Pick of the Week: The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

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After 8-year-old Vivian's Irish immigrant family died in the tenements of New York City in 1929, she is put on a trainload of other orphans by the Children's Aid Society and taken out West to Iowa, Minnesota and other western states. At various small town depots, the children were lined up and selected by farmers' and families who needed an extra pair of hands to help out.

In Christina Baker Kline's novel The Orphan Train, young Vivian bounced from orphantrainlarge.jpgone poor and desperate family to another, until one of the adults suggests she could provide him something more than her household labor. She escapes. In alternate chapters, the reader meets Molly Ayres, an unhappy teen living in a foster home, who must serve community service hours by cleaning out the attic of an elderly woman.

What she learns is that the old woman really doesn't want to throw anything away, but wants to re-visit her past by re-arranging all her stuff into new boxes. To her surprise, Molly is game since she knows she's pretty good at organizing things even if she has very little patience for old people.

The relationship that develops between the two women is the heart of this story. I loved this book and am interested in learning more about the Orphan Trains that brought poor New York City kids out of the slums and dumped them in the Midwest. This would be an excellent book for book groups and I think older teens would enjoy this slice of history as well.

Ellen Jennings, ejennings@cooklib.org


Ellen Jennings works at Cook Library as a Readers’ Advisor and the Teen Services Coordinator. When she’s not working she can be found reading, researching her genealogy,  walking at Independence Grove or taking care of her family. Of the many  jobs she's had, working at Cook Library is definitely her favorite because every day she gets to learn something new.