Cover image for When pirates came to Brooklyn
When pirates came to Brooklyn
Shalant, Phyllis.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York, NY : Dutton Children's Books, 2002.
Physical Description:
212 pages ; 21 cm
Lee Bloom is a 10 year old Jewish girl growing up in the early 1960s in Brooklyn. She makes a new friend, Polly, who has a vivid imagination. They have wild adventures in the attic. During the year, Lee comes face to face with many forms of bigotry and friendship, discrimination, and the dangers of subtle bigotry is interwoven with the children's play, throughout the story.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.1 5.0 63102.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Lee Bloom is drawn to the house on Avenue J by mysterious voices from behind the rose trellis. It isn't long before the girl who lives there, Polly Burke, invites Lee in for a shipwreck, a poisoned-tea party, and-best of all-flying lessons. Then Polly reveals a secret-Peter Pan has told her he needs their help-and the newfound friends join forces to fight the pirates who are coming by cloudship galleon. But pirates aren't the only threat Lee and Polly must battle in Brooklyn, 1959. Their mothers' bigotry-Lee's against anyone not Jewish or white; Polly's against Lee for being Jewish-threatens the girls' friendship. This story of how two friends manage to fly above both pirates and prejudice will lift readers' hearts.

Author Notes

Phyllis Shalant teaches writing to both children and adults and has written a number of books for young readers.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 4^-7. Lee feels like the Rapunzel of Brooklyn, although she is stuck in a fourth-floor apartment instead of a tower. Her best friend, wheelchair-bound by polio, has moved to Florida; Eddie, the misfit new boy in sixth grade, keeps harassing her; and her mom doesn't want her to associate with schwartzer (blacks) or goyim (non-Jews). When Lee is invited to play at Polly Burke's big house, she is immediately drawn into pretend games of shipwrecks, a poisoned tea party, and flying lessons. When Lee and Polly plot to help Peter Pan fight pirates coming by cloud-ship galleon, fantasy fringes on reality. It seems that pirates aren't the only threat in Brooklyn in 1960: the bias and bigotry of the girls' mothers--each staunch in her religious convictions--works to break apart the children's friendship. Lee's voice is that of a young girl caught between believing in the fantastical and learning the realities of prejudice. The conflict forces her to ask what it means to be Jewish and question whether Jews go to heaven or hell or, maybe, Neverland. Place and time are exceptionally well defined in this perceptive story that tackles an age-old dilemma for children: Are parents always right? Today's readers may not understand why Lee, at 11, can still believe in fairy tales and invisible things, but they will relate to her courage to question the world around her. --Julie Cummins

Publisher's Weekly Review

This tender novel explores how clashing values, religions and cultures affect a Jewish girl growing up in Brooklyn in 1960. Lee Bloom's sixth-grade year is one of discovery. As she learns at school about segregation in the South, she begins noticing incidents of prejudice in her own neighborhood. Lee realizes with dismay that even she is guilty of casting unfair judgment. Like many of her classmates, she has ostracized a boy because of the way he looks. Lee finds temporary escape from her imperfect world when she plays imaginary pirate games with her new-found friend, Polly, who has been "visited" by Peter Pan and believes the two of them can learn to "fly." However, when Polly's mother tries to convert Lee to Christianity, Lee's mother forbids her daughter to play with Polly. Shalant (Bartleby of the Mighty Mississippi; Beware of Kissing Lizard Lips) draws a striking contrast between harsh realities and childhood innocence and achieves a delicate balance between heart-wrenching events and uplifting scenes that convey the girls' sense of tolerance and compassion. With the story's hint of magic, the author invites readers to open their minds and look beyond appearances. Ages 9-12. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6-Lee Bloom, 10, is an imaginative, intelligent, but lonely girl living in Brooklyn, NY, in 1960. Her best friend has moved away, and the last person she wants to befriend is her classmate Eddie Wagner, who seems to be spying on her, and teases her because she skipped a grade. When Lee meets vibrant Polly Burke, who makes roses "talk," creates settings for shipwrecks, and prepares to help Peter Pan defend Brooklyn against Captain Hook's pirates, the two girls know that they have found a kindred spirit in one another. However, Lee is Jewish, Polly is Catholic, and their bigoted mothers are fiercely prejudiced against the girls' friendship. As Lee struggles to remain friends with Polly, she also discovers an unlikely ally in coarse but good-hearted Eddie. Also, Lee's mother eventually reveals some redeeming qualities, but Polly's mother never moves beyond her fire-and-brimstone tracts. While other grown-ups offer wisdom where they can, Lee is an interesting character who is able to figure out and deal with her problems without adult intervention. Elements of magical realism enhance the story, as do scenes filled with humor, and the themes of prejudice and injustice may prompt readers toward further thought and discussion.-Farida S. Dowler, formerly at Bellevue Regional Library, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.