For Ages
12 to 99

A masterful portrayal of hatred, prejudice and manipulation that challenges readers to examine how they would behave in the face of evil. Henry meets and befriends Mr. Levine, an elderly Holocaust survivor, who is carving a replica of the village where he lived and which was destroyed in the war. Henry's friendship with Mr. Levine is put to the test when his prejudiced boss, Mr. Hairston, asks Henry to destroy Mr. Levine's village.

An Excerpt fromTunes for Bears to Dance To

The old man came out of the crazy house every morning shortly before eight o'clock and walked down the graveled path to the gate, carrying a small leather bag that swung like a pendulum from his right hand. His moustache was a wedge of frost on his upper lip.
The boy, whose name was Henry, watched him from the third-floor piazza that overlooked the street. He was curious about where the old man went every day and would have followed him except for the cast on his knee. The cast would be removed in a week or so and he tried to be patient in the meantime, watching the comings and goings of the neighborhood. The most interesting thing he saw was the old man. Why did he live in the crazy house and why did they let him out every day if he was crazy?
"You shouldn't call it a crazy house,' his mother said. "It's an institution for the insane."
That was worse than calling it a crazy house, Henry thought. Anyway, the old man did not look either crazy or insane. The boy saw him only for a few moments as he came and went, but he looked normal enough. In the late afternoon when the old man returned from wherever he went, his steps were slower, spiderwebs had appeared around his eyes, and his shoulders drooped although his cheeks were still smooth, like stones worn away by years of rain.
Henry hobbled up to the gate of the crazy house once in a while and looked at the people strolling the grounds. They looked normal, too, like the people he saw every day in the neighborhood.
The boy himself did not feel normal. He had never learned to use the crutches properly in the five weeks he had worn the cast. He tripped over them all the time. He was not coordinated or athletic, like his brother, Eddie, and walked awkwardly with the crutches, which is why he seldom left the piazza.
Eddie would have mastered the crutches in no time at all. He would have swung down the street, calling out to everyone, and everyone would have smiled back, Henry tried not to think about Eddie but that was impossible, of course. Although Eddie had been dead almost a year—eleven months and three days, to be exact—he was still a presence in the lives of Henry and his mother and father. Sometimes Henry felt guilty because he could go, oh, three or four hours without thinking of Eddie, but his mother and father seemed to be thinking of him every minute of the day, walking wearily and sorrowfully through the hours, seldom talking except when necessary. His father, in fact, was swallowed up in his sorrow. Sometimes, Henry could not stand the silence in the tenement and went out on the piazza. Once he thought of jumping over the banister and plunging to the pavement below but knew that would only bring more sorrow to his parents.
He was impatient for the cast to be removed so that he could return to his job as the bender for Mr. Hairston at the Corner Market. Mr. Hairston had a back problem and found it hard to bend over. Henry did the bending for him. Picked up whatever fell on the floor. Reached for merchandise on the lower shelves to fill the customers' orders. He also had other duties. Helped unload the boxes and crates that arrived from the wholesalers. Stocked the shelves. Put up potatoes, fifteen pounds to a peck, in the cellar, then carried them upstairs to the produce section. Mr. Hairston was proud of his produce. Fresh lettuce and carrots and spinach and such extras as parsnips and mushrooms, all of them in neat display at the rear of the store.
Henry worked at the store every day after school and on Saturday mornings. Until, that is, he broke his kneecap, tripping, then falling down the bottom steps of the three-decker just as school ended in June. A hairline fracture, the doctor said, nothing serious, but serious enough for a cast that enclosed his calf and knee. Mr. Hairston said he would keep his job open until his knee was healed.
"How will you bend over?" Henry had asked.
"I won't stock the lower shelves until you come back," Mr. Hairston said.
"Who'll sweep the floors and put up the potatoes?"
Mr. Hairston scowled and did not answer. He scowled most of the time, his expression as sour as the pickles in the wooden barrel near the cash register.
Henry didn't want to say what he said next. But had to say it. "Jackie Antonelli would be a good bender for you. He lives on my street. He's in my class at school."
He waited in dread for Mr. Hairston's answer. He didn't want Jackie Antonelli to take his job away from him. He had promised Jackie that he would ask, although he did not care particularly for Jackie, who liked to fight. His family was poor, Jackie said, and could use the money. But everybody in that section of Wickburg was poor and could use the money.
"Jackie would work hard," Henry said, hating himself for saying that, not knowing whether Jackie would work hard.
"Jackie Antonelli's a greaseball," Mr. Hairston said. "I don't want a greaseball working for me."
Henry was relieved but immediately filled with guilt because of that sense of relief. He was also angry at Mr. Hairston for calling Jackie a greaseball. Yet he was not entirely surprised at Mr. Hairston's remark about Italians.
Mr. Hairston's favorite pastime was standing at the window near the big brass cash register, watching people passing by on the street, and making comments about them.
"Look at him, Selsky. A kike. Charges too high for his goods. Always running a sale but jacking up the prices before the sale, then coming down a little. . . ."
"There goes Mrs. O'Brien. An Irisher. Nine kids. Spends most of her time in bed. But not sleeping." Then, a strange grunt, like a pig squealing, which, Henry learned, was the way Mr. Hairston laughed.
"Look at her, Mrs. Karminski. ... "
The boy saw Mrs. Karminski huffing and puffing as a small dog that looked like a windup toy pulled her along the sidewalk.
"Sloppy," Mr. Hairston said. "Too much rouge on. Pampers that dog. Pays good money for dog food. Leaves her house and lets her slip show. Dumb. A Polack."
"I think she's lonesome," Henry said, making an exception, because he usually didn't talk back to Mr. Hairston. "Her husband died last month." Just before Henry broke his kneecap. "I saw her crying yesterday when she was walking her dog. Her cheeks all wet . . ."
"A disgrace," Mr. Hairston said, "making a spectacle of herself, crying in public. She should cry at home. And him, her husband. Bad breath. When he came in here, his breath almost knocked me down."
They watched Mrs. Karminski being tugged around the corner by the small dog.
"What a world," Mr. Hairston said.
"Sad," Henry said, thinking of Mrs. Karminski and her husband with bad breath who was dead.
"Not sad, terrible," Mr. Hairston said. "The war is over, sure, but now the Bomb. Could kill us all, in a flash. Just as well maybe. Too many people in the world. Too many stupid people."
He was interrupted by the arrival of a customer, Mrs. Lumpke, who was never without her red hat, like an upside-down flowerpot, on her head. Henry was glad for her arrival. Most of the time Henry kept busy in the store and avoided Mr. Hairston's company and his remarks. Yet Henry was grateful to Mr. Hairston for having given him this job.
Henry had been new in the neighborhood when he was hired. His father had not worked since Eddie died. He had not gambled, either, and seldom left the tenement. His mother had found a job in the Miss Wickburg Diner downtown, but the pay was small and the tips did not amount to much. Henry had roamed the neighborhood, homesick for the people and streets of Frenchtown in Monument. His parents had not been able to stand Frenchtown since Eddie's death and they had moved here to Wickburg, a bigger city twenty miles away. They were lucky to find the third-floor tenement next to the crazy house, because war veterans were given first priority by landlords, and the new housing projects were strictly for veterans. Henry's father had not gone to war. Something wrong with his ear, a punctured eardrum, the doctors said. Which made him unable to stand the terrible noises of war. So they moved into the tenement next to the crazy house, which Jackie Antonelli thought was disgraceful although Jackie himself lived only three houses away.
Henry shrugged away Jackie's remark, just as he endured Mr. Hairston's comments. His big disappointment in the new neighborhood was that his parents showed no signs of recovering from Eddie's death. They had not left Eddie behind in Frenchtown, after all. He lurked everywhere in the tenement even though there were no pictures of him on display, and all his trophies remained in boxes on the closet shelf in Henry's bedroom. Eddie had won the trophies for his athletic exploits. He could run faster and leap higher than anyone else. He swung a bat with such authority that he thrilled the crowd even when he struck out. He was terrible in school, not like Henry who always made the honor roll and never got into trouble. Eddie wasn't a good student, hated to do homework, and often skipped. All this was forgiven, however, because everyone knew he was destined for greatness on the ball field. He would someday wear a Red Sox uniform and hit home-run balls over the big wall in left field at Fenway Park. He died instead, sprawled in the gutter of First Street in Frenchtown, his neck broken like a chicken bone snapped apart to make a wish. The car that had struck him sped away and was never seen again.

Under the Cover