Peppe the Lamplighter

Book: Peppe the Lamplighter
Author: Elisa Bartone
Illustrator: Ted Lewin
Publisher: HarperCollins, reprinted in 1997
ISBN-13: 978-1439555422 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 1439555427 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0688154691 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0688154697 (Paperback)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 4 – 8
Rating: ***** 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Any books donated for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Bartone, Elisa. Peppe the Lamplighter (published in 1993 by HarperCollins). Peppe, a young immigrant of modest means, lives in a tenement in New York City’s Little Italy in the early 1900s. His mother is dead, his cantankerous father is ill, and the boy must help support his eight sisters. The street lamplighter offers him a temporary job, and Peppe accepts with pride and excitement. His father disapproves because he is disappointed in the lowly responsibility that his son fulfills, but the girls encourage him. Peppe imagines each light to be “a small flame of promise for the future” and makes a wish for those he loves at each lamp. However, his father’s continued disapproval discourages him and makes him so ashamed that one night he is ready to give up. Yet, this same night, his youngest sister does not come home because she is afraid of the dark. Peppe’s father then pleads with him to light the lamps, admitting that it is an important job. So, when Peppe’s job helps save his little sister, he earns the respect of his father and his entire family.

This 1994 Caldecott Honor Book is a pleasant, touching story that provides a slice of American history about the immigrant experience, detailing a boy’s aspirations and the values that shaped his character. It takes place a “long time ago when there was no electricity and the street lamps in Little Italy had to be lit by hand.” Author Elisa Bartone’s thoughtful text, with its evocative descriptions of an earlier era, is both uniquely personal and universal in scope. Illustrator Ted Lewin’s dramatically rendered watercolors perfectly suit the mood with their detailed street scenes, honest faces, and authentic period garb. Their grim realism is shot through with lamplight, exhibiting a cinematic sweep. Most of the illustrations are two-page spreads that are packed full of energy and emotion, capturing many colorful details such as the sausages hanging in the butcher shop, a crowded sidewalk, and the old-fashioned iron stove in Peppe’s home. Children will come to appreciate the importance of all jobs. The book is historically accurate and morally uplifting, and reinforces the value of hard work, regardless of one’s age or ability.

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