Rodzina Book Poster Image


Plucky orphans struggle in the rugged West in harsh tale.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

An old lady deciding whether to adopt Rodzina is concerned that she might be Jewish. A story about pig excrement.

Not applicable

Rodzina is propositioned by one adult man, and another tries to force her to become his wife.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Adult cigar smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Newbery-winning author Karen Cushman's Rodzina depicts the difficult and bleak life of orphans sent on Orphan Trains to live with settlers in the West during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Kids probably will want the historical background.

What's the story?

Rodzina, the eponymous heroine of Karen Cushman's historical novel, is a big, angry, chunky, homely Polish-American orphan. Though 12, she looks 15, and is sure no one could possibly want to adopt her except to exploit her as a virtual slave. Forced onto one of the Orphan Trains, which took orphans from the cities in the East to find homes in the frontier lands of th West in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it seems she may be right -- the only people interested in her are looking for hard workers, not daughters. The adult caretakers on this expedition, Mr. Szprot and the woman Rodzina calls Miss Doctor, come from the Mr. Bumble school of orphan care -- they are mean and seemingly heartless, though there may be more to Miss Doctor than meets the eye. But if they won't look after her best interests, Rodzina is determined to do it herself, even if it means she never finds a home.

Is it any good?


Rodzina is no winsome and appealing little Oliver Twist -- she's tough and strong and, as the narrator of her own tale, far more engaging to readers than she is to the other characters in the story. But the world she describes is somewhat Dickensian, filled with filth, squalor, and a lot of mean adults who don't like children.

Two-time Newbery winner Karen Cushman writes an enjoyable story, but this is not her best work. She softens the story for her audience, and experienced young readers will see the too-pat ending coming a long way off. In the meantime, though, this tale of plucky orphans making their way in a rugged and unfeeling world is entertaining enough, and Rodzina is an unusual heroine.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the orphans' situation and the historical context. Why were the orphans treated the way they were? 

  • What happens to orphaned children in America today?

  • What do you like about historical fiction? Have you read any other books by Karen Cushman? How does this one compare? 

Book details

Author:Karen Cushman
Genre:Historical Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Clarion Books
Publication date:March 31, 2003
Number of pages:215
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12

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Parent of a 4, 6, and 10 year old Written byjustanotherrand... June 7, 2010

more by karen cushman

Yes, I loved it. also by Karen Cushman is Catherine called Birdy, and the Midwife's Apprentice.
What other families should know
Educational value
Parent of a 4, 7, 9, and 11 year old Written bystlcathmom December 15, 2009
The sexual content just not age appropriate!!A twelve year old being propositioned is not the way I would explain it, my thought is why draw pictures when it is not necessary. Too many great books out there without the sexual content!!
What other families should know
Too much sex
Educational value
Kid, 9 years old April 14, 2010


Rodzina is a pretty sad book to read, I think that kids under 8 might get a little scared at some parts.
What other families should know
Great role models