Does your family have an immigration story? When you were little did your Grandparents tell you stories about their Grandparents? While my family’s immigration story happened long before Ellis Island, Arlene and I were still intrigued to read Bessie’s Pillow, a story written by Linda Bress Silbert about her Grandmother’s Immigration to America in 1906 from Lithuania.
Bessie’s Pillow tells the story of Boshka “Bessie” Markham and her life in New York state from the time of her immigration in 1906 through 1936. This unique story published by Strong Learning, Inc. tells not only Bessie’s family story, but also offers a detailed look into what life was like for a variety of immigrants, both rich and poor, during and after the days when Ellis Island was used as the stopping point for immigrants who traveled to the US from Europe.
Arlene (16) and I both thoroughly enjoyed this heartfelt, in depth look at what life was like in the early 1900’s in New York State. First up: Arlene’s review, then I’ll be back with my own thoughts. :)
I really liked Bessie’s Pillow, it was an interesting story about a brave young girl who took the opportunity to travel to America to make a better life for herself. As she leaves her home she is given a pillow and the woman asks her to deliver it to her son who lives in New York. The story follows Bessie and the pillow from Europe to New York City where after a few adventures she ends up living with her friend Miriam and Miriam’s brother Lou. The story follows her though her life from her first job in America to another new job. It tells of her life until she finally delivers the pillow and what happens because of it. It shows her marriage and the birth of her first children and continues until her second round of children are all grown up. Bessie goes through many trials in her life from deaths in her family to having to learn to run a business to living through the first World War and the Great Depression. The story shows her love of her family and her perseverance to always see things through and succeed in a new world where she is both a Jewish immigrant and a woman. It also shows her kind and loving attitude to those who are beginning new lives for themselves and their families in America. As Bessie gets older and has a stable life she is always being kind and giving loans to those who need them.
The story of Bessie's Pillow brought to mind many of the stories I had heard from both of my Grandmothers while I was growing up. It encouraged me to get out my own family tree and look at those names which had immigration dates listed beside them. One of the unique things I found with the book Bessie's Pillow is the companion website: Bessie's America which expands upon the information found in the back of the book. In the back of Bessie's Pillow there are about 20 pages of information explaining more about various topics covered in Bessie's story. There are also several pages of family pictures to peruse. The expanded coverage on the website gives links to finding out about European Immigration, food, movies, music, the Presidents, and much more. It also encourages you to search the Ellis Island database for your own family's connections.
What I cherished most about reading the story of Boshka "Bessie" was the raw honesty of the conditions Bessie and others endured, both in their homelands in Europe, and in America. Reading about the Pogroms in Russian Lithuania and how hard Bessie's family worked to keep her and her siblings safe was both scary and reassuring. Knowing that there have always been parents who gave and sacrificed for their children gave me a nudge to do better at this myself. Since Bessie was Jewish, and chose to stick to Kosher foods, even as a First Class passenger on her ship crossing the Ocean she ate fish three times a day ~ because that was what was available. She also endured some unusual "advice" from the older ladies on her trip. Overall, this would make a great family read-aloud, however, because of the nature of some of that raw honesty, I would caution letting anyone under 14 read it by themselves. As a family book, you can skim over those areas, or provide an age appropriate summary.
As readers, we live Bessie's life, the highs and lows, the triumph, and the heartaches. Bessie's Pillow is Historical Fiction book at its finest, because it is mostly historic, with just a touch of fictional detail fill-in to round it out. It was written based upon conversations between Linda Silbert's Mother and her Grandmother Bessie. What a wonderful testimony to the legacy of Linda's Grandmother. It makes me want to tell those stories I heard from my Grandmothers to our daughters, so they can one day be passed down again. This was a wonderful book to read, and I highly recommend you get your own copy ~ you will be glad you did!
To read other Crew Reviews of Bessie's Pillow, just click the banner below!