Wednesday, August 24, 2016

BOOK NOOK: ORPHAN TRAIN BY CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE

Gentle Readers . . . and Maxwell,

Many of us who live in the United States today are unaware of the phenomenon known as "orphan trains." From 1854 to 1929, children's aid societies sent more than two hundred thousand children from New York to less populated parts of the country, most often the Midwest. Some of the children truly had been orphaned. Others were abandoned or homeless.

Chaperones accompanied the children on the trains, which stopped at towns where a farmer might want to take in a boy to help with the heavy workload, or a couple might want a girl to help with their younger children. Some children were adopted and became true family members. Many were nothing more than indentured servants.

The children were known as "train riders." When they left the train to be considered by the townsfolk, a child might find his teeth checked by a dirty farmer's hand. Babies and older boys who appeared strong were usually the first to be adopted. Some children might get off the train at one stop after another, only to return––unwanted–– to an orphanage with the chaperones. A number of children also landed in multiple "homes" before they found a place where they were wanted and loved.



I haven't discovered any train riders still living, but it's believed they left behind as many as two million descendants.

In Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline pieces together the intricate fictional story of a 1929 train rider with that of a Penobscot Indian girl in 2011 who is about to age out of the foster care system. Together they create the quilt of an elderly woman who wants her attic cleaned out. Or does she?



Nine-year-old Niamh Power and her family leave Ireland in search of a better life in New York City, but Niamh is alone after a devastating fire in their apartment.

There is no adult on this side of the Atlantic who has reason to take any interest in me, no one to guide me onto a boat or pay for my passage. I am a burden to society, and nobody's responsibility.

Niamh becomes a train rider in search of a home. During her journey, she befriends a young man named Hans, known as "Dutchy." Niamh and Dutchy vow to find each other someday.

Molly Ayer is an unwanted seventeen year old who lives in a foster home.

Through her bedroom wall Molly can hear her foster parents talking about her in the living room, just beyond her door. "This is not what we signed up for," Dina is saying. "If I'd known she had this many problems, I never would've agreed to it." 

Molly attempted to steal a library book and has been sentenced to fifty community service hours. Her boyfriend, Jack, asks his mother if Molly can fulfill the service requirement by helping the wealthy lady for whom she keeps house clean out her attic––a large task that Jack's mother doesn't want to undertake.

Parallel lives intertwine when Molly meets Vivian Daly.

I believe in ghosts. They're the ones who haunt us, the ones who have left us behind. Many times in my life I have felt them around me, observing, witnessing, when no one in the living world knew or cared what happened.

I am ninety-one years old, and almost everyone who was once in my life is now a ghost. 

Orphan Train touches on the theme of writing the story of one's own life, but delves mostly deeply into the theme of loss––including the loss of family, but moreover, the loss of ancestry, the loss of a culture. The coming together and separation of people who long to see each other again, but might not ever do so.  I tend to dwell on the many losses in my life, but then a book such as Orphan Train reminds me that loss is offset by gains, perhaps more gains than the losses we experience.

As a book I could hardly bear to put down, Orphan Train earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Very Highest and Greatest Approval For Beautiful Writing and Enchanting Characters.

Happy reading!


Infinities of love,

Janie Junebug

You can learn more about the orphan trains at The National Orphan Train Complex Web site: http://orphantraindepot.org/




35 comments:

  1. It breaks my heart to see homeless dogs. I don't have a point of reference when it comes to abandoned children p.
    R

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    1. I volunteered a lot in public schools when my children were young. I don't think I ever encountered a child in the foster care system, but I dealt with children whose home lives defied my imagination.

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  2. That sounds like a good one! I'm definitely intrigued by your summary.

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    1. I loved it. One of the best books I've read in a while.

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  3. This looks interesting. Imagine all those poor kids hoping to get a home. I wonder how many did.

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    1. Many thousands of children ended up in good homes. It wasn't an easy journey, though, and some children were abused or ran away.

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  4. I was just reading Anne of Green Gables and ended up having this discussion with some friends--how terrible and crazy it must have been for children like that, and how much easier it was to adopt for people who wanted to adopt.

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    1. The people who took children from the orphan trains didn't have to adopt them, though many did. They were required to send the children to school, feed and clothe them, and pay them an hourly wage for any time spent working. Not everyone met these requirements. I love Anne of Green Gables and just saw that CBC is working on a new "Anne" series.

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  5. We had a similar phenomenon in Canada during the same era but the homeless/orphaned/impoverished kids were sent here from the slums of Great Britain. They were called "Home Children" or "Barnardo Boys."

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    1. I've seen a couple of movies and a documentary about the home children. Many were sent to Australia, too.

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  6. I watched the PBS documentary about the Orphan Trains a few years ago. Very interesting time in history.

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    1. I want to see that documentary. The personal stories of some of the riders are online.

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  7. You're good to post this. People don't tend to realize how young our current child welfare system is. Orphan Trains weren't too long ago, and similar horrors still go on. Thanks for highlighting the book - cool cover too.
    Love ya, girlie.

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    1. Love ya back, Great Poet of the Blogs.

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  8. I've heard of this book and now I might find it and read it. Thanks for the review! And what a sad piece of history.

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    1. It's sad, but it's even worse that so many children lived on the streets of New York. At least the orphan trains gave them a chance to find a home.

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  9. Sounds like a wonderful and interesting read!

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  10. It's a compelling story, and I'm sure there are pluses and minuses to finding homes for unwanted children this way.

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    1. It was prior to the foster care system.

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  11. I read a book on the Orphan Trains several years ago. Went to a talk on them and bought the book. I hadn't known about all those children, either. Many of those kids ended up here in the upper midwest on the many farms. This sounds like an interesting read.

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    1. Yes, a lot of the children ended up in Minnesota and the Dakotas, although some trains went to other parts of the country, including Louisiana and Texas.

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    1. Then it has the Linda Kay Seal of Approval, too.

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  13. Janie, sounds like a great book. I remember hearing about these Orphan Trains. Wasn't the character from Anne of Green Gables Orphan Train rider? Thanks for the recommendation and glowing review. If I were a book reader then this would intrigue me. Who knows maybe I will read it some day. :)

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    1. No, Anne is in an orphanage. Siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert decide to adopt a boy to help on their farm. They end up with Anne, who becomes one of the most adored children ever. Children transported to Canada from Great Britain were called Home Children.

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  14. This made me very sad.
    I think I'll go watch Bugs Bunny on You Tube.

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    1. Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit . . .

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  15. Just bought it--thanks for the heads up!!

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  16. Hi Janie - Orphan Trains and trains (or equivalent) out of Europe in the Wars ... they do make, desperately sad, true reading of those particularly periods ... now it is probably worse, I regret to say: boat people ... and many others ... I wish we could give everyone a normal life ... thanks for letting us know about this - Hilary

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    1. So many refugees need a permanent homeland. I watched a great documentary about Nicholas Winton (I hope I have his name right) who got so many Jewish children out of Germany to safety in England. Many of them had similar experiences to the children on the orphan trains.

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  17. Yes, this was an excellent book! And from what I understand fairly historically accurate as well.

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    1. Based on the stories I read about real riders, it's very accurate.

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  18. My mom told me this book was great, and it is sitting on my shelf waiting for me. She said it was a quick read, but it sounds like a very emotional read.

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