Today I am sharing a book I received for review called Bessie's Pillow. It is a historical story about a young girl who travels to America for a better life to escape the persecution of the Jews in Glubokoye, Lithuania in the early 1900's. The author, Linda Bress Silbert, is the granddaughter of that young girl, she along with her husband own Strong Learning, Inc. a well known tutoring company and the publisher of this book.
With all that is happening in the United States right now with immagration, I thought this would be a fitting read to get a feel for what being an immigrant is really like. To see it from their perspective, and feel what they feel. Reading this book for myself helped me to do just that. I didn't give it to any of my children to read, but will save it for when they are a little older. I think this would be a great read for older children, and will probably ask my oldest (who is 15) if she would like to read it. I think she is old enough to understand some of the hard parts, like the reasons that Jews are trying to get out of Lithuania during that time, and she might also enjoy seeing life from the perspective of an 18 year old immigrant.
This beautiful story begins with Young Boshka at age 18 getting ready to board a train in Vilna, Lithuania. She is saying goodbye to her mother Mamaleh, her father Tateh, and her little brothers. Before she gets on the train she is stopped by a mother whose son is already in America, and wants to deliver a special pillow to him. Boshka takes the pillow in hopes that she can find the boy whom the pillow goes to. She makes the long journey to America, arrives, and starts learning how different things are as soon as she lands. She is immediately worried that she will not be accepted and sent back. She passes inspection, and receives a new name Elizabeth. But, then it changes again because her friend thinks she should have a more Jewish sounding name, so she becomes Bessie.
Bessie gets settled in America and decides to live with her friend Miriam, and Miriam's brother Lou. She finds work, first in a sweatshop down in the bad part of town where there are a lot of Jews who live in poverty and filth. She has that job for 2 days before she decides never again. She goes on to find better jobs. After much time she finally decides to find the boy whom she needs to deliver the pillow to, and the rest is history (I don't want to spoil any of the story!). Up until that point the pillow had been a great comfort to her during her journey to America, and the things she must face when she gets to America. She had pulled the pillow out often for comfort during her journey to America, and throughout the first year or so after she arrived. When she finds the owner of the pillow she starts a new adventure in America. She faces many trials still, but goes on to help others in big ways, and raises 4 children. I won't say who she marries because that might be a spoiler if you decide to read it, but she does marry, and she does become a widow while her children are all very young.
I found some great quotes throughout the book, but one that I want to share is how she feels after she first arrives, and is starting to learn about things. I can only imagine what it must be like to be in a new country with all new people, and ways. I imagine I'd feel the same way...
"I feel silly. It has never occurred to me that there are Europeans who came to America so long ago--I still have much to learn about this country, especially if I want to become a citizen." ~BessieNow, she says this after she meets a man whose ancestors are from Europe, but he himself has been in America his whole life, so English is his native language, but wants to learn German so he can communicate better with his customers. But, it is a feeling I think she felt very often. There were many new things for her to learn, including the English language, and she often found herself needing to learn new things and ways. I'm sure she felt "silly" pretty often.
I enjoyed this book very much. It was an easy read, with many twists and turns that I didn't expect. I would often start reading, and couldn't put it down because I just wanted to know what would happen next on Bessie's journey. It also inspired me to be a greater help to those around me. Bessie met and helped so many people in her lifetime. What a great legacy to leave behind.
As I was reading I also found myself wanting to find out more information about things that I didn't know about. There is a resource to find out more related to this book at this Bessie's America website. It also could be used as a study guide with all kinds of fun things to do relating to that time period. I didn't use it in that way because it was just me reading, but I did refer to it with my questions.
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