Just Loved Reading:

A Bandit’s Tale, the Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket

Young Adult/Fiction

Hopkinson, Deborah. A Bandit’s Tale: the Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.


In 1887, the village boss accuses Rocco of theft.  To make up for his crime, the boss offers to take Rocco to America and offers his parents twenty dollars for Rocco’s services. For a poor family in Italy, that is a lot of money.

Once in America, Rocco learns the truth of the contract his family made: his employer immediately cuts his lip marking him as his employer’s property and sends him out to beg in the streets of New York.  He is not alone; Rocco is one of many boys begging for the same boss. They in squalor in the same tenement apartment near the city’s Little Italy.

The adventures Rocco experiences are enough for a lifetime. He makes friends with pick pockets, learns the trade and gets arrested. Even though this is his first offence, the judge sends him to a juvenile prison.

And that’s just the beginning…

Told in the first person and using historically authentic people as secondary characters (such as the journalist Jacob Riis), the novel realistically  explores the evils of child labor at the end of the nineteenth century and the bleak lives of the early European immigrants.


I couldn’t put this book down partly because I love to read historical novels. I’m also interested in this period of American history especially in regard to immigrants and the working class. And even though Rocco, starved by his “boss,” wearing rags and begging for hours in all kinds of weather, becomes a juvenile delinquent, you can’t help but root for him. His actions are a direct result of the conditions he was thrust into when he came to America and it’s not like he doesn’t want to escape the life – however muddled –  of a pickpocket. He meets good-hearted benefactors along the way but he messes up those opportunities as well.

The author thoroughly researched the period and interweaves Rocco’s story with the important issues of the day: child labor, poor working and living conditions for the working class, immigration, and animal rights (issues still being discussed today). In the end, the will to survive surmounts incredible obstacles.

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