The Orphan of Ellis Island

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The Orphan of Ellis Island is the story of Dominic Cantori, who has spent his life in foster care.  When visiting Ellis Island, Dominic falls asleep in a closet and wakes up in Italy in 1908.  Dominic befriends three other orphans who are seeking money for passage to America.  When one of the orphans dies, Dominic takes his spot on the journey to Ellis Island and discovers he may have found some real family of his own.  

This chapter book is for readers in third-fifth grades.  It depicts a portrait of the immigrant experience for Italians moving to the United States in the early twentieth century, providing an important history lesson.  For a reader response, I would have students write journal entries as as immigrants and provide other resources to learn about this important group of people, including non-fiction articles and a virtual field trip to Ellis Island.

Woodruff, E.  (1997).  The orphan of ellis island.  New York: Scholastic.

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Wee Gillis

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Wee Gillis is from the writer of Ferdinand.  Wee Gillis is an Scottish orphan who spends half of the year with his mother’s family and the other half of the year with his father’s family.  He learns about herding cattle in the lowlands and hunting deer in the highlands.  Wee Gillis must decide which side of the family he wants to choose as his future home and life.

This picture book is ideal for first through third graders.  The illustrations are black and white drawings.  This classic tale appeals to both girls and boys, who will like hearing about the outdoors life of a boy their age.  To encourage enthusiasm for the story, I would have students choose which life they would want and write why.  They would then share their opinions with the class as we tally up the number of votes before reading what the main character chose.  The story is long, so there is plenty of time for thought and discussion.

Leaf, M.  (2006).  Wee gillis.  New York: New York Review Children’s Collection.