Books for Kids About Ellis Island

Ellis Island was a large part of the immigrant experience in America for over fifty years. It opened in 1892 and closed in 1954, and during those years millions of people from around the world came to America, landing first on Ellis Island, in hopes of achieving the American Dream. Sadly, not all those who arrived on the Island were able to go to the mainland. They have instead turned away and sent back, for several reasons, among them illness and an inability to care for themselves. Unlike the fortunate millions who were passed through, these travelers could only look out the window, viewing the landscape of the country to which they would not be admitted. Many people don't realize all that immigrants went through to get to America, nor do they know the full story of Ellis Island. These books can help you teach your children about Ellis Island and the sacrifices people made to get there and then to a new life in America.

When Jessie was just thirteen years old, she was given a ticket to America - "the promised land." Her rabbi had been left the ticket by his recently deceased brother, but since he didn't feel he should leave his people in the Eastern European village where they lived, he gave the ticket to young Jessi. Because there was only one ticket, Jessi would have to go by herself, leaving behind her grandmother, with whom she lived.

The book tells the tale of Jessi's voyage across the sea to Ellis Island, her friendship with Lou, a young shoemaker, also traveling to America, and Jessi's hard work in America. Lou helps her cope with the struggles on the ship, and we learn that Jessi works hard as a dressmaker, a skill she had learned from her grandmother. After three years of hard work, Jessi was able to save enough money to buy a ticket to America for her grandmother. It is a wonderful story of hope, strength, determination, and love.

Ages 6 to 9

This book tells the story of Annie Moore, the first immigrant to go through Ellis Island on her way to America from Cork, Ireland. She and her two younger brothers traveled across the sea to meet their parents in New York, where they had gone ahead three years earlier. Annie and her siblings have third-class accommodations on the SS Nevada, and the book describes what ship life was like for those traveling that way. It's hard to imagine today a fifteen-year-old girl being responsible for herself and two younger brothers on a long voyage across the sea. Would their parents be there to greet them as planned? What if she couldn't find them?

Annie was actually only fourteen when they set out on their voyage. She turned 15 on January 1, 1892, the day they arrived at Ellis Island. The book includes illustrations to bring the story to life but also includes photos of historical documents, such as the ship's passenger list with the names of the three Moore children. It's a great book to help children learn about Ellis Island and immigration. It's wonderful for all children, but for those whose ancestors came through Ellis Island, it is even better.

Ages 7 and up

This book tells the story of Ellis Island in many voices, but in two main ones. The first voice belongs to a modern young girl who roams through the halls at Ellis Island, where her great great great grandmother had come as an immigrant to America. As she wanders around the hallways, she wonders about the people who once arrived at Ellis Island, what their dreams and hopes were, what kinds of challenges they faced.

The other main voice is of Sera, a young Armenian girl from the past, who came to Ellis Island to escape the genocide in her country. She writes of her hopes and dreams, making the past the modern young girl wonders about come to life. On every page, there are other voices of other children who came through Ellis Island. They write not only of what they were hoping for and dreaming of, but of what life was like for them on the ship's voyage across the Atlantic.

Some of their stories are very sad and sometimes rather horrific. They are not told to frighten children, but to demonstrate how in spite of the horrors these children and their families endured, they never gave up hoping and dreaming of a better life.

Ages 7 to 10

This book has much information about Ellis Island that children (and their parents) are sure to find interesting. It is arranged in five chapters that answer different questions:

  1. Why would anyone give up so much to come here?
  2. What was the journey like?
  3. How did this tiny island become so famous?
  4. What actually happened on this island, anyway?
  5. This all happened a long time ago. Why should I care?

Ages 7 and up

Much of this book is devoted to Ellis Island, the island itself and what it came to be for immigrants. It does provide some discussion of what life was like for those immigrants who came to Ellis Island and what happened to them. Some were detained on the island due to illness or disease. They had to remain in the very modern teaching hospital on the island. Some were turned back. However, most of the book is about Ellis Island itself. When it closed in 1954, it was neglected and the buildings began to decay. In the 1980s, it was restored, thanks to over $150 million that Americans donated. It reopened as a museum in 1990. The book is a great compliment to books that recount the experiences of those who passed through Ellis Island.

Ages 8 to 12

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