Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story

Warren, Andrea. Orphan Train Rider:  One Boy's True Story. 1996. 80pp. Lexile 960.

In this and other books, Warren brings history to life through interviews with people who lived through important times and events.  Readers hear directly from Lee Nailling, who rode an orphan train to Texas in 1926 along with his two brothers.  He was one of more than 200,000 children sent from the East Coast between 1859 to 1929 to be taken in by Midwestern families.  Many of the children, who didn’t know if they’d be treated as family members or as servants, had parents who couldn’t afford to care for them. Nailling’s memories describe the journey and the agony of being sent to different homes from his brothers.  Warren balances his personal saga with a general history of the orphan trains. Although the ending for Nailling was relatively happy, readers will sympathize with the plights and fears of the orphans.  Well-chosen details, apt quotations, and black-and-white photographs add to the engaging narrative.

Fiction Tie-in:  Although Karen Cushman is best known for Catherine Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice, she created a memorable protagonist who rides an orphan train in Rodzina.  Rodzina is a twelve-year-old Polish-American orphan sent West in 1881 on an orphan train from Chicago.  She's a large, angry, kind girl who's scared of what could happen but fiercely determined to make her life better.  A great read that incorporates a lot of history, including the orphan trains, immigration, and limited choices for females at that time.