This is the story of a young Lithuanian immigrant by the name of Bessie Markham who came to America alone at the age of 18. The book was written by Linda Bress Silbert who is Bessie’s granddaughter. The stories captured in the book are based on the recorded conversations about Bessie’s life between Bessie and Linda’s mother (Bessie’s daughter) Ann.
Bessie’s Pillow begins in 1906 in the country of Lithuania in the years of Jewish persecution. It has become dangerous to live as a Jewish person in their home country so Bessie’s family has already arranged to send her older sister, Boshka, to America. Boshka writes home sharing great stories about her new life in the new country. Written in a style that reminds me a bit of a journal we follow Bessie as she travels to America to find a home, a new job, and a new life. We see her struggle with decisions and eventually fall in love.
Also near the heart of the story is life in early 1900’s New York. Bessie has a heart of compassion which leads her to work to help others. Throughout the story, you will experience Bessie’s heartbreaks and joy and she overcomes adversity and builds her life in in her new home. It is a story of perseverance and hope.
This was a book that each of my boys (ages 11 and 9) scoffed up and read on their own before I could even think about how I might use it as a read aloud which my six year old might have appreciated. Each of my boys took about 2-3 days to finish it off. I would probably recommend this for children with at least a middle school reading level. I picked it up later to read as well. It is a very absorbing story. After I read the book myself we were able to discuss some important topics in the book. I wondered what they thought of Bessie and her bravery leaving her country for a new home all on her own. I asked them what sort of circumstances they could ever imagine that might lead them to do the same. I love conversations that have us thinking in the shoes of someone else.
In the back of the book, there is some fantastic extra information that you can also find on author’s website at Bessie’s America. You’ll find details about things like what life at the time of Bessie’s story. We learn about different political events, radio shows, even the food she liked to eat. You can find discussion questions, ideas for further research, and more. We enjoyed referencing the discussion questions as we talked about the book together.
As a mom, I loved the story. I found it really inspirational. I love how she shares her faith and dependence on God. My boys are very big fans of reading historical stories about real people and real events. While they aren’t as sentimental about things as I am I do feel like the connected with Bessie and were empathetic with her struggles. They certainly rejoiced with her successes.
The website also includes a For Teachers section. You’ll find a Teacher’s Guide specifically for helping you lead groups through the book. They include things like character analyses, history topics, themes and more. I appreciate the book recommendations about immigration.
We definitely enjoyed this book and would certainly recommend to you to add to your list of books for your children to read and study, especially if you are studying immigration or the early 1900’s. You can learn more about the book Bessie’s Pillow on its website, Facebook, or Twitter.