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Minsha's Night on Ellis Island

Illustrated by Claire Powell



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About The Book

Follow Minsha, a determined terrier, as she travels to Ellis Island in this third book of the At the Heels of History series, inspired by important events and told through the eyes, ears, and noses of dogs.

1921. Minsha loves her human family, especially nine-year-old Leila. But Leila’s family has decided to leave their home in Beirut for a new life in America—and they can’t take Minsha with them. Minsha is devastated, but she’s also a dog of action, so she stows away on a second ship bound for New York. She knows she’s supposed to stay hidden away, but she can’t help but make friends with a boy named Yusef and his family.

When their ship arrives at Ellis Island, Yusef is suspected of being sick and is separated from his family. Even though Minsha is anxious to find Leila, she can’t leave Yusef alone, either. As Minsha sniffs out a solution, she’ll have to contend with a territorial gang of cats, some helpful sparrows, and a surprisingly friendly rat. But will her new friends be enough to reunite Yusef and his family? And will it be too late for Minsha to reunite with hers?


Chapter 1: The Ship to America 1 The Ship to America

1921, Port of Beirut, Greater Syria
Minsha barked and barked as she watched the big steamship chug out to sea. She pulled hard against her collar. But Uncle Sami held tight.

“Let me go!” Minsha woofed.

“Sorry, girl,” Uncle Sami said, almost as if he could understand her. “They don’t allow dogs on those ships to America! You’ll stay with me now.”

Minsha didn’t care what was allowed. Leila was on that ship. Minsha had to get to her.

“I need to catch that ship!” she woofed.

Uncle Sami was kind. But he didn’t throw his arms around Minsha the way Leila did. Or play tug-a-rag after supper. Or pull gently on Minsha’s big, pointy ears. Leila was Minsha’s family. Minsha had never belonged to anyone else. She hadn’t been able to believe it when Leila’s parents said they were all going to America and leaving Minsha behind.

They lived on a farm near the foot of Mount Lebanon. Before the war they sometimes went to Beirut to visit Uncle Sami. The family always went home together. But not this time.

“We can’t leave without Minsha!” Leila had cried to her parents. She’d thrown her arms tightly around Minsha, her eyes flashing. “We’re family! We stick together and help each other! We don’t leave anyone behind!”

Minsha had woofed in agreement.

But Minsha was a dog and Leila was only nine years old. They didn’t get to decide anything.

“That’s enough,” Leila’s father had said. “We don’t have any choice. She can’t come with us and we have to leave. There’s been so much fighting, and there isn’t enough food. No one has money to buy what we grow. We can start again in New York City.”

He had taken Leila’s arm and dragged her away while Uncle Sami held tight to Minsha’s collar. The family got on one of the small boats that were tied up at the harbor. The boat took them out to a big ship. Now the big ship was moving farther and farther away. Minsha’s heart felt like something was squeezing it tight.

She pulled harder. Uncle Sami didn’t know her tricks like Leila did. He loosened his grip for a moment. Minsha lowered her head and twisted her shoulder at the same time. Uncle Sami tried to grab her, but her smooth fur made it hard for him to hold on. She broke free and raced toward the docks.

Minsha was a good swimmer. She felt sure she could make it to the ship before it was too far away. Then Leila’s parents would have to take her with them to America.

“Minsha!” called Uncle Sami.

She ran faster. “Get out of my way!” she barked to the people who crowded the port. She dodged a shiny automobile.

She made it onto the dock. She was just about to leap into the water when something knocked her over.

A tough-looking dog stared down at her. He looked like the dogs back home who didn’t have families of their own.

“That’s a bad idea,” the dog said. “Those ships move fast. You’d drown before you got anywhere near it.”

Minsha scrambled to her paws. “You shouldn’t have stopped me!” she barked. “My family is on that ship!” It was getting farther and farther away on the endless gray sea.

“That’s tough luck,” the other dog said. “Half the salt water in this bay comes from the tears of people who get left behind.” He sat down. “Everyone’s going to America. I hear things are good there. But I think there’s probably good and bad there, like everywhere else.”

“I’ll follow them!” Minsha howled.

The dog snorted. “It takes a steamship almost three weeks to get to America. You think you can keep up?” Minsha knew the other dog was right. The ship was moving faster than any dog could swim.

The dog looked Minsha up and down. “You’d be handy in our pack. You’re a terrier—the kind that catches rats, right? You can stay in Beirut with us. I can tell you where to get a sausage. We’ll help you settle in. We have a nice little family here.”

Minsha’s fur bristled. “I have a family, and I don’t need a sausage,” she said. “I need my girl, Leila.”

“Fine,” said the dog, getting up to trot away. After a few steps he stopped. “There’ll be another ship leaving same time tomorrow,” he said over his shoulder. “From this pier. It’s going to the same place, New York City. In America. You can get on the little boats and then hop onto the big ship.”

Minsha was sorry she’d snapped at the dog. “Thank you,” she said.

“Want to sleep with us in back of the big souk tonight?” asked the dog. “People throw out really good bones there.”

“No, I’ll stay here,” Minsha answered. “I don’t want to miss that boat.”

The dog sighed and headed up the waterfront.

Minsha heard Uncle Sami calling and calling. She hid behind a tall pile of grain sacks. She watched the ship Leila was on until it was out of sight.

About The Authors

Photograph (c) Mason Foster Photography

Pam Berkman has written books for grown-ups and At the Heels of History is her first series for kids. She loves writing about events in history and thinking about how they connect to things that are happening today. She also works as an editor. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and twin sons.

Photograph (c) Jerry Bauer

Dorothy Hearst is the author of the Wolf Chronicles trilogy. She loves writing about canine characters, birds, and other creatures who can give us the chance to see ourselves in new ways. She is an acquiring editor, a martial artist, a self-defense instructor-in-training, an avid hiker and reader, and a dog lover. She is not entirely domesticated, but is very food motivated.

About The Illustrator

Claire Powell is a bestselling children’s book illustrator working in London. She started out designing for big-hitting television brands before an impromptu visit to a children’s book exhibition led her down the path of illustration. Self-taught, Claire got her first book deal in 2016 and has never looked back.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books (August 18, 2020)
  • Length: 208 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781534433397
  • Grades: 1 - 4
  • Ages: 6 - 9

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Awards and Honors

  • Kansas NEA Reading Circle List Intermediate Title

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More books from this illustrator: Claire Powell

More books in this series: At the Heels of History