Immigrant Stories: Ellis Island

Whether escaping hunger in Ireland and Sweden or the persecution of Jews in Lithunia and Russia, the immigrants depicted in these stories offer a glimpse of Ellis Island's critical role as a gateway for millions of immigrants. Sometimes joyful, sometimes nerve-wracking, these stories told by people of all ages will enhance classroom units on immigration and the history of Ellis Island, especially since many are based on the authors' family histories and include historic photographs.

A Picnic in October

Illustrated by: Nancy Carpenter
Age Level: 6-9

Tony is not looking forward to his family's annual picnic at Liberty Island in October. Nevertheless, his grandmother insists that they maintain the tradition of celebrating her birthday with Lady Liberty. At first it doesn't seem like much fun — until Tony finally begins to understand why the Statue of Liberty means so much to his grandmother. Lovely colorful acrylic paintings bring this special tribute to life.

An Ellis Island Christmas

Illustrated by: Dennis Nolan
Age Level: 9-12

When Krysia is six, her family leaves Poland for America. The journey is difficult, as is the arrival at Ellis Island when the family is separated. While the family waits for Papa, Krysia sits down by the Christmas Tree of the Great Hall at Ellis Island and watches as other fellow travelers begin to sing and dance. The mood is festive, but Krysia begins to worry — will Papa ever return? Cultural details from Polish customs passed down through the author's family enhance the touching story of one family's Ellis Island experience.

Annushka's Voyage

Illustrated by: Lydia Dabcovich
Age Level: 6-9

"Narrated by elder sister Annushka, the story tells of two Russian girls who leave their native home and their beloved grandparents to begin a new life in New York with their father. Their parting from their relatives is wrenching, yet their future is full of possibility…An afterword includes an antique photograph of the real sisters, the author's mother and aunt, along with a historical note regarding the persecution of Jews in Russia during the late 1800s." — School Library Journal

Coming to America: The Story of Immigration

Illustrated by: Susannah Ryan
Age Level: 6-9

Betsy Maestro takes readers through America's rich and complex history of immigration, highlighting the ways that each wave of immigrants helped America become the nation it is today. Maestro's inclusion of Native Americans and African slaves underscores her thoughtful and sensitive approach, which she masterfully conveys through her accessible writing. Readers will pore over Susannah Ryan's detailed and playful illustration spreads depicting immigrants of all backgrounds sharing activities here in America together.

Dreaming of America: An Ellis Island Story

Illustrated by: Ben F. Stahl
Age Level: 6-9

Eve Bunting tells the inspiring true story of the first Ellis Island immigrant, fifteen-year-old Annie Moore of Cork, Ireland. An afterword provides information about Annie and her family. Photos are paired with the vibrant illustrations.

Ellis Island: Coming to the Land of Liberty

Age Level: 9-12

Raymond Bial begins his introduction to Ellis Island with the question, "What are visitors hoping to find on this small island?" Filled with historic and modern photos of the Island, immigrants, and their belongings, Bial thoughtfully answers this question with extensive information about Ellis Island and the immigrants who passed through its gates. Quotes from immigrants about their journey, arrival, medical exams, and occasional detention add a personal touch. Difficult topics such as genocide, epidemics, and grueling medical exams are included.

In America

Age Level: 6-9

Many years ago, Walter's grandfather left Lithuania and his brother Herschel to come to America. It was a difficult decision, he explains to Walter, but one that he felt he had to make as a Jew. Walter's questions allow his grandfather to share the story of that decision and his journey — as well as the wonderful ways he and Herschel keep in touch after so many years. Snapshots painted in watercolor lend a feeling of looking a family album, bridging the traditions of the old country with opportunities of the new. Out of print but used or library copies may be available.

Journey to Ellis Island

Illustrated by: Laurie McGaw
Age Level: 9-12

Product Descriptoin: "After fleeing war-torn Russia and trekking across Europe, determined to make a new life for themselves in America, in Sept. 1922, 11-year-old Yehuda Weinstein, his mother, & his younger sister boarded the S.S. Rotterdam, bound for the U.S.…What happens to Yehuda and his family on Ellis Island is both a touching story & an illuminating account of the immigrant experience. Illuminated with beautifully evocative paintings, family photos, period postcards, and sepia prints."

My America: Hope in My Heart

Age Level: 9-12

Meet Sofia, a feisty 9-year-old who has left Italy and her precious tomatoes behind for a new life in America. Despite a grueling journey, all goes according to plan — until she is detained at Ellis Island. This chapter book from the "My America" series offers an unusual look at the experience of detained immigrants from a young girl's point of view.

Soon, Annala

Illustrated by: Julie Downing
Age Level: 6-9

Annala lives with her family in New York — everyone, that is, except for her two little brothers. She misses them terribly, but whenever she asks her parents when they will come, they can only respond, "Soon, Annala." Annala can't help wonder, however, if that day will ever arrive. A touching depiction of the separation that so many immigrant families endure in search of a better life. Out of print but may be available in libraries.

The Long Way to a New Land

Age Level: 3-6

Carl Erik's father isn't sure what to do when the rain won't come, the crops won't grow, and the cows won't give milk. When a letter comes from Uncle Axel in America, he and Mamma decide to leave Sweden behind and start a new life. Written as an I-Can-Read-Book (Level 3), the story conveys the emotion, hardship, and excitement of emigrating to America during Sweden's "hunger years" in 1868-9.

The Memory Coat

Illustrated by: Michael Dooling
Age Level: 6-9

Meet Rachel and her cousin, Grisha, two Jewish children living in a small town in Russia. When soldiers begin to attack their town, the family decides that they must set sail for America and their grandmother offers Grisha a new coat instead of his old, tattered coat so that the family will make a good impression at Ellis Island. Grisha insists, however, on keeping the coat that is so special to him — a decision that ultimately helps keep the family together in America.

Watch the Stars Come Out

Illustrated by: Diane Goode
Age Level: 6-9

Every once in awhile, Grandma shares the story of her mother's journey to America as a young girl. Grandma doesn't leave anything out, from the moment her mother boards the ship with her older brother to the moment the children are reunited with their parents. Levinson offers a touching portrayal of the immigrant experience that children will relate to, complemented by Goode's detailed and often humorous illustrations. This book is featured in Reading Rainbow episode #29 about immigration.