I picked this book up for two reasons. The cover appealed to me and I know Karen Hesse is a wonderful storyteller.
Letters from Rifka is based on a true story told to Karen Hesse by her Great Aunt Lucy. This book is a series of letters from Rifka as she travels from Russia to America with her mother, father and two brothers. The letter format gives this book a very authentic feel. Also last year I visited Ellis Island and so I could easily see with 'my minds eye' the exact place where Rifka spent many months, alone, waiting to be allowed to enter America.
In Australia we seem to constantly struggle with the idea and ideal of immigration and immigrants. For this reason I think Letters from Rifka is an important book for senior students. This book gives an historical context to migration along with a deeply personal account of the complex reasons for leaving homeland and the hardships and confusion felt by children living through this time of transition.
You could introduce this book using this video. Here is a set of teaching notes.
Told with unusual grace and simplicity, an unforgettable picture of immigrant courage, ingenuity, and perseverance.