The King of Mulberry Street
In 1892, nine-year-old Dom's mother puts him on a ship leaving Italy, bound for America. He is a stowaway, traveling alone and with nothing of value except for a new pair of shoes from his mother. In the turbulent world of homeless children in Manhattan's Five Points, Dom learns street smarts, and not only survives, but thrives by starting his own business. A vivid, fascinating story of an exceptional boy, based in part on the author's grandfather. From the Hardcover edition.
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Chapter 1 - Surprise
Good readers will pick up a lot about this novel just from the few details provided in the first few paragraphs. It's hot and there's a danger of malaria from mosquitoes. A boy in the street is carrying a basket on his head. Think about where this story may be set.
You should recognize that a character is narrating or telling the story. We call this 1st person point of view. When you read fiction, it is important to be able to identify what type of point of view, or narration, is used. Watch this video on point of view. Then consider a novel you've read recently. Can you remember the type of narrator? (This annotation contains a video)
Diphtheria is an infectious disease of the throat and lungs. Today in America, we are protected by a vaccine, but diphtheria is still present in other countries.
You may not know what a credenza looks like. Hopefully, you figured out that it is some type of furniture. Below is a picture of a credenza. (This annotation contains an image)
Can you guess the nationality of the narrator and his family?
Did you know that you can look up any word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Since it's so easy to look up words, make sure you use this feature frequently... Is there a word on this page you need to look up?
This means that Mamma and the narrator are Jewish.
A water closet is what many Europeans call a toilet or bathroom. In England they shorten "water closet" to "wc."
Why does the narrator "know" it is his fault that his mother can't get an office job?
A mezuzah is part of the Jewish religion. It is a metal strip adorned with Jewish symbols that is attached to the inside of a door. Family members kiss their fingers and touch it when they enter and leave. (This annotation contains an image)
Antisemitism is a hatred or dislike for Jewish people. For centuries there has been this type of prejudice against the Jewish religion. The prefix "anti" means against. Look at the following words that have this prefix and consider how they include the meaning of "against": antibiotic, antiseptic, antioxidant, Antichrist, antidote,
Napoli is Italian for Naples, a famous city in Italy. This is what a market in Naples may have looked like during the time of this novel. (This annotation contains an image)
What word best describes Mamma's character so far?
Chapter 2 - Dirty
Based on what you learned in Chapter 1, why would "Catholic teachers putting religion into the lessons" bother Uncle Aurelio?
This is what a yarmulke looks like. (This annotation contains an image)
This may be the view the narrator describes of Mount Vesuvio and the bay. Mount Vesuvio is more commonly known to us as Mount Vesuvius which is infamous for its explosion in AD 79. Although the citizens of the Roman city, Pompeii had many warnings from the volcano, they were unheeded. The eruption of the volcano, the lava and the ash, buried the city and killed all who could not escape. (This annotation contains an image)
So you know our novel takes place in Italy, but you may not be sure of the time period. It states that the rich women play tennis "in white dresses to their ankles." That should give us a clue. Below is a picture from the Summer Olympics of 1900 in Paris, France. Look at what the woman player is wearing. Do you have a better idea now of the time period of this novel? (This annotation contains an image)
Grottos were often used as wine cellars, but as you read from the text, originally they were used for water. The prefix "aqua" or "aque" refers to water. So the "aqueducts" were built to channel the water from deep within the ground up above for use. Think of other words in our language that have these prefixes. (aquarium, aquatic)
Can you identify the two types of figurative language used in this sentence? Figurative language is found in all types of writing. It helps readers understand things, events, and people in unique ways. It's important to be able to recognize the different types of figurative language. Watch this video for a review and see how many you already know. (This annotation contains a video)
What do you think the narrator means when he says, "The nun's worried face undid me"?
Did you know that in many European countries working adults go home for a "siesta" or rest. It is usually around noon. Shops and businesses close so the people have time to go home, eat, and nap before going back to work for the rest of the day.
Scugnizzi are homeless children. The narrator tells us that they are always aware of everything that goes on. Can you explain why this may be true?
Why does Nonna not hesitate to hit the narrator?
Who is Munaciello?
Tripe is an edible part of the stomach of animals. Tripe can come from many different animals, but most often from cows and pigs. (This annotation contains an image)
Give at least two reason why you think Beniamino's mother is crying.
Chapter 3 - Shoes
What does this thought tell us about Beniamino?
Can you make a prediction as to where Beniamino and his mother are going? Making predictions--even if they end up being wrong--shows that you are an active reader.
This sentence shows that the air is so saturated with the smell of coffee that it figuratively has become coffee. What type of figurative language is this?
Beniamino's mother calls him this often. (mio is Italian for my) What does it mean?
Do you think Beniamino's mother is going to America too? Explain your answer using details from the story.
Chapter 4 - Whispers
Cholera is a bacterial infection of the intestines. It causes one to be very sick and can result in death. This illness is much less threatening today than it has been in the past because we have vaccines and much better treatment. Cholera is very contagious.
Use the Define feature on the word gingerly. Which of the following words could replace gingerly in the sentence without changing the meaning?
A cargo ship is used to transport goods and materials, not people. The only people on board a cargo ship are the workers. This is what a cargo ship looked like in the early 1900's. (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter 5 - Brooms
This expression means that once you are aboard a ship on the ocean for a few days or more, you will get used to the rocking of the ship. Then when you go back to walking on solid ground, it will feel funny for awhile.
Remember, Beniamino is Jewish. According to their religion, Jewish people do not eat pork of any kind.
This probably grabs your attention because Mulberry Street is in the title of this novel. This famous street is a main street in a part of Manhattan, New York where so many Italian immigrants settled that the area around Mulberry Street is known as "Little Italy." Below is a picture of Mulberry Street in the 1900's. (This annotation contains an image)
What is the most likely reason that none of the men want to go look for the other stowaway?
Why does Mamma not want anyone to know Beniamino is Jewish?
A Napoletano is a person who comes from Naples, Italy which is where Beniamino lived with his family.
Chapter 6 - The Plan
Use the Define feature on the word kosher. What is one thing you know is not kosher for Jewish people?
Why does Beniamino want to go back to Italy as soon as they land in America?
A tzitzit is a series of holy tassels worn by Jewish men. (This annotation contains an image)
Below is a picture of a Jewish prayer shawl, or tallit. (This annotation contains an image)
Ellis Island is the famous place where all immigrants were stationed when they first came to America. It was known as the "gateway" into America where millions of immigrants entered this country from 1892 to 1954. Today, as seen below, the station houses a museum of immigration. (This annotation contains an image)
What Ivo is saying, unfortunately, was true. Many immigrants were treated badly in America and shunned by Americans.
Most immigrants came to America with dreams of becoming rich and living easy. Perhaps life did prove to be easier than what many left behind in Europe, but most soon found out that succeeding in America would be harder than they once thought.
Beniamino is the protagonist of this novel. A protagonist is the main character and the one in which the reader most connects with. This sentence is an example of how the writer brings out our sympathies for the main character. An antagonist is the character or force that fights against the protagonist. So far an antagonist has not emerged in this novel. Watch this video about protagonists vs. antagonist. (This annotation contains a video)
When Franco says, "A promise is a promise," what is he referring to?
Chapter 7 - Waiting
Below is a picture of barnacles which have grown on a dock post. Barnacles are extremely sharp. (This annotation contains an image)
It took several days to "process" immigrants before they were allowed to leave Ellis Island and go into the city of New York. The farther below deck you were as an immigrant, the longer you had to wait. Watch this video of 5th graders who create a character and demonstrate what it was like for most immigrants coming to America. Listen carefully and try to identify the different stations immigrants had to be processed through. (This annotation contains a video)
This is a form of figurative language that gives us a visual image of how Beniamino comes out of the water. What type of figurative language is it?
Immigrants who came to America were coming for good, not just for a vacation from home. Knowing this, explain why you think the immigrants Beniamino describes are wearing so many clothes.
Why does the man claim Beniamino is "third class"?
List three disadvantages for immigrants of being in third-class on these passenger ships.
What are the immigrants pointing at?
On the Statue of Liberty is a plaque enshrined with a famous poem written by Emma Lazarus specifically for the statue. Read the poem and think about how it relates to the millions of immigrants who came to this country looking for freedom and the American dream. "Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter 8 - On Land
What are two other things Mamma told Beniamino that morning she loaded him onto the cargo ship?
The word "padrone" means boss in Italian. Many immigrants, especially Italians, had contracts with "padrones" for jobs once they reached America. A padrone acted as a middleman between the new immigrants and employers who needed workers. Padrones were also notorious for mistreating the young boys who worked for them.
What is Beniamino realizing here?
What type of figurative language does this sentence contain?
Why would a "padrone" be interested in bringing boys from Europe to work in America?
Chapter 9 - Trust
Basilicata is another region in Italy.
Explain what Mamma's gift of shoes has done for Beniamino.
What do Italians call the midday break when shops close and working men and women return home for lunch and a nap?
What is the narrator feeling now?
What is the narrator's full name now?
Chapter 10 - Needs
Explain why you think women who come to America alone are not allowed off of Ellis Island. Consider the time period of this novel.
What can we infer when Beniamino says "Snow"?
Beniamino sees another ship and the writer uses a metaphor to describe it. What does he compare the ship to?
List three things the officials at Ellis Island are looking for and checking with all of the immigrants who come through.
Chapter 11 - Manhattan
What organization worked at Ellis Island to help the immigrants? Read the highlighted phrase and use your inferencing skills.
You can infer, from the end of this paragraph, that the fishmonger
Here is another picture of Mulberry Street around 1900. (This annotation contains an image)
So far, the narrator's description of Manhattan is that it is filthy. List three specific details from this chapter that show this.
Chapter 12 - Sharks and Mooks
This Italian word means what?
Why would it take days for the passenger ship Bolivia to be empty?
This expression means that the boys are selling things to make money.
At the time this novel takes place, there actually was a Tin Pan Alley. It was on 28th street where a collection of musicians and songwriters lived. Decades later, Tin Pan Alley was used to refer to the music business. Below is a picture of the original Tin Pan Alley. (This annotation contains an image)
Five Points was a neighborhood in lower Manhattan known for being a slum where disease and crime was rampant. Below is a painting of what Five Points looked like in the early 1900's. (This annotation contains an image)
Based on the context of this paragraph, explain in your own words what Nonna's proverb about "the eye had to have its part in everything" means.
What does this expression mean that Nonna uses?
This sentence should get your attention because it contains the title of the book. What is the boy's meaning when he calls Beniamino "the king of Mulberry Street"?
When you are in a foreign country, it is important for you to know the value of the money used there. Otherwise, you can easily be cheated..
Below is a picture of an organ grinder with a monkey. As you have seen, many immigrants chose street entertaining as a way to get enough money to get by. (This annotation contains an image)
Explain why you think the cup needed to stay close to empty in order for people to give.
Why does Beniamino say this? What does Gaetano do?
Why does Tin Pan Alley have a padrone?
What Gaetano is describing is also known as a loan shark. A loan shark loans money and charges really high interest. Loan sharks have a reputation of using blackmail or violence if their money is not repaid on time.
According to Gaetano, what is a mook?
Chapter 13 - Church
This "territory" that Gaetano stays in is Five Points. Below is a map with the neighborhood outlined in blue. (This annotation contains an image)
Do you think many immigrants, once they arrived in America and saw the reality, longed to go back to their homes? This may be part of the theme of the myth vs. reality of the American Dream.
Below is a picture of St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1880, New York City. (This annotation contains an image)
There was a great deal of rivalry and tension between the Irish and the Italian immigrants, especially in Five Points. In 2002, Martin Scorsese directed a movie entitled Gangs of New York. Watch a clip from the movie to get a good idea of what the neighborhood of Five Points looked like back during the time of this novel. (This annotation contains a video)
Why does Beniamino feel so guilty about being in church?
Italy is a very large country which has many regions. Even though the people all speak Italian, they have different dialects in different regions. It is the same in America. In the South, there is a certain dialect, different than the dialect from Boston, or New York. Words are pronounced differently among different dialects and many different expressions may be used.
Explain in your own words what Gaetano is saying here. Why does being alone for a few days make you older?
Italian is considered a "Romance Language" because it is derived from Latin. English is also partly derived from Latin, and so it is true that many words have the same roots and affixes.
Beniamino is at Grand Central, the famous railway station in New York City. (This annotation contains an image)
Beniamino is in Central Park. Below is a painting of Central Park around the time period of this novel. (This annotation contains an image)
Chapter 14 - Sandwiches
What type of figurative language is used in this sentence?
Besides the Bolivia having left without him aboard, what is Beniamino's biggest problem in this scene?
Now that the ship Bolivia is gone, Beniamino is facing yet another obstacle. In fiction when the protagonist continually must overcome conflicts in order to get what he/she wants, we call it Rising Action. The rising action is just one element of plot. Watch the following video on the elements of plot. Keep this novel in mind as you learn about each one. (This annotation contains a video)
What is Grandinetti looking at in the paper?
It seems that Grandinetti may be a friend to Beniamino. List two things he has done so far that show this.
Body language is sometimes used to develop a character's personality. What does this sentence tell us about Gaetano?
According to Gaetano, which group of immigrants make the lowest wage?
Explain why you think Tin Pan Alley and Gaetano don't like each other.
What character trait do you learn about Gaetano here?
Do you have an idea of what Beniamino is planning?
Chapter 15 - Money
What disadvantage do the boys have that makes it easy to cheat them?
We are getting to know Gaetano better and we know he has a good heart, but he is not as kind and generous as Beniamino. Maybe it is because Gaetano has had to survive on the street longer than Beniamino and he's therefore a little "rougher" around the edges.
Who is this?
We are learning, along with the characters, that in order to make money in a business you must
How do you think these boys know Beniamino has money?
Use the Define feature for the word pummeled. Which of the following words is an antonym (opposite in meaning) of this word?
Chapter 16 - More and More Money
Beniamino says the look on Tin Pan Alley is worth giving him an orange every morning. What does this show us about Beniamino?
Explain what you think the expression "the rings have fallen away, but our fingers remain" means.
Why do the thieves not rob Gaetano?
Gaetano has learned that his best weapon to help him survive is fear and intimidation. When others fear you, they will stay away from you.
One way Tin Pan Alley and Beniamino are alike is that they are both
What is Beniamino's new conflict presented in this chapter?
Chapter 17 - Things Go Wrong
Which of the following is the best interpretation of what Gaetano means here?
Explain why Nonna would love Tin Pan Alley.
These boys seem to disagree on how best to spend their profits. Should they put them right back into the business or enjoy the profits a little. What do you think?
Flag Day is celebrated on June 14th. it celebrates that day in 1777 when we adopted the United State Flag. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Five Points?
This word is used several times in this novel. Using context, what does this word mean here?
Chapter 18 - Signora Esposito
Why do you think Grandinetti says, "I'm not getting mixed up with a padrone"?
This is more evidence of what personality trait of Beniamino?
Mr. Grandinetti is right. Before the full establishment of the foster care system, there were too many orphans in New York. In fact, there were so many orphans in New York that a system was established of transporting orphans to live and work on farms with families out west. Historically, it is known as "The Orphan Train." Watch this video on The Orphan Trains. Would something like this be a good opportunity for any of the boys in this novel? (This annotation contains a video)
These two sentences show what character trait about Gaetano?
Explain what Beniamino means by this. Then discuss whether or not you think it's true.
What is the writer's purpose in these past few paragraphs?
What is Beniamino realizing now?
Beniamino seems to think that if his mother put him on the ship to go to America alone, then she doesn't really love him. Explain why you believe Mamma sent Beniamino to America.
Chapter 19 - A Way of Life
Gaetano is very street smart. He's had to be to survive all this time alone.
Do you understand what Gaetano just did? He tricked the thieves by telling them that he works for a boss. He lets them think the boss is from out of the neighborhood, perhaps part of the mob. Most importantly, he uses the cut and bruises on Beniamino to convince the thieves of the cruelty of their boss to intimidate them. Now all the thieves and street boys will be too afraid to steal from Gaetano and Beniamino.
Why is it important that Tin Pan Alley's padrone doesn't find out about the sandwich business?
These boys have created a breakfast and lunch cart business, like you still see today in most cities. People in the city need to eat, and food from a lunch cart is convenient and usually delicious. (This annotation contains an image)
Think of how many foods we eat in America today that are Italian dishes. (This annotation contains an image)
In these last few pages, you realize how well the boys are doing and how their business is growing. List three details about their business that show progress.
This is what happens sometimes in business. You have competition that drives your prices down.
Tin Pan Alley isn't the main character, but as a reader, you should know him fairly well. In your own words, describe him in a few sentences as if you were writing to someone who hasn't read this book. Use details from the novel in your description.
Do you wonder how Beniamino's family is doing back in Napoli?
Chapter 20 - Pietro
What type of figurative language is used here?
There have been many conflicts in this novel. Conflicts are problems or obstacles that the characters must face. Conflict is the most important element of fiction because without it, there is no point in telling a story. Watch this video on the different types of conflict in fiction. Then try to identify which type of conflict occurs on this page with Tin Pan Alley and his padrone. (This annotation contains a video)
What can you infer from this sentence?
All three of the boys in this novel--Beniamino, Gaetano, and Tin Pan Alley-- have what trait in common?
Pietro is Italian for Peter. Below is a picture of the Church of Saint Peter, one of the largest and most beautiful churches in the world. (This annotation contains an image)
Can you imagine being fourteen years old and never having owned or worn a pair of shoes? When you place yourself in the situation of a character or think of how your own experiences relate to those of a character, you are making a text to self connection. Making connections with the text is what strong readers do. Watch this video on text to self and other types of text connections. Do you know how many there are? (This annotation contains a video)
Opium is a drug made from the poppy flower. (This annotation contains an image)
What is Pietro realizing that is making him physically sick?
Do you have a prediction here? Do you think something has changed about Beniamino?
Chapter 21 - Crosby Street
This paragraph reveals something that you may not have considered before. What is it?
What do you think has happened to Pietro? Make a prediction.
Why do you think Gaetano is getting so angry?
Do you think Gaetano is trying to protect Beniamino from getting hurt?
The scene here is dismal and bleak. List at least three specific details that help create the understanding that this apartment where Tin Pan Alley lives is horrible.
This is how padrones keep control and have so much power over these boys. They use fear and violence.
This is what you may have predicted. It is still very sad. As a reader, we grew to be very fond of Tin Pan Alley. He had a good heart and was honest and kind. He cared for others even though so few cared for him. If you feel sad, it means you've made a strong connection with this character.
Chapter 22 - Eldridge Street
Explain why you think Beniamino "grew up for sure" the night he spent in the padrone's room.
This image reveals how Beniamino suddenly realizes that he has neglected the business. What type of figurative language is this?
This proves that Beniamino has changed a lot in the course of this story. Protagonists usually always undergo some sort of change by the end of a story. The change also usually revolves around the theme of the novel. What has Beniamino learned about himself and the world that has caused him to no longer want to go back to Italy?
"Cent'anni" means one hundred years in Italian. Do you recognize any parts of this word that have the same meanings in English? (Think about the word century and annual).
Who were Pietro and Beniamino lying to?
There is a well-known quote that says, "Friends are the family we choose for ourselves." In your own words, explain what this quote means and how it relates to what Beniamino has realized.
This phrase, which happens to be the title of this novel, started out as a sarcastic remark by Gaetano. Now it seems to have a more serious meaning, like a goal or ambition. Perhaps one day Beniamino's business will be so successful that he truly will be the king of Mulberry Street.
This is especially sad for Beniamino to be thinking because we know he feels now that his mother didn't love him enough to keep him in Italy with her or to go to America with him.
The main purpose of this paragraph is to show that
Notice how the writer begins three sentences in a row with the phrase, "Without them..." Usually when you write, you should vary the way your sentences begin. But sometimes, as in this example here, repetition can be very effective. In these sentences the repetition of "Without them" emphasizes how different things may have been for Beniamino if he hadn't had his new shoes.
Settlement Houses were established in the 1880's to help poor people living in cities. These programs offered help with child care, education, and healthcare in an effort to improve the lives of the poor.