What would immigrating to America in 1906 be like? What if you were only 18 years old, female, and came by boat from Lithuania? What if you were in a life and death escape of persecution because you were born a Jew? I was thrilled to receive Bessie’s Pillow published by Strong Learning, Inc. and follow the journey of Bessie.
This book is the life story of Boshka Markman who’s name was changed to Elizabeth (Bessie) when she immigrated to the USA in 1906. She overcame tremendous obstacles and struggles. Along the journey she showed kindness, determination, wit, and she successfully made the transition in a new culture and a new life.
Bessie is a survivor and makes her own way in America. Most women of the day were still in their “approved” roles, submissive to cultural norms, and did what they were told. But Bessie showed an inner strength and resilience mixed in with her own independence that allowed her to survive on her own and make her own way. She was business minded and knew how to work a deal and worked her way towards her goals. She rejected many of the cultural norms of the day, including opinions from family and the Rabbi, and finds her own way.
Before leaving Lithuania, a woman gave her a hand made pillow and asked her to find her son and give it to him. He had also immigrated to America some time earlier. Bessie wasn’t sure how she would find this person, but she enjoyed the comfort of the pillow on her journey. She eventually does find the young man, Nathan Dreizen and they fall in love and get married. They work hard, build a business, buy a home, and establish their own family in America. When her husband dies, she has to learn how to cope on her own and earn money to care for the family so she takes over her husband’s business, a role that is typically only reserved for males in society. She also becomes a mortgage lender for family and friends to help them get a start in buying a home and reaching their goals too.
Though the book is written as historical fiction, Bessie is a real person and most of the information in the book really happened to her. The book covers her life between the years of about 1904 to 1936. The books is written on a reading level for older students and adults, though younger students will enjoy it too.
We loved reading this story! The experiences shared are realistic and were actually experienced by many immigrants when they left their home country and came to America at this time in history. Bessie faced huge obstacles being a young Jewish woman, that she had to overcome at this time in history. Bessie’s Pillow will keep you on the edge of your seat as you experience the ups and downs and tragedies and successes right along with this amazing young woman. My son loves reading and he enjoyed reading about Bessie’s journey and gives the book two thumbs up.
Video about Bessie:
Bessie’s America is a wonderful FREE online Unit Study Guide full of links to cross curricular resources that go along with Bessie’s Pillow. This guide was created especially for middle and high school age students but can be used by the whole family for discussions and to further the learning in American history and cultural heritage, etc, and gives a lot of additional background. Bessie’s America is an interactive, multi-media guide for use by Teachers, Parents, and Students. The links and resources are helpful for students to do additional research.
There are additional study questions, and learning projects in Bessie’s Pillow Teacher Guide.
These additional resources will assist students in exploration of the cultural background, various musicals and theater, movies, radio, immigration, the Progressive Era, events, diseases, food and recipes, places, famous people and life events that Bessie and her family experienced.
Author Linda Bress Silbert:
The book is written by Bessie’s granddaughter, Linda Bress Silbert as told to her by her mother. Her mother asked her for many years to write the book. Linda has included some family photos at the back of the book that show several aspects of her Grandmother’s life. She has also included many additional cultural and historical events in the back of the book to further the learning of the reader.
In addition to writing this wonderful historical fiction novel about her grandmother Bessie, Linda and her husband are also the owners of the StrongLearning.com publishing and tutoring company.
They have written over 40+ children’s books, plus additional books for parents and teachers. They have sold over a million copies of their books over the years. They have also dedicated over 40 years to improving the lives and educational opportunities of children and provide a lot of great resources on their website.
Full Video is available about the process of how Bessie’s Pillow was written and came together. Linda tells a very interesting and humorous way she gathered the stories of her grandmother and put the book together. She says the book is 95% actual events of her grandmother’s life, and about 5% of the book comes from research she did about that time period in history.
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Homeschool Review Crew
Be sure to check out what other Homeschool Reveiew Crew had to say about using this book with their families.