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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
- Parents say
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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.
Talk to your kids 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?