Monday, February 8, 2010

ORPHAN WEEK - Train Rider

Here is what I think of when I think of orphans:

Oliver Twist saying “please sir I want some more” and my grandfather, John O’Brien.

My grandfather, like the boy in my first orphan book this week, wasn’t technically an orphan. Both were taken to orphanages by Dads who couldn’t cope after the death of the mothers. All kinds of family lore abounds about my grandfather's days in and out of the orphanage. It is my understanding that he was taken by busy farmers on more than one occasion and worked hard and treated poorly. At the age of 12 he ran away from one farm and walked the 60 miles back to the orphanage. My grandfather married late in life and had four children. I still remember something my aunt told me once. They had a big round table where they ate, did homework and such and her Dad was there every night. When other father's were going to Elk's meetings and bowling league games he just wanted to be in his home with his family.

I think my grandfather would have been able to relate to this first story:

TITLE: Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story

AUTHOR: Andrea Warren

WHO IS THE ORPHAN? This is the true story of Lee Nailling from Watertown, New York. He was born in 1917.

HOW WAS HE ORPHANED? When he was seven, Lee’s mother died giving birth to her seventh child. His father couldn’t cope. He told the three oldest to leave home and fend for themselves, found caretakers for the two youngest and took Lee and his brother, who was four, to an orphanage.

WHAT WAS ORPHAN LIFE LIKE FOR HIM? Lee lived two years in the orphanage where he was always hungry, teased for being an orphan at the local school and kept busy protecting his younger brother from bullies. During this time he developed a distrust for adults and had a hard time controlling his temper.

WHAT WAS HIS TURNING POINT? A chance to ride the orphan train. This book does a masterful job of describing the fear and dread Lee was feeling at the time, mostly related to keeping his brothers together. (The day they left his Dad appeared with his baby brother, then three, and handed him over to Lee).

A man named Charles Loring Brace thought of the idea to send homeless children from the over-crowded, eastern cities by train to the west. These trains were operated from 1854 to 1930 and were responsible for placing about 200,000 children. Ads appeared in towns where the trains would be going and people interested in adopting children would meet the train. Lee remembers one man checking his teeth as though he were livestock!

The boys wind up being adopted by three different families in Texas. The whole process is particularly bumpy for Lee, as he is rejected by the first two families who take him. The third family is a charm and this part of the book WILL MELT YOUR HEART. The three families arrange to get the brothers together on a regular basis and they are eventually reunited with their older brothers back east.

Ages 9-12

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