Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

We the People: Ellis Island

We the People: Ellis Island

Lucia Raatma
For ages 8 to 10
Compass Point Books, 2002   ISBN: 978-0756503024

The immigration center on Ellis Island was created in the late 1800’s to meet the ever increasing need to have a building to process the large volumes of immigrants who were coming through New York City. The doors of the building opened on January 1st, 1892 and the building remained in operation until 1954. In all twelve million immigrants had gone through its doors.

Why did so many people come to America? For many reasons; many of the immigrants were fleeing poverty, war, oppression, persecution, disease, or starvation. Many had heard that there were jobs to be had in America and that their children would get a free education in this wonderful country were people were free to speak their own mind and be their own person. Many had heard that there was lots of land available for those who were willing to homestead it.

So they came, bringing very little with them and often traveling in steerage class. The journey was awful and by the time they got to Ellis Island, many of them were sick, worn out and eager to get their feet on firm land. But first they had to get through various inspections.

Ferries took them to the Island where they had to stand in long lines for many hours. Then there was a health inspection and intelligence tests. Those who failed these tests because they had a serious disease were sent back to the place that they came from. Those who had treatable diseases were sent to a hospital on the island for treatment.

Next the immigrants had to answer some questions. They had to give their name, their marital status, the number of children that they had, their financial situation, their work status, and they had to tell the official if they had a family member in the United States. The point of the questions was to see if the immigrant would be able to manage on their own or if they would become a burden to the state.

After, and if the officials were satisfied, the immigrants were allowed to enter the United States. It had been a grueling four or five hours, but they were now free to begin a new chapter in their lives.

In this excellent title in the “We the People” series, Lucia Raatma tells a very important story, a story which touches a large number of Americans today because after all, many of us must have had a family member who came through Ellis Island at some point in its long history.

Carefully written and with plenty of annotated illustrations and period photographs, this book provides readers with an excellent overview of the history Ellis Island and its impact on the lives countless people who came to America through that famous New York institution.