I have always been an avid reader, and my Dad was quite a history lover who taught me a lot about history. As a result, I was thrilled to be chosen as one of the lucky reviewers to receive a copy of Bessie’s Pillow, a book written about a very brave eighteen year old young woman who emigrated to the United States in 1906.
Linda Bress Silbert and her husband Al are the owners of Strong Learning, Inc. which is a well known tutoring company in the New York area. They have authored a number of educational games and books. Bessie’s Pillow though, is Linda Bress Silbert’s first novel.
Written by Linda Bress Silbert, Bessie’s granddaughter, this book is a fascinating read, particularly during this present time in our history when there are so many divisions around the topic of immigration.
While Bessie’s Pillow IS a novel, it is based upon the true life of Linda Bress Silbert’s grandmother Bessie, who started out as Boshka Markman. It is also written in the first person, from Bessie’s point of view and in her voice, which made it that much more real to me. Like so very many who emigrated here during that time, officials changed her name to Elizabeth. She chooses to go by Bessie, as it sounds more Jewish.
Bessie is an Orthodox Jew from Lithuania, and her parents send her off to America to escape the pograms and murder where they live. It was very brave of her, as she would never see them again.
Bessie was fortunate that her parents were able to sacrifice and send her first class on the ship. They were very afraid of having her go in steerage, and given her descriptions of what she saw, I feel that she might have never made it otherwise, regardless of the fact that she was a very strong young woman.
When Bessie is leaving on the train to go to the ship, she is given a special pillow by a lady and asked to please bring it to the lady’s son, already in America, if Bessie can find him. The pillow does play a big part in Bessie’s story, even during the time before she goes looking for it’s owner. It becomes a source of comfort for her, I think.
Reading this account of Bessie’s life, you will learn so much about the history of the time, about the differences in immigration procedures (for example, before even getting on the ship, Bessie had to be physically examined for illness, etc, and the immigrants had to be stripped, totally cleaned, clothing cleaned, etc.) Then, as mentioned above, if one’s name was too foreign sounding, then the officials on Ellis Island changed their names!
Once she arrives here, Bessie’s story chronicles her life through 1936, as she begins to find her footing, is rejected by those she thought would be there for her, goes out on her own to make her way. She finds work, good work, eventually, and goes on to be the strong woman we could see that she would be. We see her build her life and family for many years, and helping others in many ways.
There are numerous online resources which will aid you in making this book into an actual unit study. Here, there are a number of links to things such as:
There is also a pdf Teachers guide to help you.
This is a greatly enjoyable book, even more so because it is a true story!
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