Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews



Karen Cushman
Historical Fiction
For ages 12 and up
Clarion Books, 2003   ISBN: 978-0618133512

Rodzina has seen the face of tragedy several times over, and now it seems as if hope has really turned its back on this homely immigrant from Poland. Rodzina and many other orphaned children of all ages are being shipped out of Chicago on a train. They are going west to find new homes and new lives. It is believed by the powers that be that working on farms as farm laborers will be good for these orphans from the cities. Rodzina and many of the other orphans see this change in their circumstances as a sentence to a life of slavery. Needless to say, Rodzina would rather live in an orphanage or even on the streets, rather than face an existence in a strange place where she has to work in the fields from sun up to sun down day after day. Bitter, sharp, and angry, Rodzina isolates herself from everyone else on the train as it clatters west. At each town new town along the rails, a few more of the orphans find homes until Rodzina is the only one left, alone and unwanted.

Carefully researched, this is a book that tells the story of a time when orphans were considered to be people who were not to be trusted, and who were often treated little better than slaves or beasts of burden. It was not uncommon for orphans to have their teeth and limbs examined by prospective ‘parents’ at the time of ‘adoption’ to determine their worthiness as potential farm hands.

With the skill and finesse that we have come to expect from Karen Cushman, she weaves a rich and powerful tale of self discovery, and ultimately, hope. The reader will find a detailed history of the Orphan Train and other similar efforts to “rehabilitate’ orphaned and unwanted children in the back of the book. Karen Cushman has received great acclaim for her historical novels, being awarded a Newbery Honor for “Catherine, Called Birdy” and the Newbery Medal for “The Midwife’s Apprentice.”