My son and I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing the book Bessie's Pillow written by Linda Bress Silbert and published by Strong Learning, Inc. Bessie's Pillow is a true story based on the immigration and life journey in America of Linda's grandmother, "Boshka" Bessie Markman Dreizen.
In 1906, eighteen-year-old Boshka Markman leaves everything familiar and the family she holds dear, her Tateh (Father), Mamaleh (Mother), and four younger brothers behind in Glubokoye, Lithuania in a section where all of the Jews in that area are forced to live. Life for Jews in Lithuania is dangerous and unpredictable, which is why Boshka's father has saved money to send her to America where she can have a new life...a good life. Boshka rides aboard a train to Hamburg, Germany where she boards a steamship where she will be a first class passenger for the long journey to America.
Once in America, Boshka is given a more Americanized name: Bessie. Bessie's life journey will take her into the harsh working conditions of the factories and the tenements of the Lower East Side of New York City where living conditions were deplorable, overcrowded, and rampant with disease. Communicable diseases such as scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, and polio were real threats during the era in which Bessie lived. There were no vaccines against these diseases then. Bessie would see the first "horseless carriages" arrive and change the way travel occurred. Bessie would have loved ones fight during World War I and she would experience the Great Depression.
Events that our generations have only read about come to life through the pages of Bessie's Pillow. This book is an excellent read. Bessie is a dynamic character. She has spirit and perseveres through hardships with the grace of God. Her love for life and her family becomes evident as the story unfolds. It is a story that will capture you from the beginning and hold you captive until the end.
I would recommend this book to all readers ages twelve to adult. In fact, I've informed my mother that she needs to read it now that I have finished writing my review. It portrays a vivid and accurate portrait of immigration and Americanization during the early 1900's. Seeing the journey through Bessie's eyes opens a world of historic events of dates and people listed in text books and breathes life into them and helps students become invested in the outcome.
Bessie's Pillow can be utilized for Geography lessons as you find, research, and discuss the various towns and countries mentioned in the book, Language Arts lessons as you read and analyze the text and perhaps present a book report, and History (both World and American) with the various events that span decades. The last section of the book is filled with information about historical people and places that can also be used in your lessons.
The author and publishing house have also created additional resources to help facilitate the learning experience. One of these resources is a Teacher's Guide filled with instruction for use in Social Studies/History and Language Arts classes. The other is an interactive website filled with useful information and links to websites on people and events from Bessie's lifetime. The site is called Bessie's America and is filled with information on Presidents, Immigration, Transportation, the Tenements, the Statue of Liberty, Famous People, Communicable Diseases, Women's Suffrage, Children Workers and Poor Working Conditions, Panama Canal, Silent Films, and the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Most of you know that my son has a diagnosis of high-functioning Autism. For this reason, we read every book out loud together. This way, I am certain he is actually reading the entire book and that he understands what he is reading as he is not good at asking for assistance. One issue that children on the Autism Spectrum struggle with is perspective. What you and I perceive may not be the way my son perceives the same material. He is also very passionate about wrongs committed against others. For example, Bessie's Pillow talks about unfair working conditions, unfair treatment of different cultural and religious groups, and Woman's Suffrage. These are all issues that my son sees as unjust, and rightfully so. However, he cannot move past the unfairness to the next part of the book. His focus becomes the unfairness. Therefore, I have to paraphrase these sections so he knows there was injustice but not upset him to the point that he loses focus of the entire story. I've learned how to modify lessons over the years to meet my child's needs.
What elements of the story did my child enjoy? He liked the fact that she rode a steam engine (train). He liked that her husband bought a car like Lizzie from cars and he is rather certain it had a horn like the cars his great grandmother remembers from her childhood (she was born in 1925) and has told him about. He liked that God was mentioned in the book because God is very important. He also liked hearing about the various Jewish customs because our Aunt Ona is Jewish and he remembers celebrating a Jewish Seder with her. His favorite thing is that the book mentioned Teddy Roosevelt. Since Robin Williams portrayed Theodore Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum movies, he has liked our former President.
You can learn more about Bessie's Pillow and Strong Learning, Inc on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also learn more about Bessie's experience at Bessie's America.
Please take a moment to stop by the Homeschool Review Crew website to read additional reviews about Bessie's Pillow and see what my fellow Crew Members have to say.