The history of the United States is a history of people moving in and out, going back tens of thousands of years. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Ellis Island in New York City harbor became one of the best-known places for immigrants to come to the United States.
Historical Fiction and Memoir about Ellis Island: Picture Books
Klara’s New World (1992) by Jeanette Winter.
When Klara and her family are poor in Sweden, they decide to move to the United States. Story: A lot of it talks about how difficult it was to get from the Atlantic Ocean to Chicago and then on to Minnesota by boat and then on a steamboat. Her family goes through Castle Garden, which was the official immigration station in the mid-1800s.
Journey to Ellis Island: how my father came to America (1998) by Carol Bierman and Laurie McGaw.
The author’s father came to the United States from Russia in 1922. This story is based on his story. Chapters about their journey and time at Ellis Island are broken up by old photos and illustrations. On Ellis Island with her father on his 75th anniversary of coming to the United States, a trip the author took to Ellis Island with her father. In the past, I’ve used this book as a read-aloud. It’s very long and wordy, so you’ll need to spend a lot of time on it.
The Matchbox Diary (2013) by Paul Fleischmann and illustrated by the unparalled Bagram Ibatoulline
As the grandfather tells his young granddaughter about how he came to the United States from Italy through Ellis Island, he also tells her about how he and his family lived in Italy. The illustrations are amazing, and the story is filled with a lot of great historical facts. There is a good chance that any reader will want to start their own “matchbox diary.”
When Jessie Came across the Sea (2003) by Amy Hest.
When Jessie was 13, she was orphaned. The rabbi chose her to take his ticket for America. In the beginning, she lived with her cousin and made lace to make money. One day, she made enough money to bring over her grandmother and move to the U.S. Though she goes through Ellis Island, it only takes a single page in the book to read about. She lived in America, and she wrote to her grandmother from there. A lot of the story is about that.
At Ellis Island: a history in many voices (2007) by Louise Peacock and illustrated by Walter Lyon Krudop.
To make this book even more interesting, it combines real quotes from immigrants with fictionalized letters from a young girl named Sera who comes to Ellis Island. The story only talks about her time at Ellis Island, not the rest of her time there.
A Peddler’s Dream (1992) by Janice Shefelman and illustrated by Tom Shefelman.
During his time in Lebanon, this young man works as a peddler, then a clerk, then owns his own store and has his own family. This picture book tells his story.
Peppe the Lamplighter (1993) by Elisa Bartone and illustrated by Ted Lewin
New York City’s Little Italy is where Peppe and his family live. He looks for a job when his father can’t because he’s sick. His father isn’t happy about it. You’ll love the art in this book, and it gives you a good taste of what life was like in this time.
All the Way to America: the story of a big Italian family and a little shovel (2011) by Dan Yaccarino
This picture book is based on the story of the author’s great-grandfather, who came to the U.S. from Italy. The next generation is shown as the little silver shovel is passed down through the family and used for different things.
Historical Fiction and Memoir about Ellis Island: chapter books
Letters from Rifka (1992) by Karen Hesse.
They had to flee Russia in 1919 because of anti-Jewish feelings. This 150-page book is based on their story. Rifka and her family have a lot of problems on their way to America. Rifka ends up in Belgium alone, getting better from ringworm, while her family goes on to the United States. She also tries to show that she will not be a burden on the United States when she is held at Ellis Island. A dramatic, exciting, and interesting immigration story that also shows many of the difficulties and hardships that immigrants have to deal with at this time in their lives.
Doll Hospital: Tatiana comes to America, an Ellis Island story by Joan Holub.
. There are just 99 pages in this short, 99-page chapter book. Rose and Lila go to stay at their Far Nana’s house. They find that she has a doll hospital. She tells them the story of a doll called Tatiana, who moved from Russia to the United States with her owner, Anya, in her arms. A lot of the book is told by the grandmother, but it also shows the girls’ own thoughts and actions. Finally, the girls realize that their own stories are linked to Tatiana’s and her owners’ over the years, and that this is true for them as well.
Modern Ellis Island: picture books
Abuela (1991) by Arthur Dorros.
In this fantasy picture book, Rosalba, a young girl, tells the story in her own unique way. Her grandmother or Abuela is with her on the town. The girl thinks about what they could see if she were able to fly. In one place, they take a flight over the Statue of Liberty. They also talk about her grandmother’s own migration to the United States from a Spanish-speaking country. The book also has a lot of Spanish phrases and expressions in it, which you can read about.
A Picnic in October (1999) by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter.
As a modern-day story, a young boy and his family go to the Statue of Liberty for a birthday party for her. The boy doesn’t understand what the statue means or how important it is until later, when he sees a family of new immigrants looking at it.