Crowded City: Immigrant Girl, Becky of Eldridge Street
Well, I might as well round out the week with another book about Russian Jewish Immigrants. This trio of books was not at all planned, but fortuitously came during the week between the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Brett Harvey's Immigrant Girl: Becky of Eldridge Streetis much different in tone and style that my previous two selections. This is clear from the first page, when Becky sets the scene in 1910. Her family has just immigrated to New York City in order to escape the pogroms in Russia where, "Many Jews were killed and their housed burned. Our zayde was shot. Bubbeh would have been, too, but she hid in the cellar." This is a picture book for an audience older than the typical 4-8 set.
The overriding image of the city in this book is one of crowded, busy, active streets and homes. Becky narrates her experience of living in New York, which seems to be dominated by crowds of people, whether children, pushcart sellers, factory workers or family members filling the house on Shabbes. At one point, Becky tells of her 19 year old aunt who works in a shirtwaist factory, where the doors are always locked. I was a bit nervous the book was also going to cover the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. While the story does not gloss over what were very real hardships in immigrant life, Becky's story makes life sound full and exciting.
Becky's narration emphasizes the importance of her family and she tells us of some truly enjoyable city experiences, like cooling off in the fire hydrant, visiting the nickelodeon, attending school (her teacher smells like roses), sleeping on the roof and escaping to open space in the Bronx. In addition, Becky's Jewish identity is central to her life and her narration ends with a Passover seder. Deborah Kogan Ray's black and white illustrations (done in charcoal, maybe? I'm not an expert.) give weight to the period setting of the story and she certainly doesn't skimp on the masses of people! Harvey includes a glossary of terms, from Bentsh lisht to Zayde, for those of us who could use a little help.
Immigrant Girl: Becky of Eldridge Street is a thoughtful narration of life in early 20th Century New York City -- a time and place dominated by immigrant life. If you are discussing this topic with your children, I highly recommend taking a look at this book.
The Jewish Museum in NY has an extensive book list in their resource section on immigration.
Visit the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. If you don't live in NYC, their website includes many resources.
Clearly the next book I should read is What Zeesie Saw on Delancey Street.