Home At Last: Sofia's Immigrant Diary Discussion Guide
- Grades: 3–5
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
In Hope in My Heart: Sofia's Immigrant Diary, Book One, author Kathryn Lasky weaves the story of the Monari family and their nine-year-old daughter Sofia as they leave their home in Italy to begin anew in America. The family's hope is quickly tested at Ellis Island when Sofia is abruptly taken from her parents and placed in quarantine for what turns out to be a nonexistent disease. Sofia is finally reunited with her family but not before she is exposed to corruption and prejudice that teach her the importance of friendship and inner strength. Today's young readers learn about the courage displayed by immigrants as they walked through the Golden Door to the United States.
Home At Last: Sofia's Immigrant Diary, Book Two finds the Monari family settled in the North End of Boston in 1903. In this book young readers will live the life of Italian immigrants in the tenements of the crowded North End. Readers will see history through Sofia's eyes as she memorizes "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," meanders through the streets where she hears the bells of the Old North Church, and comes to understand the real importance of Columbus Day.
This second book in Sofia's immigrant experience highlights the importance of education, the powerful role teachers and mentors can play in our lives, and the joy that comes from living in a country where dreams can become realities.
"At last we have an address in America," writes nine-year old Sofia Monari from her Boston home. After almost a month in quarantine in a hospital on Ellis Island, Sofia has been reunited with her family. Papa is working at the Genovese grocery store, Mama is attending English classes, and Sofia is excited about starting school. Sofia likes her third grade teacher, Miss Burnet, and she soon becomes friends with a classmate, Chiarina, who invites her to go to a club for Italian girls. Sofia enjoys being with Chiarina, but it is not the same as it was with Maureen, her best friend from Ellis Island who now lives in Brooklyn.
When Sofia's baby brother Marco has to make an emergency visit to a doctor, he is seen by Dr. Balboni who is from the same part of Italy as the Monaris. After Marco is treated, Mama makes the doctor a special batch of tortellini. Word gets around about how good it is, and soon Mama is making tortellini to sell at the store.
The Monaris settle into life in America. Sofia's older sister Gabriella takes sewing classes, her younger brother Luca finds work selling newspapers and shining shoes, and even Sofia gets a job, lighting fires for Jewish neighbors on their Friday Sabbath. Still, Sofia longs to hear from Maureen and worries that something terrible might have happened to her. When a letter does arrive, it is full of sad news: Maureen's mother is ill, her father cannot find work, and the family may have to return to Ireland.
Summer is hot in Boston and to cool off Sofia and her family often go swimming. After one swimming outing, Sofia becomes very ill from infantile paralysis--a disease that leaves her left leg so weak she must wear a brace and walk with a crutch. For days she has no desire to go anywhere or do anything. Finally, a visit from Dr. Balboni motivates her to get up and go out. He also offers to help Mama and Papa start their own pasta making business.
Things seem to be going well. Mama and Papa accept Dr. Balboni's offer, Sofia learns that she'll have her beloved teacher Miss Burnet in fifth grade, and she is invited to recite a special poem at the Columbus Day assembly. Then, Sofia learns that Maureen's mother has died, and the O'Malleys are scheduled to go back to Ireland. Sofia is very sad. "I start crying and cannot stop." Mama solves the problem: with Dr. Balboni's help, along with the aid of their old friend Father Finnegan, Maureen's father is persuaded to let her stay in America and live with the Monaris. When Sophia sees her dearest friend once again, she walks straight to her, not even needing her crutch. "Together," she says, "we shall rediscover America, but it will be all new to us!"
Thinking About the Book
- Why do you think this book is titled Home At Last?
- If you could use only three words to describe Mrs. Genovese, what words would you choose? Compare your choices with other members of your Discussion Group.
- What is the story of the doll's eye that was eaten? What does it tell you about Mrs. Genovese and her daughter Mirella?
- Sofia is stricken with an illness known as infantile paralysis. What is this disease and how does a person get it?
- Sofia is proud of how quickly she learns English, but her diary also contains Italian words. What do these words or phrases mean?
*una grande nozione
- What is the difference between asking "what job do you want?" and "what do you want to be?"
- Why does Dr. Balboni wear a medal around his neck with Saint Christopher on one side and the Star of David on the other?
- What is the "withered leg talk" and why does Sofia ask Dr. Balboni to deliver this talk to her mother and father?
- What does Maureen O'Malley mean when she tells Sofia that distance in miles counts for nothing when indeed they had shared hearts?
- When Sofia's best friend, Maureen O'Malley, comes to live with the Monaris, she arrives on Columbus Day. Why does Sofia call this "a perfect day for Maureen to come here"?
- In her diary entry for May 5, 1903 Sofia writes, "That, I think, was my worst nightmare-being forgotten." With the other members of your group, discuss what Sofia means. Is being forgotten a nightmare?
- Food is an important part of Sofia's diary. Celebrate Italian cooking with a "Taste of Italy" party. Ask members of your Discussion Group to each bring in some food Sofia writes about in her diary. Of course, make sure everyone tries some tortellini, but also consider gnocchi, tagliatelle, and cassat cake.
- In your Discussion Group share your opinions about why you think Kathryn Lasky, the author of Home At Last, included the character Harvard professor William Burnet in this book. Sofia memorized the poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to recite at her school's Columbus Day assembly. Find this poem and read it. Do you think it would be hard to memorize this poem and recite it? Why or why not?
- When Sofia visits Miss Burnet's home, she learns about astronomy from her father Dr. Burnet. Learn about the following and try to find a photograph to share with your group.
*Milky Way galaxy
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.