The most recommended books about Ellis Island

Who picked these books? Meet our 8 experts.

8 authors created a book list connected to Ellis Island, and here are their favorite Ellis Island books.
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Book cover of Murphy's Law

Carmen Radtke Author Of The Case of the Missing Bride

From my list on mysteries set on ships and trains.

Why am I passionate about this?

After years dedicated to the hard facts of a newspaper reporter’s life, including a sting covering the police beat, Carmen Radtke has changed her focus to fiction. She’s been fascinated by both history and mystery as long as she can remember and stays dedicated to the truth behind the lie, and the joys of in-depth research. As a repeated emigrant, she is enthralled by voyages into the unknown and the courage (or madness) that takes.

Carmen's book list on mysteries set on ships and trains

Carmen Radtke Why did Carmen love this book?

I fell in love with this series and its intrepid heroine Molly Murphy on page one. A young, penniless woman who has to rely on her own wits to make her way to America at the end of the 19th century, and a sea voyage that ends well enough until she becomes a murder suspect as soon as she arrives in Ellis Island - this impeccably researched historical mystery has all the ingredients I could want. It’s a satisfying mystery and a scathing social commentary, the tone of voice is clever and funny, and I didn’t just want to follow Molly on every step of her journey, I wanted to be her. 

By Rhys Bowen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Murphy's Law as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rhys Bowen, author of the much-loved Constable Evans mysteries, takes on the vibrant world of turn-of-the-century Ellis Island and New York in her newest series. With delightful humour and meticulous research Bowen transports readers to the gritty underworld that swallowed new immigrants who dreamed of a better life, and gives us the unforgettable heroine Molly Murphy, a resourceful Irish woman who lives by her own set of laws...

Book cover of Letters from Rifka

Berlie W. Doherty Author Of The Girl Who Saw Lions

From my list on children’s books about refugees and asylum seekers.

Why am I passionate about this?

My maternal great-grandparents were Irish immigrants. My paternal grandfather left Liverpool in the late 19th century to go to Australia. I’d love to know their children’s stories! Some of the families I visited as a social worker (mid-1960s) were immigrants, struggling to make sense of a new language and a new culture. I met a child who had come here alone as an illegal immigrant and had been a house slave until the social services settled her with a foster family. I met author Hanna Jansen and her many adopted children from war-torn countries. Fiction gives us many powerful stories about children forced to flee from their homes because of war, tyranny, hunger, poverty, natural disasters.

Berlie's book list on children’s books about refugees and asylum seekers

Berlie W. Doherty Why did Berlie love this book?

Letters from Rifka is immediately appealing because the author tells us that it is based on memories.

I was immediately drawn into the story by the engaging voice of the 12-year-old narrator, who writes her story in letter form. Rifka is a Russian Jew fleeing with her family from persecution in 1919. It is a story of a desperate flight, across Ukraine and into Poland, and from there, hopefully, to America. But, so close to freedom, Rifka is detained in a hospital for contagious diseases on Ellis Island, and may not be allowed to travel on with her family. Rifka’s character is so well drawn, her impish, positive voice so lovable, that MG readers won’t fail to love this book and care deeply about the plight of people who are forced to leave their homes forever.

By Karen Hesse,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Letters from Rifka as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

From Newbery media winner Karen Hesse comes an unforgettable story of an immigrant family's journey to America.

"America," the girl repeated. "What will you do there?"
I was silent for a little time.
"I will do everything there," I answered.

Rifka knows nothing about America when she flees from Russia with her family in 1919. But she dreams that in the new country she will at last be safe from the Russian soldiers and their harsh treatment of the Jews. Throughout her journey, Rifka carries with her a cherished volume of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. In it, she records her…

Book cover of Ellis Island to Ebbets Field: Sport and the American-Jewish Experience

Jeffrey S. Gurock Author Of Marty Glickman: The Life of an American Jewish Sports Legend

From my list on American Jews and sports.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of American Jewish history who has written extensively on how sports have impacted the lives of American Jews. I have been especially interested in how the acceptance or rejection of Jews in the sports arena has underscored that group’s place within this country’s society. I have been likewise intrigued by how the call of athleticism has challenged their ethnic and religious identity. The saga of Marty Glickman, a story of adversity and triumph, speaks boldly to critical issues that this minority group has faced.

Jeffrey's book list on American Jews and sports

Jeffrey S. Gurock Why did Jeffrey love this book?

Levine’s important book – scholarly and yet accessible to general readers – looks very seriously at the efforts of Jews through sports to define their identities as Americans and as Jews.

I appreciated his keen eye for charming and insightful memoirs and anecdotes of the life experiences of both well-known Jewish athletes who made it to the professional ranks and also of the masses of Jews who embraced athleticism in urban playgrounds and who turned up at stadiums and arenas to cheer on their heroes.

By Peter Levine,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ellis Island to Ebbets Field as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

There has been a general perception that Jewish tradition has not been positive about sports activity. In this first general study of Jewish participation in American sports, Peter Levine shows how the reality has been otherwise, focusing in particular on baseball, boxing, and basketball.

Book cover of Next Ship Home: A Novel of Ellis Island

Kathleen Boston McCune Author Of Assignment Love: The Writer and Her Agent

From my list on when needing excitement or the comfort of a caress.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a woman of four and seventy years who thankfully doesn’t yet resemble that person to those who haven’t met me. I'm a mother of two who both have their own businesses in the fields of their natural talents, I've been Deputy Treasurer to the State of Kansas, written 22 books but think younger than I did at 20, and am enjoying the best sex life to date! Life is precious and should not be limited to us based on our age, but on our interests, knowledge, and what we have to offer. Writing about that which I've experienced and the recorded history of family are my passions and hopefully for my readers as well.

Kathleen's book list on when needing excitement or the comfort of a caress

Kathleen Boston McCune Why did Kathleen love this book?

I personally enjoyed this book for the courage found by the Heroine in a world where women were considered 2nd class citizens, but she, through strength of character and love of a sister she loses due to illness and no monies to save her, gives her that impetus to forge ahead through unconventional, but effective ways and new friends of wealth in America. It could be called a Cinderella story with illegal immigrants as heroines.

A book of 1902, about a young woman who had been abused by her father to the point that a nun suggested she find refuge elsewhere. From Italy, she proceeds to save enough money to book passage with a ship for both herself and her younger sister who is already ill from similar abuse. She looks forward to Ellis Island, knowing she then will be on the safe harbor of America, until she learns that…

By Heather Webb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Next Ship Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ellis Island, 1902: Two women band together to hold America to its promise: "Give me your tired, your poor ... your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..."
A young Italian woman arrives on the shores of America, her sights set on a better life. That same day, a young American woman reports to her first day of work at the immigration center. But Ellis Island isn't a refuge for Francesca or Alma, not when ships depart every day with those who are refused entry to the country and when corruption ripples through every corridor. While Francesca resorts to desperate measures…

Book cover of Ashes of Roses

Marlene Targ Brill Author Of Jane Addams: The Most Dangerous Woman in America

From my list on groundbreaking women in history.

Why am I passionate about this?

As the author of 73 published books, I have four goals for writing. I want to write more women into history, emphasize how everyday activities children accomplish are important, empower young readers, and tell a story that moves readers, either through an emotional response or the knowledge that they can do what whoever I wrote about did. My biographies cover role models who have been groundbreakers in their time and place. Readers can be, too.

Marlene's book list on groundbreaking women in history

Marlene Targ Brill Why did Marlene love this book?

I found this book a haunting reminder of how factory workers, especially women, were treated during the early twentieth century.

This historical novel brings the horrific New York Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire to life by telling the story of a fictional Irish immigrant and her struggle to stay alive when her work environment turned to fire and smoke.

How do you survive when abusive bosses lock the doors during workdays? 

By MJ Auch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ashes of Roses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

When Rose Nolan arrives on Ellis Island as a seventeen-year-old Irish immigrant, she is looking for a land of opportunities; what she finds is far from all she'd dreamed. Stubborn and tenacious, she refuses to give up. Left alone to fend for herself and her younger sister, Rose is thrust into a hard-knock life of tenements and factory work.

But even as she struggles, Rose finds small bright points in her new life―at the movies with her working friends and in the honest goals of her mentor, Gussie. Still, after her exhausting days as a working girl, Rose must face…

Book cover of A Fall of Marigolds

Addison Armstrong Author Of The Light of Luna Park

From my list on New York City past to present.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up thinking I liked reading about NYC more than I’d like living there. It was too hectic and loud for a bookworm like me, I thought, too dirty and dangerous. Then my husband was accepted to Cornell’s MD/PhD program, and we moved to Manhattan. Immediately, I found that while the city is as dirty as I’d feared (and it smells), its advantages far outweigh the rest. I can’t get enough of the parks, museums, food, diversity, or the history, much of which drives The Light of Luna Park. So, without further ado, here are my five favorite books that take place in New York from the 1800s to today.

Addison's book list on New York City past to present

Addison Armstrong Why did Addison love this book?

I can’t resist a good dual timeline, and A Fall of Marigolds delivers. The primary timeline centers on an Ellis Island nurse who’s adopted the hospital as her refuge after escaping the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Fire; the secondary, a woman who loses her husband on 9/11. There are thematic parallels—loss, grief, healing, love—as well as striking similarities between the two events, but it is a scarf that ties the two characters directly together. 

I was only three years old on 9/11, so I don’t have my own memories of it. Even to me, Meissner conveys the tragedy so intimately that I think I came away with a better understanding of its horrors. But don’t be scared away: This book is about new beginnings more than it is about destruction.

By Susan Meissner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Fall of Marigolds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A beautiful scarf connects two women touched by tragedy in this compelling, emotional novel from the author of As Bright as Heaven and The Last Year of the War.

September 1911. On Ellis Island in New York Harbor, nurse Clara Wood cannot face returning to Manhattan, where the man she loved fell to his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then, while caring for a fevered immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she becomes intrigued by a name embroidered onto the scarf he carries...and finds herself caught in a dilemma that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions…