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Chapter 17 - The Orphan's Tale

Home of the Friendless, Baltimore, Maryland

As I sat down to think about this post, something which kept popping into my mind was how many novels have orphans as their protagonists. Certainly, orphaned or abandoned children are handicapped right from the start and tales of how they succeed are motivational to a reader.

I think I am also interested in this topic because my maternal grandmother was one of these "orphans". Grandma's mother died when she was seven and her little sister was six. In 1915, their father left all six of his children at an orphanage in Baltimore City named Home of the Friendless where they became wards of the state. What a great name for an orphanage huh?

Grandma used to tell us stories about being there, not to scare us but just to tell us about her past. I remember one where she said if children didn't eat their dinner, it would sit on the table until the next morning and the child would have to eat it for breakfast or go hungry. The boys and girls were kept in separate buildings and she only got to see her brothers on Sunday. Grandma left the orphanage at 15 or 16 and was sent to a center where they taught her skills so she would be able to get a job. I recently found a document that "paroled" her from the center and identified that she was now qualified for a job and to live as an adult!

Anyway, here are some books which feature orphans at the heart of their stories. Like my grandmother, most of them went on to have a fairly happy life!

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline - Kline's story starts in current time with a young girl in foster care. When Molly Dyer gets into some trouble, she is given community service to perform. That is when she meets Vivian, a woman who was on an Orphan Train and so the story begins.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson - It seems that orphans are given the most dangerous jobs in North Korea because no one really cares about them. This story follows the life of Pak Jun Do, a boy who believes he is the son of the orphan master, the man who takes care of the orphans. This is a difficult book to read because of the terrible things it documents but author Adam Johnson tells the reader that almost all of the events in the book have been recounted by defectors from North Korea.

The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff - The Orphan’s Tale is a World War II novel which tells the struggles of sixteen year-old Noa and Astrid, a Jewish woman, as they attempt to survive World War II by hiding and performing in the Circus Neuhoff. Noa, originally from Holland, was kicked out of her home by her parents when they discover she has become pregnant by a German soldier. After the baby is taken away from her, Noa goes to live and work at a train station in Germany. She rescues a Jewish baby boy from a train full of babies and escapes where she hides out in the circus.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford - Chinese orphan children were sold into domestic service at the beginning of the 20th century and the latest book by Jamie Ford details the lives of two of them who meet on the ship to America. After being apart for years, one of them is raffled off at the Seattle World's Fair in 1909 and they meet up again.

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty - This book runs a parallel story about Louise Brooks, a 1920's movie star, and Cora Carlisle her chaperone on a trip from Kansas to New York City. At 15 Louise decides to join a dance troupe in New York and Cora goes as her escort. Cora has her own story as she was on the orphan train and wants to go back to New York to find out more about her family and her past.

Have you read these or any other books about orphans? Let me know.

You can order these or other books at

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