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.)

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