CM . . . . Volume XXI Number 18 . . . . January 16, 2015
Ellis Island belongs to the "Crabtree Chrome" series. The title of the book is somewhat misleading. The book does have a focus on Ellis Island, but it is more about the immigrant experience arriving in the United States or Canada during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Chapter titles include "Immigration Island", "The Journey Begins", "Island of Hope and Tears" and "Starting New Lives". From historic photographs and first-hand accounts, the reader learns some of the reasons that compelled people to leave their homelands and make the difficult and dangerous journey to North America. Whether the immigrant was destined for Pier 21 in Halifax or Ellis Island in New York, the shipboard experience was probably very similar.
The text is clear and divided into subtopics with meaningful subheading, such as "Starvation and War", and "Immigrant Communities". Gold text boxes contain copies of primary source material which adds greater understanding of the experience to the readers of this book.
Each book contains a "Table of Contents", "Learning More" (book and website suggestions), a glossary, and an index. The index includes entries in bold that refer to pictures. Since the book is rich with informative photographs and illustrations, this is a good tool for younger readers. Each double page spread in the body of the book also contains one word in the text in bold. That word is explained in a highlighted space at the bottom of the second page. For example, "contaminated: not pure and so unsafe to eat or drink".
The greatest strength of Ellis Island is the quality and quantity of the pictures. The many photos, both black and white and coloured, add details of the hardships and conditions that would otherwise be hard to convey in a simple text. Other illustrations are cartoons, magazine illustrations, and paintings from the time. Photographs from the section that deals directly with the Canadian experience include one of a group of cheerful looking Scots leaving Scotland in 1925 to find work in Canada. I hope that worked out for them. Another photograph shows a burial site at Grosse Isle, a site also known as the Irish Memorial National Historic Site.
Despite the somewhat misleading title, Ellis Island contains meaningful and accessible information about the immigrant experience from 1892 to 1954 when millions of people from Europe, Asia, and other parts of the world sought a better life in North America. There is sufficient Canadian content and enough transferable information about the immigrant experience to make Ellis Island a useful purchase in Canadian schools.
Suzanne Pierson, a retired teacher-librarian, is currently instructing Librarianship courses at Queen's University in Kingston, ON.
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