Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bessie's Pillow Review

I've mentioned many times how important reading is in our home. The kids spend the majority of their school day reading as that is the foundation of our schooling. While they enjoy getting lost in a book on their own, they especially love when we all sit an read aloud together. We like all kinds of books--picture books with cute stories, fiction books with fun characters, fantasy books with exciting plots--but our favorite type to read together is biographies. They are the perfect way to learn about not just a person, but the time period in which they lived, customs, clothing, words, cultures, philosophies, history, geography, and so much more. Reading them together ensures that I am able to stop and expound on parts of the book more thoroughly or explain advanced words.

We recently finished one such book, Bessie's Pillow, published by Strong Learning Inc., a well-known tutoring company in the New York area. Bessie's Pillow is the story of Bessie Markman, a Jewish girl from Lithuania who immigrated to America to avoid persecution. The novel, which is written in first person, was based on a series of conversations with Bessie's daughter Ann and later related to her granddaughter, Linda Bess Silbert, who put the story on paper.

The story begins in 1906. Bessie, or Boshka as she was called then, was only 18 years old. Life was difficult in Lithuania for the Jews. Though her family was more fortunate than most, they still saw much pain and devastation. In order to escape the ever-growing persecution, she left her family and all that she loved for a new life in America. The journey alone was difficult--weeks of travel, loneliness, inspections, the unknown. Even her plans upon arrival were changed because of poor circumstances.

Hard work and determination payed off and eventually Bessie found her way. A pillow and a promise set the course of her life. She found love, experienced extreme loss, and overcame hardships. Bessie was a pioneer for women's rights and giving everyone a well-deserving chance at success. She was giving and fair and truly had compassion on people. Her legacy still has an impact on the world today.

Because Bessie's Pillow is based on true events, there are some topics in the book that are more mature than what you'd read in children's books. My kids are 11, 9, 7, and 5. As I said, I use this time of reading together for deeper explanation. Many of the difficult portions I was able to describe on the children's level. Give just enough information for them to understand, without overwhelming them. It was not an issue for us, but the book may be better suited for older kids, or at least it's something to be aware of with younger ones.

That being said, the book is easy to read. It truly feels as if you pulled up a chair and grabbed a cup of coffee and some cherry blintzes and listened to Bessie herself tell you the story of her life. We found ourselves rooting for her to succeed and felt sorrow when times were difficult. There were a couple extremely rough experiences in her life that brought me to tears. I was choked up and then read through the sobs. One of my little ones looked up at me and quietly said, "This is a sad book." And it is. But it's also a book of happiness and blessing. And any book that can make you feel that much emotion is very well written.

Though the book itself is filled with all sorts of learning opportunities--Jewish customs and words, history, customs, culture--there is such a deeper level of study that can take place through discovering Bessie's America. I am amazed at the amount of work that has been done to compile this resource.

  • You can learn about immigration and even look for your ancestors' names on the database for Ellis Island records.
  • You can study the history of things and places mentioned, like the fire of the sweatshop factory where Bessie started work. 
  • You can discuss the health of the period and how advancements in cleanliness and medicines are able to help fight of the diseases of the past. 
  • You can watch video clips of singing and dancing that was popular and learn more about the theater.
  • You can find recipes of foods that they ate and discover how they got their names.
Even the back of the book itself is filled with valuable information. Explanations and descriptions comprise 20 pages of text, while photographs of the family fill others, as well.

Bessie's Pillow was well-loved in our home. Bessie's story deserves to be told, and I can see us reading and enjoying this book again.   

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If you'd like to read more reviews of this book, please visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog. 

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1 comment:

  1. So glad that you and your family enjoyed my grandmother's story and learned much about the world she lived in through the book and Bessie's America. Hope you had a cup of coffee and cherry blintzes!

    Dr. Linda