7 Best Books About Orphan Trains Update 05/2022

Orphan Train a novel
Christina Baker Kline

Between 1854 and 1929, so-called orphan trains transported thousands of abandoned children from East Coast towns to Midwest farmlands, where their destinies were decided solely by chance. Whether or not they were adopted by a loving and caring family, they faced a life of hard labor and servitude as children and teenagers.

Mail-Order Kid
Marilyn June Coffey

Three-year-old Teresa was transported from her New York orphanage, where the Foundling nuns did nothing except wash her curly black hair, to a bleak house in Kansas with cold-hearted “parents” as a result of the enormous Orphan Train migration. Here she found herself in a weird German-speaking world that she had never heard of before. She was subjected to whippings and sexual abuse in this strange land.

Many orphans like Teresa were taken from orphanages and transferred by train (or “relocated”) to practically every state in the United States between 1854 and 1929. Mail-Order One tiny girl’s quest for a “true” mother is the focus of Kid, a film about the orphan train movement told from the perspective of that child as she grows up and finally comes to grips with the events of the past, her religion, and who she is as an adult.

Riders on the Orphan Train
Alison Moore

Orphan Train Riders tells the narrative of a little-known chapter in American history. Over 250,000 “surrendered” and “orphaned” children were “placed out” across the country between 1854 and 1929. They began their voyage in New York and were given away at train stations in every state in the US.

We follow Ezra Duval and Elizabeth Farrell, two children from quite different origins who happen to meet on a train travelling west in 1918. Their voyage is a story of displacement, loss, and the desire for home that is at the heart of the American experience.

The Chaperone
Laura Moriarty

Louise Brooks’ life inspired the narrative of two women who couldn’t be more different, and the summer that changed both of their lives.

In 1922, only a few years before she will become a famous cinema actress and an icon for her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita for a summer in New York City and the avant-garde Denishawn school of dance. Much to her annoyance, she is escorted by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone. While Cora Carlisle is a neighbor whom Louise’s parents have hired for the purpose of decorum, she is neither her mother nor a friend. Cora, on the other hand, is making the journey for her own personal reasons. Cora, on the other hand, has no idea what she’s getting herself into: young Louise, already strikingly attractive and sporting her famed black bob, is known for her arrogance, disrespect for tradition, and high intelligence. In Grand Central, Cora is worried that overseeing Louise will be both taxing and impossible. Her entire life hinges on the five weeks she spends with him.

Even as she does her best to keep an eye on Louise in an unfamiliar and bustling city, Cora embarks on her own adventure to uncover the answer to the question at the core of her being in New York. Even if what she finds isn’t what she expected, the freedom she feels as a result of it is beyond anything she could have imagined. Summertime brings Cora a new perspective on life and a fresh appreciation for what it means to be living in the twenty-first century.

My Heart Remembers
Kim Vogel Sawyer

Will the three orphan-train siblings ever find each other again after being apart for so long? Three Irish-immigrant children are brought to Missouri for adoption after being orphaned in a tenement fire. Maelle, 8, is determined to keep her siblings together, but each child is removed by a different household. In the meantime, Maelle pledges to continue her search for both of her siblings and that they will one day be reunited. Maell has been looking for answers for the last seventeen years. But time has taken its toll on her optimism, as well as her memories. Are Mattie and Molly still hanging out together? Is there any hope that she’ll ever get to see her siblings again?

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

New York Times bestseller and multiple award winner Anthony Doerr’s wonderfully ambitious story of a blind girl and a German boy who meet in occupied France as they both struggle to survive World War II. A few blocks from the Museum of Natural History where her father works, Marie-Laure lives with him and her mother. In order to help his blind six-year-old daughter Marie-Laure find her way home, her father constructs her a miniature replica of their neighborhood. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. They may be carrying the museum’s most priceless and deadly treasure.

Werner, an orphan, grows up in a mining village in Germany with his younger sister, fascinated by a rudimentary radio they discover. The new instruments Werner builds and fixes make him an expert, and his talent earns him a spot in the rigorous Hitler Youth academy and a subsequent special duty to track down the opposition. Werner travels into the heart of the conflict, becoming increasingly conscious of the human cost of his espionage, and ends up at Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-come Laure’s together. When it comes to physical description and beautiful metaphor, Doerr’s writing is out-of-this-world. He shows how, against all circumstances, individuals attempt to be good to one another by deftly tying the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner together. The ten-year process of creating All the Light We Cannot See has resulted in a wonderful, deeply touching novel from a writer whose lines “never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

It’s 1939. NAZI Germany. The entire nation is on pins and needles. When it comes to death, things have never been busier, and they will only get busier from here on out.

In the suburbs of Munich, Liesel Meminger is a foster kid who steals whenever she comes across something she can’t resist—books. A Jewish guy in her basement and her accordion-playing foster father are just two of the people she teaches to read with the books she steals during bombing raids. Award-winning novelist Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time in wonderfully written writing that burns with fire.

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