Based on her family’s experiences and that of a friend coming to America, respectively in 1900 and 1911, Lesléa Newman stirs our hearts with “Gittel’s Journey, An Ellis Island Story.” Newman’s book is a tribute to the 3 million Jews who immigrated to America from 1880 to 1924, largely to escape pogroms.
With danger and death in the offing, Gittel’s mother takes a huge risk — sets off with her daughter to meet extended family in the States. But at the port in Europe, they face obstacles. Gittel’s mama has an eye infection that prevents her being allowed into America (a contagious eye ailment that could have spread).
Gittel’s mama proposes the impossible — urges her daughter to go by herself, pressing a slip of paper with the address of their cousin in Gittel’s hand and instructing her to show the information to an immigration officer at Ellis Island.
Nine-year-old Gittel’s life-changing journey is beautifully illustrated in muted shades by Amy June Bates, the characters’ faces rich with emotion — especially touching is the ship’s arrival in New York City harbor and the picture of the immigrants first look at the Statue of Liberty.
An author’s note at the end of the book has pictures and additional information about the true-life accounts on which the book is based. Also included is a photograph of the first immigrant to “enter the United States through Ellis Island,” a 13-year-old Irish girl, Annie Moore, from County Cork.
Ages 8 to 11.