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Bessie's Pillow Review by Erica BeyeaLinda Bress Silbert
My Immigration Story
Linda Bress Silbert & Alvin J. Silbert
Strong Learning Publications
Taking the reader on a journey through the life of Bessie Markman Dreizen, a young Jewish immigrant from Lithuania at the beginning of the twentieth century, the book Bessie’s Pillow is a 280-page paperback book based on a true story. The author, Linda Bress Silbert, is the granddaughter of Bessie, the main character, and the stories are mostly all firsthand accounts as told by Bessie herself to her daughter Ann, Linda’s mother.
Middle School and high school students will enjoy reading this first person account of an immigrant coming to America and making their way in a strange new country. The book is interesting and very well written. We found that once started, we could barely put it down. It allows the reader to live the life of an immigrant and ‘see’ the journey through their eyes – the pain of leaving family behind in the old country, and the challenges of starting a new life in America, learning the language and culture.
Reading this story allowed us to ‘meet’ Bessie and attach an actual face and life to a specific Ellis Island immigrant. Throughout the story, we watched her grow from a girl on the cusp of adulthood to a capable woman. Even while giving plenty of life’s details, the book is able to progress rapidly through Bessie’s entire life story. A chapter at the end gives an ‘afterword’ which sums up the family details. One thing we really enjoyed about this story was the way the authors were able to express such a vivid picture of the hardships of life both in the old country, during the journey, and in their new American home, without being too graphic or unsavory.
Both my teenage daughters and I enjoyed this book tremendously, and it left us wishing that we could meet this amazing family. We are so glad that Linda chose to share her family’s heritage as a living history, educating readers on the pioneer spirit that built America. This book meant even more to us because we knew it was about real people, and not fictional characters. We even enjoyed perusing the collection of family photos.
As an educational endeavor, the Silberts have also written My Immigration Story, a workbook which allows children to ‘interview’ their own family members and record their personal history. There is also an opportunity to share those stories on the Publication website. My Immigration Story has side-by-side Spanish and English translations, with 30 pages of questions to capture the thoughts and experiences of an immigrant’s journey and new life in America. Another educational bonus is the extensive list of resources at the end of Bessie’s Pillow. This resource chapter is like a living bibliography that could extend the story into a full unity study on early American immigration.
Currently, Bessie’s Pillow sells for $15.00 on the website, and My Immigration Story sells for $10. There is also a Spanish version of Bessie’s Pillow available. This book would make an excellent addition to a literature-based curriculum or a study on immigration and early American history.
-Product review by Erica Beyea, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, December, 2016