Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

At Ellis Island: A History in Many voices

At Ellis Island: A History in Many voices

Louise Peacock
Illustrator:  Walter Lyon Krudop 
Picture Book
For ages 7 to 10
Simon and Schuster, 2007   ISBN: 978-0689830266

Sera Assidian has left the only home she has ever known to come to America. Her father is in New York City waiting for while Sera is making the long journey from Armenia alone. She had to leave her homeland because her people were being attacked and killed by the Turks. She had to leave or be killed herself.

Being only ten years old and never having gone on such a journey before, Sera is often frightened by what she sees and experiences. She is having to travel steerage class which is horribly uncomfortable. The food is terrible and when a storm hits Sera is afraid that the ship will sink. Indeed another ship does sink and the survivors are picked up when the storm is over.

When they arrive in America Sera’s ordeal is far from over for now she must pass a number of inspections on Ellis Island. She is given a health inspection and then she is questioned about her age and her family. Sera finds out that she will not be allowed to leave Ellis Island until her father comes to collect her.

Sera waits and waits for her father but he does not come. Then the authorities decide that they have waited long enough and they prepare to send Sera back home. Don’t they realize that if they send Sera back she will be killed?

In this incredibly moving, carefully researched, and beautifully presented book the author not only tells Sera’s story but she also tells the story of a modern day child who visits Ellis Island for the first time. This child’s grandmother’s grandmother came through Ellis Island and she feels a strong connection with the place. As she imagines what her grandmother went through all those years ago she describes what she sees as she walks through the restored buildings of the Ellis Island National Monument.

Then there are the first hand accounts, the voices, of children who came through Ellis Island all those years ago. We hear from Sonya, Theodore, Jake, Esther and others who traveled alone or with their families and who were often fleeing horrible situations in their former homelands. All of these young people were hoping for a better life in America.

The combination of these three threads makes this a very powerful book, and the photographs and illustrations that accompany the words only add to its considerable impact and visual appeal.