We love books around here, so I was happy to review Bessie’s Pillow with the Homeschool Review Crew. Published by Strong Learning, Inc., this book shares the journey of Boshka Markman, who immigrated alone to the United States from Lithuania when she was only 18.
I assigned this book to my high school freshman, Jayme. Since she still had her other assignments to focus on, I gave her three weeks to finish the book. It was plenty of time for her, and once she got hooked on the story line, she finished it in a couple of days.
She kept sharing parts of the story with me, which I enjoyed. I love listening to her read pieces of books that make her think, or catch her attention.
I asked Jayme to write a short review for me to share with my readers. Here are her thoughts:
A Freshman’s Review of Bessie’s Pillow
Bessie’s Pillow is definitely a sad book. It opens with young Bessie leaving her parents, her brothers, and everything she has ever known to go to America, and escape persecution.
Upon arrival in America, Bessie is terrified of nearly everything. But as she spends more time there, she begins to open up. Before you reach the middle of the book, Bessie is proposed to three times. The first was a kind man she met on the ship to America. She rejected him because their dreams were different. The second was her friend’s brother, who fell in love with her. The third man, Nathan, was a friend of the family Bessie delivered a pillow to.
Bessie accepts the third proposal. Within a chapter, it is revealed that they have two children, a son and a daughter. But shortly afterwards, both children die, and Bessie and her husband are filled with sorrow. Another long time skip takes place, and we find the family now with four children. But, happiness is not to stay, and Bessie’s husband dies an early death.
Bessie’s Pillow is filled with much sorrow, so if you are of the faint of heart, I would not recommend reading this book without several boxes of tissues.
Once she finished the story, we headed to the online extras that the publisher has made available, Bessie’s America. The younger kids enjoyed looking at the photo albums with us. There were photographs documenting Bessie’s journey to America, and the life she built once she arrived.
Photographs aren’t the only resource on the website. In the story, Bessie’s family enjoyed listening to the radio, and information about popular programs of the time were also shared. There were even links to episodes we could check out.
The website included a ton of information about the immigration process, life in America in the early 1900s, and more. The kids were enthralled by the photo of Baked Alaska, the flaming dessert.
The publisher has also made a teacher’s guide available, with discussion questions. Though this guide was written for a traditional school setting, it also works well for use in the homeschool. You can find the guide from the “For Teachers” section on the Discover Bessie’s America site.
The questions posed, and projects suggested span many critical thinking skills, and help extend the learning. Here are a few examples:
- How might the stories have been
different if they had been told in third person?
- What is the significance of the pillow? What do you think it represents?
- Why do you think Nathan and Bessie believed having the camera and photos was a curse?
- If you arrived in a strange city and didn’t speak the language, how do you think you
would feel? What would you do?
There are also plenty of research topics for more in-depth papers, and a timeline. If you wanted, you could build an entire unit study around this book, just by going through the resources provided.
My Thoughts on Bessie’s Pillow
This book is well written, and shares a true immigrant story. I like that the author is the granddaughter of Bessie. The love and strength of this family shines through the pages, even when difficulties arise.
I would not have my younger children read this book at this time. It’s definitely geared for middle and high school students, just because of the realities of immigrant life that it shares. But, we will be pulling this one back off the shelf again in a few years when the time is right!
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