Friday, April 17, 2009

Ellis Island Family History Day

By official proclamation of our nation's governors, Apr 17 has been designated as "Ellis Island Family History Day." Sponsored by The Statue of Liberty - Ellis Island Foundation, Inc, and the National Genealogical Society, this annual day recognizes the achievements and contributions made to America by Ellis Island immigrants and their descendants. Historically, Apr 17 marks the day in 1907 when more immigrants were processed through the island than on any other day in its colorful history: 11,747 people.
3 reviews for today, all picture books, 2 fiction, 1 non-fiction!

Bial, Raymond.
Ellis Island: Coming to the Land of Liberty.
April 20, 2009.
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

I just got this in the mail yesterday and I was so excited to see it! I had ordered it off a checklist in the hopes of being able to use it for this post and was starting to feel disappointed that it hadn't come in time... however, the UPS man surprised me!!! And even though it isn't being released for another three days, why not pre-order from Amazon by clicking on the image and add it to your classroom's history library, or just add it to your family library, as so many of our relatives, back through time have immigrated to the United States from other countries and used Ellis Island as a port of entry!!!

History has never been one of my favorite subjects to study, but there's something about immigration and Ellis Island that has always caught my eye. I've been dying to teach a unit on Ellis Island to say, a group of fourth or fifth graders, but haven't yet had the chance. This book, along with several other resources that I've found and saved over time is definitely going to be a part of that unit someday (hopefully in the near future). The text itself is written at the upper-elementary/middle school level, but with a creative teacher (or parent) any child will find much joy in the information that they can discover from this book.

Not only is the history of Ellis Island explained in much detail, almost any question that a child may have can be answered to some extent through this book. From the inspections that immigrants faced to the artifacts they brought with them on the journey, nothing is left out! Every page is littered (in a good way!) with photographs that depict life in the early 1900's as many of these journeys were taking place... photos of detained immigrants, immigrants searching for lost baggage, immigrant children enjoying playgrounds in front of the New York City skyline, a boy's pair of shoes, piles of suitcases and trunks.

I can honestly say I have never enjoyed a non-fiction history text so much!

Tarbescu, Edith.
Annushka's Voyage.
Clarion Books.
Guided Reading Level: N

This story depicts quite simply the experiences of two young girls as they embark on the journey from Russia to Ellis Island in hopes of reuniting with their father, who more than a year earlier departed Russia after the death of his wife in hopes of finding "The Golden Land" and making a better life for his family. As money was sparse, he left his two daughters, Anya and Tanya behind with grandparents, promising to send for them as soon as he had saved up enough money for the steamship tickets.

The journey made by Anya (a.k.a. Annushka to her grandfather) and Tanya does not show any glory in the travel, as is shouldn't have! Children will accurately see that children (in many cases, the same age as themselves) made the journey to a new land themselves. They will see the cramped living quarters and poor conditions faced by immigrants who were seeking a new way of life. While only mentioning briefly some of the fears Anya and Tanya were facing, it does make some mention of them, and I think this is important if children are going to connect personally with the text in any way.

Overall, I'd say this book would be perfect as a complement to a unit on Immigration and Ellis Island, as a whole-group read aloud or as a book for use in guided reading groups!

Leighton, Maxinne Rhea.
An Ellis Island Christmas.
Guided Reading Level: O

Krysia, a six-year old immigrant from Poland faces many of the same experiences on her journey to Ellis Island that Anya faced with her sister Tanya. Papa left Poland to find a new home for his family - away from the military uproar and soldiers that they faced in their village in Poland on a daily basis (just one of many reasons that families left their countries and immigrated to America in the late 1800's to early 1900's).

On the journey Krysia, Tomek and Josef (her two older brothers) and their Mama deal with cramped sleeping quarters; cold, salty soup for meals; sea sickness; and anxiety about their new lives as they travel aboard the steamship headed to Ellis Island. Once arriving, they must face the medical tests and wait in long lines before finally being reunited with love ones (in Krysia's case, her Papa) and setting forth in their new life in America.

This book does a great job of showing the emotions young children faced as they left behind everything familiar to them (taking only one toy, one book, a blanket, a pair of shoes and some clothes) and embark on an unknown journey. Leighton also does a great job in showing explaining just one of the many reasons that families were immigrating to America during this time period. Like Annushka's Voyage, this book would make a wonderful addition to a library collection to share during a unit on Immigration and Ellis Island, either as a classroom/family read aloud, guided reading book or even just as part of the browsing/free reading library.

Lesson Plans/Reading Activities:
If you're interested in finding out more information about any of the books reviewed or if you'd like to purchase the books, click the cover image for a link to