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This post, Love Biographies? Bessie’s Pillow is a Young Immigrant’s Story, was made possible with a copy of Bessie’s Pillow from Strong Learning, Inc. for review as part of the Homeschool Review Crew.
Do you enjoy reading historical fiction? Is learning about people of the past something you look forward to doing?
At first, my older boys thought this genre of literature would be dry and boring. Yet, after some gentle prodding, they have come to enjoy these stories more than they imagined.
Personally, I love to learn more about the people who have come before us. That is why I was excited to start using Bessie’s Pillow as a read aloud selection in our home.
Love Biographies? Bessie’s Pillow is a Young Immigrant’s Story
They have spent over 40 years in the pursuit of helping parents and teachers guide young minds, particularly when it comes to critical thinking skills. From tutoring to books and TV appearances, the Silbert’s are advocates of children and the learning process.
About Bessie’s Pillow
Now, Linda Bress Silbert is an author again in a different area, that of historical fiction. In Bessie’s Pillow, she shares the story of her grandmother’s immigration to America. Bessie is not her grandmother’s given name, but rather the American name she was given upon entering the country at Ellis Island.
Bessie is not her grandmother’s given name, but rather the American name she was given upon entering the country at Ellis Island. Many immigrants had the same experience. So, the woman who was given the name Boshka Markman at birth becomes Elizabeth (Bessie) Markman when she arrives in New York.
Bessie travels from an area known as the Pale where Jews are persecuted. Her family sends her with the hopes of a better life in America. And, she plans to earn enough money to bring her younger brothers over to America rather than see them conscripted into the Russian army where they will most likely perish. While waiting for the train to take her to Germany where she will board the boat to America, Bessie is asked by another resident of the Pale to deliver a pillow to the woman’s son.
Shortly upon her arrival in America, Bessie discovers that the streets are not lined with gold and not everyone has a better life. She is fortunate to have a close friend from home who is settled and has a brother who is living the American dream. Yet, she finds herself clinging to the pillow she promised to deliver as a source of comfort in this foreign land. Eventually (as in more than a year later!), Bessie works up the courage to find the woman’s son and make good on her promise.
I won’t tell you more of the story as I truly believe it is a great one for all to read. And, I know that I don’t like spoilers!
Our Thoughts on Bessie’s Pillow
Within the first few pages, our attention was captured. At first, I was the one with the greatest interest. But, soon my youngest son was enamored. He started to wonder what would happen next to Bessie.
I found myself wishing I had it on Kindle so the device could read to us as reading aloud more than a chapter or two at a time had me tired of talking. Reading to myself to see how the story progressed would allow for a faster pace than reading aloud permitted. However, I found that this really is a great title to read aloud so all of my boys (grades 1, 8 and 11) could work through it together.
While we had focused strictly on reading the book as a story, I found that it was not so simple as to just read and let minds wander. Rather, there is so much history built into the story. So, we have paused here and there for me to explain something or for us to look up thing.
From this title, you can launch into so many discussions. As Catholics, there are some aspects of the Jewish faith which have come into ours. Yet, there are things that are unknown to my younger boys. So, we took the time to discuss those. Beyond the difference in faith, there is so much about that time period which seems strange. Trolleys for transportation, areas of the city where horse excrement lines the streets, and stores that are dedicated to a very particular product (e.g. ladies hats) are a few examples.
Additional Resources for Bessie’s Pillow
Dr. Silbert provides a wonderful website for Bessie’s Pillow. While there are several historical documents and images in the back of the book, the website offers more. This includes links to help you with exploring the history of the time. You can find these materials starting on the page titled Bessie’s America.
If that web page and your imagination are not enough, Dr. Silbert does provide a Teachers guide with discussion questions and project ideas.
If your experience is like ours, this story can be a source of inspiration to dig deeper into your own family history. For those living in the United States, immigration is part of our family history. There is at least one ancestor (or more likely many!) who traveled to this country from another. Sadly, some of the stories might be lost forever as many families sought to lose their previous identity in favor of becoming fully American.
I plan to have my boys take time to not just chat with grandparents about their day, but rather dig a little deeper and start our own recording of family history. Who knows where that path might lead?
Have you used biographies as part of your approach to history?
Do you or your children enjoy reading of people who came before us?
Don’t just take my word for how we found this to be. Visit Strong Learning, Inc. Reviews on the Homeschool Review Crew website to see what other homeschooling parents thought about this book.