Ellis Island: Com­ing to the Land of Liberty

Ray­mond Bial
  • Review
By – January 9, 2012
Strik­ing pho­tographs and inter­est­ing text will attract chil­dren to this live­ly, warm refresh­er on the role of Ellis Island Immi­gra­tion Sta­tion in our nation­al and per­son­al his­to­ries. Ray­mond Bial took the mod­ern pho­tographs him­self and chose the archival shots. The old and the new graph­ics blend seam­less­ly, high­light­ing the emo­tion of the events which, although his­to­ry, are nei­ther dis­tant nor remote. Bial intro­duces catchy facts about the his­to­ry of the island, once mere land­fill, and about the Unit­ed States Immi­gra­tion Ser­vice, a fed­er­al response to each state doing their own thing. The book is a gen­er­al view of all arrivals, with expe­ri­ences true for all eth­nic groups. There are sev­er­al mem­o­ries specif­i­cal­ly about Jew­ish expe­ri­ences and a few pho­tos includ­ing Jew­ish peo­ple and reli­gious items. More than half of the famous immi­grants not­ed by name are Jew­ish, although the text does not say so. Jew­ish poet Emma Lazarus is quot­ed (her poem is on the base of the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty) with­out being iden­ti­fied as Jew­ish. The text does not shirk from not­ing anti-immi­grant sen­ti­ment and quo­tas, but the com­mon his­to­ry for all groups helps estab­lish a strong feel­ing of com­mu­ni­ty. Counter point­ing the visions of the immi­grants with the cur­rent vis­i­tors to Ellis Island cre­ates a sense of poignan­cy and a com­mon bond. Read­ers will care about the past, think about their fam­i­ly back­grounds, and hope­ful­ly jour­ney there them­selves as a result of this well­re­searched, well-writ­ten and well-pro­duced pho­to­jour­nal­ism. Pair this with anoth­er of Bial’s excel­lent pho­to-essay books, Ten­e­ment: Immi­grant Life on the Low­er East Side. Ages 8 to 12.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions