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Chapter 10 - The Orphan Train

As I have mentioned previously, my grandmother while not exactly an orphan, grew up in an orphanage. After her mother died, her father put her, her sister, and her brothers who were not old enough to go out and work, into an orphanage as he felt he could not take care of them. My grandmother stayed there until she was 14, went to a trade school and the was sent out into the world to find her own way at age 16. A pretty tough life for a 16 year old I'd have to say.

Since I recently read a book which featured orphans, and as last week was World Orphan Week, I started to think about the books I've read that have orphans as central characters. Surprisingly I was able to come up with quite a few. In some of the stories, the orphans succeed, in others they do not but then, that is what makes a very good tale.

Here are a few of my favorites...

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens - Maybe the original orphan story, Dickens' tale of the boy named Oliver Twist is wonderfully written. Oliver is raised in an orphanage where nothing is given for free, punishment is severe, and the children are treated badly. Oliver is sold to an undertake to be a professional mourner because of his pale, sad countenance. After escaping, he makes his way to London where he becomes friends with professional pickpocket, The Artful Dodger. The story is social commentary and critique and totally enjoyable with a wonderful Dickens cast of characters both good and bad.

South of Broad by Pat Conroy - While this book touches on many themes, one of the main ones is about two orphans who become friends with the story's narrator, Leo Bloom King. We first meet Niles and Starla when they are about 18 and 17 years old and are handcuffed to chairs at a Charleston orphanage. Through his wiles and his mother's intervention, Leo gets them freed and they become lifelong friends. The themes include friendship, class, society and parenting to name a few. (It was actually this book that made me start thinking about orphans.)

This Tender Land by William Kent Kruger - I mentioned this book last year but it was so good it deserves a second mention. In This Tender Land, Kruger tells the story of four orphans who escape from an Indian boarding school where they are treated terribly. Their coming of age story as they try to find relatives and themselves is exciting and beautifully written.

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein - Between 1854 and 1929 over 100,000 orphans were relocated from the Eastern part of the United States to the Midwest. While some adoptive families were childless couples looking for children to love, other adopters were simply looking for servants and farm workers. The book, The Orphan Train, tells a story of a few of these children.

The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson - In North Korea, orphans are given the most dangerous, deadly jobs as they do not have families to question their deaths or disappearances. The Orphan Master's Son is a story about one of these orphans and his life in North Korea going from one job to the next. While a fictional tale, Adam Johnson states that every incident in the book is documented from accounts by North Korean refugees.

Do you have any favorite books about orphans? Please share!


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