When Jessie Came Across The Sea

When Jessie Came Across The Sea

Jessie lives with her grandmother in an East European village.  Her life is a full and happy one.  She sits in at the boys’ lessons with the rabbi (and thus knows how to read and write).  She learns how to sew lace.

‘”Now, you read, Grandmother, and copy my good letters.” Jessie liked being teacher. ‘Me? Learn to read and write?’  Grandmother scoffed. ‘Sometime, you never know, you may want to read some things,’ Jessie said. ‘You may want to write.’ Grandmother showed Jessie how to sew lace. But Jessie stuck herself often.  ‘Why do I have to learn?’ she cried. ‘Sometime, you never know, you may want to sew some things,’ Grandmother answered.  ‘You may want to earn some money.’”

One fateful late summer day when Jessie is thirteen, the beloved rabbi calls the community together.  He sadly informs them that his brother in America has passed away – but before he died, he sent a ticket so they could be together. However, the rabbi cannot leave his congregation, and will choose another to go to America in his place. Despite the claims of many that they are the best candidate, the rabbi decides to give the ticket to young Jessie.

After an emotional, painful parting from her grandmother, Jessie boards a ship for the journey to her new home.  The crossing is difficult, but is made easier by a friendship with a young shoemaker named Lou. Once in America, Jessie finds the lacemaking skill her grandmother insisted she learn is in demand, and she successfully works in a dressmaker’s shop. After three years, Jessie has saved enough money to buy a ticket for her grandmother. And Lou reenters the picture, as well, when they meet again in Central Park.

This is a superb example of a picture book that appeals to older children at least as much as it does younger ones.  Author Amy Hest brings the feelings, hopes, and realities of those living in turn-of-the-last century Eastern Europe and America to life.  P.J. Lynch’s lustrous illustrations capture the essence of the story: from the shtetl to the vastness of the ocean to the crowded streets of the Lower East Side.  This book is valuable for those learning about the immigrant experience, but it is more: it is an inspiring story of perseverance, hope, and love.  40 pages.  Ages 7-10.

Recommended by Barbara Karp, Librarian, New York, USA

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