The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson is about an old hobo named Armand who one day discovers a family under his bridge. Three kids, a single mother, and their dog, Armand is taken aback. He can’t stand “starlings” as he calls them. Yet the children quickly endear themselves to Armand.
While the mother is working, Armand takes the children to see Father Christmas since Christmas is only a few days away. They all ask for a house from Father Christmas. The children were taken out of school as well so the authorities would not take them away from their mother if they found out they were homeless. All the children desperately want to go back to school.
However, two women discover the children alone under the bridge and head to the authorities. Armand takes the children and their mother to live with the gypsies. However, the gypsies are soon run off as well when one of the gypsies is sought after by the police for cutting down a rare Christmas tree.
Homeless again, the children desperately want a home. It is here that Armand finally decides to take a real job instead of being a hobo. He happens to find a caretaker job where housing is included. In the end, this make-shift family finally has a home.
Written in 1958, this book won the Newbery Honor Award in 1959. If you keep this in mind and use it to study the times it was written in, then this is a good book. There are some elements in this book that you’d never see in a modern book like the cutting down of a rare tree for Christmas. Also, at one point, Armand uses the children to sing so they can collect money for food. And I don’t agree with the fact Armand is a professional hobo. Also, the mother is racist against the gypsies and looks down upon them the entire book.
However, the underlying story is endearing. The children “stole Armand’s heart” by begging to stay with him. Armand’s character arch is impressive as well, going from a life-long beggar, content to not work and saying so, to
beginning to be ashamed of begging as it takes away a man’s self-respect.” In the end, Armand becomes a “workingman of Paris.”
My kids are old enough that when these parts cropped up, we talked about it, and why those parts of the book are wrong. It’s also interesting and telling of the time period when you read these views from so long ago, which spark a discussion of how our thinking has changed.
Good, short read containing lots of teachable moments. Plus, it shows how people can change no matter how old they are.