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Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade

The big, booming drums are your favorites.

Oh, but you also like flag-wavers and the majorette with her whirling batons. And you can’t forget the gigantic balloons or, of course, the floats with people waving hello. A lot of things go into making a great parade, but as you’ll see in the new book “Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade” by Trinka Hakes Noble, illustrated by David C. Gardner, all it used to take were a few pennies.

Everyone in Rettie Stanowski’s neighborhood was excited for the Ragamuffin Parade. It would happen Thanksgiving morning, and it was so much fun: All the kids in the Lower East Side tenements dressed up in old raggedy clothes and they’d walk down Broadway with their hands open. “Fancy uptown people” then gave them pennies, and on the street corners, pennies were tossed in the air!

It was 1918 and a penny stretched a very long way — just not far enough. Because Mama was sick with consumption and Papa was away at war, 9-year-old Rettie had taken odd jobs and was earning as much as possible to feed her sisters and brother. She simply had to do more if they were to have a good Thanksgiving.

Times were “rough,” though, and things were hard. Everyone was sick, or so it seemed. Lots of children had become orphans and were living on the streets, quarantine signs were everywhere, and schools had closed early. Food was sometimes hard to find, and it was expensive. What if they cancelled the Ragamuffin Parade, too?

When a nurse showed up to check on Mama, Rettie fretted more: If Mama didn’t get better, Rettie and her siblings would be sent to an orphanage, which couldn’t happen. She just wouldn’t allow it, so while Mama rested, Rettie got up early each morning to clean their building and mop the stoop, saving her pay for her family’s Thanksgiving meal. Thoughts of the Ragamuffin Parade were never far away, though. Would there be enough money to make it a happy celebration?

Based loosely on several real events, “Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade” may come as a nice surprise to both you and your child: Who knew that Thanksgiving and Halloween once went hand-in-hand?

It’s true, and at the end of her story, author Trinka Hakes Noble explains how it all came about. Noble puts a human face on tragedy and poverty, and it’s one that kids will relate to, since the young heroine here is at about the age of the target audience.

While kids will love the tale and you can explain the history behind it, the illustrations by David Gardner will keep them coming back to this book. Gardner’s artwork subtly shows the right amount of bleakness inside this story, quietly growing warm toward the (happy) ending.

Kids ages 6 to 9 will love this unique story, but beware that, for them, this is absolutely a read-aloud. Despite some big words and big concepts here, “Rettie and the Ragamuffin Parade” is a book to march out and get.

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