Like the Millions Before Us – Ellis Island


Ellis Island: An Interactive History Adventure

•    Targeted Audience: Upper Elementary (Ages 8-9)
•    Genre: Non-Fiction Interactive
•    Author: Michael Burgan
•    Publisher: Capstone Press
•    Publication Date: 2014
•    Binding: Paperback
•    Dimensions: 5.25″ x 7.5″
•    Printing: Black & White
•    Length: 112 Pages
•     Retail: $6.95
•     ISBN: 978-1476536064

Choose Your Own Path and Experience What Millions did Before You

Ellis Island is one of many titles in Capstone’s  interactive “You Choose” series. Here’s how it works . . . Read the first chapter of the book and then choose which of three scenarios you’d like to follow: 1) A young Russian Jewish girl in the early 1900s; 2) A teenage Italian boy during WWI; 3) A German immigrant facing deportation after WWII. Then you read about that immigrant’s experience and choose the path that person takes. The choices you make take you on a course of opportunity, wealth, poverty or even death, all realities of the time. With these three story paths, there are 32 choices in all with 19 possible endings.


© Image courtesy of Capstone Press

Immigration to “The Land of Hope” with a Creative Approach

Ellis Island gives readers a chance to travel back in time and imagine what life was like for the millions of immigrants who came through Ellis Island from 1892-1954. Did you know that workers could refuse entry into the US if immigrants did not have at least $25 in their pockets or if they could not pass a literacy test? Or that most of these immigrants during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were young men? And that Ellis Island served as a prison in the 1930s until 1954?  The US tried but failed to sell the Island, and in 1965 the US National Park Service began to manage it. Author and history buff, Michael Burgan writes in a format that is easy for readers to comprehend, while at the same time engaging them and keeping the topic fascinating at all times. There’s a glossary, bibliography and sites for more information in the back of the book.


Photo of immigrants entering the US through Ellis Island in 1902 from the Library of Congress and in the Public Domain

Why You Should Buy This Book

One of the most moving eras in our history was during the height of immigration, when 12 million people passed through Ellis Island. We all have ancestors who came from different lands, and it is important that our children understand the sacrifices these people made to come to our country to make better lives for themselves and their children. Children discover how immigrants set the foundation for the America we live in today.

Because Ellis Island is written with an interactive format, readers get a glimpse into what it was like for all those people to travel from afar, wait in long lines to hear their fate. Enter? Or leave?  They also come to understand the struggles so many immigrants went through once they passed through the doors of Ellis Island, into New York City and beyond. Readers will not only learn about the courage our ancestors had but also about how crucial it was that they made the right choices.

When I was in elementary school, I dreaded history lessons because they were incredibly boring! It was pure rote memorization and not at all engaging. In contrast, the interactive nature of Ellis Island is more like a real life adventure – both happy and sad – that teaches without clobbering students over the head with straight facts. Where was this book when I was growing up?

About the Author


Formerly an editor at the educational publisher Weekly Reader, Michael Burgan has been a freelance writer for many years. He has written more than 250 books for children and young adults, specializing in U.S. history, geography, and biographies of world leaders. He has also written fiction and adapted classic novels. Burgan has won several awards for his writing, and his plays for adult audiences have been staged across the United States. He graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BA in history. He currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his cat Callie. Read his blog, The History Nerd, here.

Further Learning

  1. Dig up old photos of family members who came to America from other lands and share their stories with your children.
  2. Plan a visit to Ellis Island. There’s a special Exhibit for Children. While in NY, discover some of the many ethnic neighborhoods and discuss how they were formed largely by the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island.
  3. Check out PBS Learning Adventures in Citizenship: Ellis Island.
  4. Discover with your children what it takes to become an American Citizen today.

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