbath. No work is to be done from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, so she needs to make sure things are clean and food is ready. Nine-year-old Rebecca is eager to help, but notices that her family doesn't seem to trust her with much responsibility. She's quickly distracted as the dinner guests arrive: her grandparents and her mother's cousin, Max (formerly Moyshe). Max wants to be a movie star and is "on" most of the evening, making Rebecca and her siblings laugh a lot. Later in the evening, he recounts a Russian folk tale and Rebecca acts it out, prompting his to say that she should try to a be a movie star, too. Rebecca thinks that's a wonderful idea, but her other family shoot it down as inappropriate for a woman, and wouldn't she rather be a teacher instead? Again, Rebecca feels that people are leaving her out of things for because of her age.

Privately, Rebecca thinks she can save up some money to buy a pair of silver candlesticks. Then she can light them at the Sabbath dinner (a big responsibility, done while reciting Jewish prayers). She already has some money saved up, so it should be easy, and it would prove that she's responsible if she can save up to afford the candlesticks. But a moment later her father reads a letter from his brother in Russia, describing their poverty and desperate need to get out of the country. Her cousins need the money more than she. Rebecca offers her father what little she has--twenty-seven cents--but he declines, saying he'll find another way to raise the $175 his brother's family needs for transportation (in 2014, those would equivalent to about $6.29 and $4078, respectively). Rebecca still doesn't feel quite right about keeping the money for something frivolous when her father already works seven days a week to feed his own family, but at least she tried. 

The next day Rebecca helps her father at this shoe store. While he's helping an annoying classmate of hers pick a pair of shoes, the boy's mother notices the fancy lace doily Rebecca's crocheting, part of a set of linens she's making for her wedding chest. Explaining that she has a lot, Rebecca gives the mother a completed one from her bag. On their way out of the store, the mother slips a quarter to Rebecca: she's been paid! Maybe there are other ways she can earn money, and she could still get those candlesticks. Emulating Max, Rebecca puts on a show on her apartment stoop, with Benny helping. Her grandmother sees what's going on, and scolds Rebecca for begging, from their neighbors no less. Rebecca feels she was entertaining, but it's no use trying to explain. Rebecca splits the proceeds--six cents--with Benny. She reflects that she didn't even earn much anyway. But if she helps her father in the store on the weekend and sells her crocheted things...

A month later, Rebecca has earned quite a bit. She's taken to quietly but obviously arranging her things while customers wait for their turns, and when asked explaining that the items aren't for sale, which prompts people to offer more money, which she again refuses saying her father wouldn't like it, which prompts more money. She doesn't have many items left, but she has plenty of time to make more before she marries. And she's easily earned enough for candlesticks!

But she keeps thinking about her sick cousin, Ana. She can't think of something as frivolous as candlesticks when Ana is ill and her brothers might be pressed into military service at any moment. Max drops in then, announcing he's found acting work and will have a steady paycheck...and gives Rebecca's parents $25 (almost $600 in 2014). Nervous but inspired, Rebecca tells her parents that she's been selling her wedding linens, and her desire to buy the candlesticks. At first her mother and grandmother are disappointed that she'd be so impatient, but when she explains that instead she'd rather give her eight dollars toward her cousins, they are more understanding. Sadie and Sophie offer to sell some of their things too, and even Rebecca's grandmother! Rebecca's father agrees to sell them in his shop--as long as Rebecca handles those transactions. He's known about the selling the whole time, and is proud of his daughter's business sense.

Looking Back

In the 1910s, as now, New York City was America's largest city. It was home to many immigrants, who often lived near others from their same regions and ethnic backgrounds. In Russia, Tsar Nicholas II was in power, and he oversaw horrendous mistreatment of the country's Jewish population. They were forbidden from owning land, traveling freely, and obtaining most jobs, but boys as young as twelve were still drafted into military service, where they were given dangerous and sometimes fatal jobs. Pogroms, government-approved or -led acts of vandalism and violence, were routinely carried out against the Jews. It's little wonder that many wanted to leave Russia. Between 1880 and 1914, two million Jewish people left Eastern Europe (many countries other than Russia were also...unkind) for the United States.

Many settled in New York City, which was soon home to a burgeoning Eastern European Jewish population. Some were more observant of their religion than others, which is true of any religion, but it was still a tight-knit community. A lot of them spoke Yiddish, enough plays and movies were translated or produced in their language. This shared culture helped the immigrants and their families feel even more connected. When World War I began in late July 1914, those with family still outside the United States had to act quickly to bring their loved ones to the US (which didn't enter WWI until April 1917; the armistice was signed November 11, 1918--a day many countries still commemorate).


This book is dedicated to "my mother, Rachel B. Debmar, who opened my world to dolls and books."

Based on the book's illustrations, Max is incredibly tall.

The sign on Rebecca's father's shoe store is written in English, Yiddish, and Italian.

The fact that Rebecca's father (and sometimes other family members) work on Saturday is a cause of tension between him and his in-laws, but Rebecca's grandparents do recognize that he needs the money.

Rebecca sings "Take Me out to the Ball Game" at one point, which I thought was an anachronism, but the song had been around for at least six years by the time this book is set. She and her older brother also talk about a new baseball player and wonder if he'll be any good--Babe Ruth. 

Rebecca and her sisters often work on hand-crafted linens that they'll use in their married lives. Rebecca is especially good at crochet, and has made more items than either of her sisters have, despite being five years younger.

Rebecca's father does something pretty clever: sometimes when people buy new shoes from him, they don't want to keep their old ones. If they're still in decent shape, he gives them away to needy people. But to avoid embarrassing them, he takes their worn shoes to the back room for "polishing" and gives them the newer ones. Everyone knows what's happening, but it helps people save face.

The glossary of Yiddish words includes bat mitzvah, but fails to mention that it's a rite of initiation and symbolic of a boy's passage into manhood.