Monday, November 26, 2007

Children's Book Monday

Peppe the Lamplighter
by Elisa Bartone
Illustrations by Ted Lewin

A long time ago when there was no electricity and the streetlamps in Little Italy had to be lit by hand, Peppe lived in a tenement on Mulberry Street. His father was sick and his mother was dead, and so, though he was just a boy, he had to work to help support his sisters: Giulia, Adelina, Nicolina, Angelina, Assunta, Mariuccia, Filomena, and Albina (who lived in Naples with her uncle, the priest, and took care of orphans).

We are given a precious peek into Little Italy through this story; Gennaro the butcher, Don Salvatore, the bartender, Commare Antonietta, the candy maker; none of these good people need help from a boy like Peppe.

But when he meets Domenico, a lamplighter, on the street one day, he is given the responsibility of lighting the lamps while Domenico fetches his wife from Italy. Peppe, anxious to share the good news with his family, runs home to the smiles and encouragement of his sisters, but disappointment from Papa, who longs for so much more promise in his sons' life.

As Peppe struggles to do his job well, he uses his time of lighting the lamps to pray blessings on his family.

"This one for Giulia, may she have the chance to marry well...
This for Adelina, may she have the dress she likes...
This for work for Nicolina in the biscuit company...
Piecework for Angelina, for many gloves to sew..."

Finally one day, after more harsh words from Papa, Peppe neglects his responsibility, and Assunta goes missing. When he is encouraged in his work by the most unlikely source, he finds new hope, and completes his task that night with head held high; with each small flame, he finds promise for tomorrow.

My boys shrank in close to me with each harsh word from Peppe's Papa. By their quietness at the end of the story, I knew we would need to talk about why his father was so disappointed.

In our conversation, they came to understand that Peppe's Papa was not so much disappointed in Peppe himself, rather in the job he was doing; Papa undoubtedly had high hopes for his only son. Why was he cruel about it? Well, some people do not know how to express their disappointment for another, and it may come out in a gruff, harsh way. It did not mean Papa loved his son any less. And ultimately, I reminded them, Papa came to see the great importance of Peppe's job, and the many people who depended on him to do it. His encouragement was just what Peppe needed to finish well!

The beautiful, full-page watercolor illustrations are vivid and captivating; the darkness of the nights when young Peppe walks the streets to light the lamps bring shivers to little shoulders, and the brightness and love of seven sisters waiting on the stairs to embrace Peppe and Assunta brings relieved smiles.

Snuggle close. It is delightful.

Happy Reading!

4 fellow travelers shared:

Anna said...

hi Elise!
I couldn't pass up Children's Book Monday this week because I just had to tell about a great book that I found! :)
We're all resting here and adjusting to having a new person around. :)
I hope you're doing well.

Anna said...

Oh, I almost forgot to comment on your review this week (my brain is kind of fuzzy)
You always find the most interesting books! It's going on my "Elise's picks" library list right away. :)

Karen@FamilyBriefs said...

Thanks for hosting! Sounds like a tear-jerker of a book - very touching. Thanks for sharing!

The Small Scribbler said...


I think I am drawn to your writing because it feels similar to my own and when I read your storybook selections I know why. We read the same books. Many, many of the books listed on your blog are on my bookshelf. I love to read children's books more than any other. I love when an author can tell a whole story in a few short pages with a few simple words. Our writing reflects this, don't you think?


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