"A down-to-earth, inspiring book about the American promise fulfilled." —President Bill Clinton
"Fascinating . . . . Made me wish I had been born in the Bronx." —Barbara Walters
A touching and provocative collection of memories that evoke the history of one of America's most influential boroughs—the Bronx—through some of its many success stories
The vivid oral histories in Arlene Alda's Just Kids from the Bronx reveal what it was like to grow up in the place that bred the influencers in just about every field of endeavor today. The Bronx is where Michael Kay, the New York Yankees' play-by-play broadcaster, first experienced baseball, where J. Crew's CEO Millard (Mickey) Drexler found his ambition, where Neil deGrasse Tyson and Dava Sobel fell in love with science early on and where music-making inspired hip hop's Grandmaster Melle Mel to change the world of music forever.
The parks, the pick-up games, the tough and tender mothers, the politics, the gangs, the food—for people who grew up in the Bronx, childhood recollections are fresh. Arlene Alda's own Bronx memories were a jumping-off point from which to reminisce with a nun, a police officer, an urban planner, and with Al Pacino, Mary Higgins Clark, Carl Reiner, Colin Powell, Maira Kalman, Bobby Bonilla, and many other leading artists, athletes, scientists and entrepreneurs—experiences spanning six decades of Bronx living. Alda then arranged these pieces of the past, from looking for violets along the banks of the Bronx River to the wake-up calls from teachers who recognized potential, into one great collective story, a film-like portrait of the Bronx from the early twentieth century until today.
Alda has compiled a fabulous collection of 65 brief oral histories from a wide range of people who began their lives in the Bronx. The assortment of childhood memories begin as far back as the 1920s, move through the 1940s and 1950s, and end with those born in the late 1980s. Contributors include Carl Reiner, Colin Powell, and among younger names dancer Amar Ramasar and Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr. While the borough's underdog status is acknowledged (Odgen Nash's "The Bronx? No Thonx?" gets quoted), the general tenor is fond and wistful. Mary Higgins Clark sets the tone by dubbing the area one of "only three places in the world that have a the in front of their names: the Vatican, The Hague, and the Bronx." Stories often recall the mundane: stickball in the streets, trying to get "home before dark," the unforgettable smell of bakeries and delis. Al Pacino recalls teachers who changed his life, and an urban planner remembers his mother drilling him on the subway system before sending him off alone at age 9. There are few readers who won't be touched by this affectionate look backward, which is as much about the universal state of childhood as the specific borough of the Bronx.