The year is 1951 and eighteen-year-old Elli and her mother arrive in New York City. Finally they can leave behind bitter Holocaust memories and become real Americans! From office filing all day, to the challenge of night school, to interpreting the intentions of Alex, a handsome and persistent doctor, Elli soon finds learning English is only half as hard as "making it" in this new world.
Against a backdrop of soda shops, skyscrapers, and subways, acclaimed author Livia Bitton-Jackson fuses old-world tradition and modern dreams, in this vivid kaleidoscope of immigrant America.
Reading Group Guide
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About the Book Eighteen-year-old Elli has a number tattooed onto her arm. It is an indelible remnant of a terrifying past. . .a life lived, for many years, in the death camp of Auschwitz. When Elli arrives in New York City, she can not speak English, and has no high school diploma and very little money. What Elli does have, however, is courage, perseverance, and a loving family. Elli's challenges in her adopted home are great. She must not only acclimate herself to a whole new culture but, more importantly, must acclimate herself to life outside of a concentration camp. With the help of family and new friends, Elli, like the proverbial phoenix, rises from the ashes of a world torn asunder, to face, and ultimately embrace, a new life in a new land.
Elli arrives in America in the spring. Do you think the season in which she arrives is significant to the story or is it simply incidental? Explain your reasoning.
Elli's father said of his daughter: "She has perseverance. Sometimes, in the long run, perseverance gets you farther than a good head." What do you think Elli's father meant by this? Do you agree or disagree?
Elli attends a lively debate regarding the Biblical account of the parting of the Red Sea. How is this particular debate, over religion and science, similar to debates that are occurring today?
Describe how Elli responds to Polonski in the paper bag factory. Was her rapid departure justified, or do you think she overreacted? If you found yourself in a similar situation, what do you think you would do?
Throughout the novel, the author infers that Elli is a person of great courage. Discuss how the author reveals Elli's courageousness to the reader through her behavior. Provide some specific instances where Elli's bravery is illustrated.
Elli is surprised to learn that American citizens are not required to carry ID cards. Alex tells her that the only purpose of ID cards is to make you feel suspect and controlled. Since the September 11th terrorist attacks, there has been much debate over whether Americans should be required to carry ID cards. Do you agree or disagree with Alex's assertions? Under what circumstances, if any, do you think it is justified for a free society to require its citizens to carry an official identification card?
Eli is reprimanded by her principal and accused of telling her students "horror stories" regarding the tattooed number on her arm. What does the principal advise her to do? At what age do you think students are old enough to learn about humankind's darkest moments? What kinds of things did adults tell you in the aftermath of September 11th?
When Elli questions Mr. Rosenfeld about his nephew, he implies that young women like her survived in the concentration camps because they provided sexual favors for the German soldiers, and that she should be "grateful if a decent fellow is willing to marry her." How is Mr. Rosenfeld's attitude toward Elli indicative of attitudes toward women in general in 1950s America?
Hello, America is written in the first-person present tense. Why do you think the author chose this particular voice? How would the story change if the author selected a different point of view? In small groups, assign students a specific chapter from the book and have them rewrite it from either the third-person omniscient or third-person limited points of view.
We hear Elli say: "Ever since that fateful day when Dr. Joseph Mengele, the Angel of Death in Auschwitz, pulled me out of the line leading to the gas chambers, I've been plagued by an agonizing guilt: Why me?" Elli, like many survivors of the Holocaust, suffers from survivor guilt. Investigate this psychological phenomenon further by reading personal accounts of other survivors of Auschwitz at www.holocaust-trc.org/glbsurv.htm
Throughout the book we see that the preservation of cultural and religious traditions are very important to Elli and her family. Write a short descriptive piece that tells about the cultural traditions of your family and how these traditions are observed and honored.
A euphemism is an expression that substitutes an inoffensive phrase for something that may be considered offensive or cause discomfort. Elli learns that the expression going into the bushes is a euphemism for having sex. In small groups, make a list of some other euphemisms. Write a humorous exchange between two people who speak in almost nothing but euphemisms.
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of survivors, like Elli, were left homeless and classified as "displaced persons". In an attempt to help alleviate the problem, President Harry Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. In small groups, have students research both the European and American responses to the problems of displaced persons, and how this is connected to the creation of Israel. Useful resources: http://www.trumanlibrary.org/ and http://www.ushmm.org/
Elli is very excited to learn the story of how her grandmother and grandfather met. Conduct an interview, either with your grandparents or an elderly member of the community, to discover the circumstances under which they met their spouse. Student interviews can be compiled into a newspaper which chronicles the romances of another generation.
Livia Bitton-Jackson, born Elli L. Friedmann in Czechoslovakia, was thirteen when she, her mother, and her brother were taken to Auschwitz. They were liberated in 1945 and came to the United States on a refugee boat in 1951. She received a PhD in Hebrew culture and Jewish history from New York University. Dr. Bitton-Jackson has been a professor of history at City University of New York for thirty-seven years. Her previous books include Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust, which received the Christopher Award, the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award, and the Jewish Heritage Award. Dr. Bitton-Jackson lives in Israel with her husband, children, and grandchildren.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (November 1, 2011)