Oscar's American Dream As America Changed So Did the Corner Store

's american dream

What is America?  What does it mean to be an American?  Who are we?

Get ready to see American history come to life.

History classes give us the dates of our revolutions and our civil wars and even our wars fought beyond our own shores.  Everybody can fill in the blank when they are asked who our first president was.

But what is our real history?  What is the story of the hims and the hers and the thems who came to this country wave after wave, speaking different languages, eating different foods, practicing different religions?  What did that story look like along the way and where is it now?

Turns out if you stand for a few minutes near a corner store in New York City, you can find some answers to all those questions.

With each turn of the page the corner store becomes something new.  With each turn of the page the calendar flips through years and decades of American history filled with people who decided to leave their old worlds and create something new and hopefully better.

This story begins with a man named Oskar who came through Ellis Island from Poland with a small roll of money from his mother in his pocket.  Oskar quickly became Oscar and then started making his dreams come true when he opened up a barbershop - and he called it Oscar's All American Barbershop.  It was part of the community.  He was part of America.  For a few years that's what this corner store was - a barbershop.

Then things changed because life is just like that.

In 1908 Oscar's barbershop became a woman's clothing shop called Out With the Old and the new owners, two sisters, watched history being made outside their window as women marched to win the right to vote.  They were part of the community.  They were part of America.

On October 29, 1929, American history got a big jolt when the stock market crashed.  The corner store rode that wave of change too.

Page by page the story of one shop rises up.  History shines through the stories of the brave immigrants who arrived at our shores and took the space of the corner store that once belonged to Oscar and was a barbershop.

Turns out history is personal - it's about people and their lives and their ups and downs.  Turns out America is made up of immigrants and dreamers and people who are willing to take a chance on something and try to make it work.

I love books like A Street Through Time that take one spot and move it through history so you can see how the history of the world has changed us just by keeping your eye on one hillside that becomes a castle or a skyscraper depending on the era.

This book offers that same sweeping journey by showing us something familiar  - a barbershop- and then following it through the decades as it becomes one dream after another, American by American.

This is a fantastic view of the wonder of immigration and the deep truth that America is filled with immigrants who are the fabric of this country.  We can embrace the courage, the daring, the ideas, the hopes, the determination and the rainbow of people who are Americans and who have made America great.

A brilliant way for children to understand and embrace their own family's place and the place of other families in this ever-changing country that is built by and made up of immigrants who have made the difficult decision to come here and begin a new life.  This is our identity.  This is our history,  This is America.

36 pages                 978-0525707691                               Ages 5-9

Keywords: immigrants, immigration, American history, 19th century, 20th century, acceptance, accepting others, 5 year old, 6 year old, 7 year old, 8 year old, 9 year old, courage, dreams, diversity, diverse books, multicultural

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge, abookandahug.com

Editor's note:  As this book focuses on the waves of immigrants who came to this country since the late 1880s.  It would be important for families and educators to discuss also the fact that many Native American tribes were already living in this country as immigrants arrived.


If you want to see 20th century American history unfold before your eyes, stand on a city street corner and watch it change! It all starts when an immigrant named Oscar opens a barber shop...

When Oscar lands on Ellis Island, he has only a suitcase and a down payment in his hands. And he has a dream-- to own his own barbershop. After it opens on the corner of Front St. and Second Ave, Oscar's barbershop becomes a beloved local fixture... until the day Oscar decides to move on and become a subway conductor. Over the years, this barbershop will change hands to become a lady's clothing store, then a soup kitchen. A coffee shop follows, then the space becomes an army recruitment center, then a candy shop. As the years pass and the world changes, the proud corner store stands tall, watching American history unfold around it. Barry Wittenstein and debut husband-and-wife illustration team Kristen and Kevin Howdeshell tell the rich, fascinating story of key moments in American history, as reflected through the eyes--and the patrons--of the corner store.---from the publisher

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