8 Great Children’s Books about the Lower East Side

By Julie Hartman

Lower East Side cultural education extends far beyond tours and museum programming here at Eldridge Street. Younger children will love these literary selections hand-picked by Museum at Eldridge Street staff:

(1)   All of a Kind Family by Sidney Taylor: This beloved 1951 children’s classic is the number one kids’s book choice for many of our staff members, including Deputy Director Amy Stein-Milford. “I read it as a girl and so did my own daughters. It is a joyful evocation of the Jewish immigrant Lower East Side, including the pushcarts of Hester Street, the lure of penny candy stores, the promise of the public library, and the warmth of family life – in this case a home with 5 spirited but totally unique girls: Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie.” Here at Eldridge Street we love the book so much, our Education Director Judy Greenspan leads an “All of a Kind Family” walking tour for families inspired by the sites of the book scheduled for August 4th at 11am.

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(2)   When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest: A childhood favorite shared by several of our summer interns, When Jessie Came Across the Sea chronicles one Jewish orphan’s coming-of-age as a garment worker on the Lower East Side. The book is complete with beautiful illustrations depicting the long passage from Eastern Europe to New York City.

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(3)   The Castle on Hester Street by Linda Heller: This book by Linda Heller won the 1982 Sydney Taylor Book Award. A young girl’s relationship with her charismatic immigrant grandfather is examined with curiosity and warmth as he tells increasingly outrageous stories about his journey to America in which he is greeted by the President and lives in a castle on Hester Street. 

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(4)   The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco: Author Patricia Polacco wrote The Keeping Quilt about her family’s heirloom quilt sewed from scraps of clothing belonging to multiple generations of family members. The book illustrates Polacco’s strong emotional connection to earlier generations of her own immigrant family and to its younger generations to come.

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(5)   If You Lived 100 Years Ago by Ann McGovern: With its cartoon drawings and fun facts, Ann McGovern’s If You Lived… series makes reading about history fun. This installment is specific to turn-of-the-century New York City and provides digestible information about tenement-style living, New York City industrial history and what it was like to be a kid 100 years ago.

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(6)   American Girl: Rebecca: In 2009, American Girl launched its first Jewish doll—Rebecca Rubin of the Lower East Side, circa 1914. We’re impressed with the research American Girl did in creating an authentic historical context for the fictional character (and clothing!) of Rebecca! The company enlisted the help of Jacqueline Dembar Greene, the author of a young adult novel about Jewish immigration to sixteenth century New Amsterdam, in writing the literature corresponding to Rebecca’s life and experiences.

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(7) Shutting Out The Sky by Deborah Hopkinson: What was daily life like for kids on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s? Deborah Hopkinson discusses this and more in her award-winning book which chronicles the lives of five young immigrants in their quest to become Americans. Judy Greenspan says: “Shutting Out the Sky provides a wonderful account of this history. The book is fitting for all ages!”

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(8) Immigrant Kids by Russell FriedmanImmigrant Kids is notable for its inclusion of dozens of photographs taken by social reformer journalists at the turn-of-the-century. Author Russell Friedman brilliantly conjures up feelings of what life was like for children in Lower Manhattan’s slums during one of the most exciting eras in American history.

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