Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Castle on Hester Street

The Castle on Hester Street by Linda Heller
Link to Amazon.com. where you can purchase or find more information about the book:
In The Castle on Hester Street, Julie's grandfather tells her the story of his journey from Russia to New York. While his tales are filled with fantasy and joy, Julie's grandmother shares a more realistic account of their experience immigrating to the Unites States. As the grandfather talks about a wonderful chariot ride through the sky and a singing goat, Julie's grandmother discusses realities such as their crowded boat ride to America and infection lines at Ellis Island.
The Castle on Hester Street could be used during a unit on Immigration. Although it is a fictional account of an immigrant's journey to the United States, it could be used to spark discussion about the expectations and realities associated with immigration. At the same time, it could be used as a way to compare fictional and past accounts of immigration to real immigration stories that are happening today. This story could also be used as a way to talk about perception and the different ways people view the same experience. Because the story brings up issues that immigrants today face, it could be used a springboard for more personal discussion about immigration. Students may be able to relate to the different characters' feelings, and may be more willing to share and discuss their personal experiences. When using this book, I do think it is important to address current immigration issues, making sure to connect the book's message to events and debates happening in NYC and the world today.
The discussions and activities that could accompnay the reading of The Castle on Hester Street fall into the first stage of Social Justice Education, Self-love and Acceptance, in which children learn about their own culture. After reading this book, students could explore and share their family's background, and personal immigration story. At the same time, students would be involved in the second stage of Social Justice Education, Respect for Others. As students read about and listen to others' stories a repsect and understanding for others' cultures and histories will develop. Students will learn more about their peers and will begin to develop respect for the differences that exist within a classroom and society as a whole. While the book itself does not delve into the third stage of Social Justice Education, Exploring Issues of Social Justice, it could be the beginning of a move in that direction. As children begin to learn about and discuss immigration, they will begin to uncover and discuss issues such as racism and classism. In doing so, they will be able to move further into the last three stages of Social Justice Education. They will be able to take action, and become advocates for justice.

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