I love history, I love biographies, and I enjoy reading historical fiction. We have been reading Bessie's Pillow during our read aloud time and it fits all three of those! A special thanks to Strong Learning, Inc. for giving us the opportunity to do a review for their book. Bessie's Pillow is classified as historical fiction, and is based on the true story of Bessie Markman Dreizen. It is written by Bessie's granddaughter, Linda Bress Silbert, who is also the owner of Strong Learning, Inc. I would recommend this book for middle/highschoolers and up, but in saying that I also read this to my 9 year old.
Boshka Markman is a Jew from Vilna, Lithuania. In 1906, at the age of 18, she is one of hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants who, with the help of her father and mother, leaves Europe alone to escape persecution by going to America. Boshka is a strong, independent woman in her time. Once in America, her name is changed to Bessie.
I cried as she said good-bye to her family (I remember those feelings), my daughter's ears perked up at the slightest hint of romance (typical teenage girl!), and my son enjoyed learning more about NYC. My kids enjoyed this book, and often requested that I read it to them (and it wasn't to get out of their schoolwork!). Just a little disclaimer, there were a few things (or words) that I skipped over as I could see them coming as I read, mostly so I didn't have to explain to my son. Nothing bad, just not for little ears.
Bessie's Pillow is written in first person, which makes me feel like she's sitting across the table from me telling me her story. She left her family and home and travelled first class by ship to America. She arrives at Ellis Island and it explains the sights of the time. We now have Ellis Island on our bucket list. I've always wanted to go there, but after reading Bessie's Pillow I really want to go there. What an amazing feeling it must have been to step off the boat on to Ellis Island with other immigrants and have that new sense of freedom. As an immigrant to Australia, I remember stepping off the plane. I remember my surroundings, the weather, and the feeling of exhaustion and excitement.
The book continues to talk about Bessie settling in to America and the many adventures that awaited her. I struggle with writing book reviews because I so badly want to tell you more, but then you'd have no reason to buy a copy for yourself! If you enjoy historical fiction, if you are interested in immigration, if you are fascinated with NYC, no matter the if, I think you'll enjoy this book!
Strong Learning, Inc. also has a page called Discover Bessie's America. I have enjoyed going through the links on this page and learning more about the history of the time period. You can find links for European Immigration, Food and Recipes, Movies, News, Radio, US Presidents, and more.
We were given a PDF copy of the book, but I plan to buy a hard copy to add to our library. With immigration being in the news on a daily basis these days, I'd encourage you to get a copy and read it together as a family. It may even encourage you to trace your own family history!
Watch the clip below for a little excerpt of the book.