Monday, September 17, 2007

Island of Hope

Sandler, Martin W. 2004. ISLAND OF HOPE: THE STORY OF ELLIS ISLAND AND THE JOURNEY TO AMERICA. New York: Scholastic Nonfiction. ISBN: 0439530822.

ISLAND OF HOPE: THE STORY OF ELLIS ISLAND AND THE JOURNEY TO AMERICA is a simply wonderful nonfiction book about the whole immigration experience--focusing on the years 1892 to 1954.

What makes this book so incredibly wonderful is that it is just abounding in primary materials--quotes from people (either interviews, newspaper articles, unpublished manuscripts, etc.) who actually made the trip to America and entered the country through Ellis Island. Sandler blends in facts smoothly with people's recollection...they complement each other well. The book also has mini-articles (1-2 pages) about various topics such as the gold rush, mail order brides, child-labor laws, etc. And of course there are black and white photos to accompany the text.

The author's note reveals that how Martin Sandler became interested in Ellis Island and the whole immigrant experience. When he was a kid, his elderly grandfather came to live with him. At first he was really embarrassed of his grandfather because he was Polish, and only spoke broken English. However, an assignment given by a junior high teacher changed all that--the assignment was to interview his oldest relative. He then learned firsthand about his grandfather's journey to America, his time at Ellis Island, and how hard it was to succeed in America. "When my grandfather finished his story I was speechless. Finally I said to him, "Grandpa, you're a real hero." I will never forget his reply. "I'm no hero," he said. "There were millions of us, and we just did what we had to do." (137). Sandler goes on to say, "As you've seen, I have told much of the story through their own words. If much of it seems remarkable, it is because what they did was remarkable" (137).

The reader could tell--even without the revealing author's note--that this is a subject that the author was passionate about. It is well written and well documented.

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