Some of my favorite stories are ones that are based on true events. Bessie’s Pillow by Linda Bress Silbert is an immigrant story based on the author’s grandmother. I was given a copy of the book to review from the publisher, Strong Learning, Inc.
The story starts out in Vilna, Lithuania, 1906, with Bessie at the train station about to leave on her journey to America. She was only 18 years old and traveled alone. As a Jew, Bessie and her family were persecuted by the Russians. Her parents hoped that she would have a better life in America. Right before her train departs, Bessie is given a pillow embroidered with flowers and the Yiddish phrase: May this pillow bring you peace. The woman who gave her the pillow asked Bessie to give it to her son, Nathan Dreizen, who lives in New York. Bessie puts the pillow in her bag and begins her journey.
The process that Bessie went through in order to board the ship to America was interesting. All passengers had to be inspected for illness before they were allowed to board. Ms. Silbert described the ship and Bessie’s voyage in detail. When Bessie landed in America, she was taken to Ellis Island to be inspected yet again.
Bessie was a hard-working young woman who made her life in America among friends from her hometown of Glubokoye. It took her some time, but when she finally located Nathan Dreizen to give him the pillow from his mother, she found the love of her life.
The book chronicles Bessie’s life through her marriage, motherhood, two world wars, major tragedies in her life, and how she rose above all the hardships you could imagine to make a wonderful life in New Rochelle, New York. She had a keen business mind and a loving heart for others. One of the things I really enjoyed learning about was the Jewish community in the early 1900s. In order for family members and friends to connect, the Jews would create societies based on the immigrants’ hometowns. That was how Bessie was able to find out exactly where Nathan Dreizen lived.
I read this story aloud to my boys and we all enjoyed it. At the back of the book is additional information that is a great resource. The book’s website has even more information in a section called “Discover Bessie’s America”. We had so much fun looking at photos of Bessie’s family. There are also sections that are about European Immigration, who some famous people were during Bessie’s life, common food and recipes from the era, health information (health plays an important role in Bessie’s life), how the home was cared for at the time, popular movies, music and dances, important news (the Henry Ford documentary was really interesting), the U.S. presidents during Bessie’s life, and the most-listened-to radio shows. The resources include videos, websites, and audio clips. This section really brought the story into the context of history and would make a fantastic unit study for school.
I thoroughly enjoyed learning another piece of the immigrant story of our country and highly recommend Bessie’s Pillow. To read more reviews of this book, click the button below.