Review: ORPHAN TRAIN by Christina Baker Kline

During a recent one day sale on Amazon, I bought ORPHAN TRAIN for only a few dollars for my Kindle. I have read other books about the real orphan trains: trains full of NYC street urchins that brought them to the Midwest for “adoption” and a new life in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

In ORPHAN TRAIN, the story flips between current day foster kid, Molly, who is doing community service at an elderly woman’s house, and the Irish immigrant girl Niamh, whose family perishes in a fire in the late 1920’s. Molly is part Native American and while not an orphan (her mother is alive), she is in the foster care system and has moved about many times. She is almost eighteen and hopes to stay out of trouble until then. Unfortunately, she chooses to steal a copy of “Jane Eyre” from the library and has to do community service to make up for her theft. The elderly woman she works for (they are cleaning her attic) is named Vivian. She is a wealthy widow and she tells Molly the stories behind the items in her attic. Vivian is really Niamh, though – a young Irish girl who leaves NYC after her family supposedly all dies in a tenement fire. Niamh’s tenacity to survive and her integrity to be the best she can be given her circumstances is mirrored in modern day Molly. Over time the two stories connect and we see how each character has become who she is at the end.

I loved reading this story. I always find historical fiction interesting, and Niamh’s story held my attention. My only dislike in the book was the character of Molly’s foster mother, whom I found to be almost a caricature.  Also the ending wrapped up quickly and neatly – I would have loved to follow Niamh’s earlier life a bit longer.

In all, I’d recommend it if you like to read about this period in history.

Never heard of the orphan trains? Check out the PBS documentary (or see the references on their page) at

YA Review: MAUS by Art Spiegelman

I recently was subbing in a nearby middle school and the students were reading MAUS by Art Spiegelman. I had never seen this book (though it won a Pulitzer and is widely known). After my day teaching, I found the book, THE COMPLETE MAUS, in the library so that I could continue the story. Maus is an early graphic novel (originally published in 1991). It is told entirely in comic strip form. The first part is “A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History” and leads up to Spiegelman’s parents being sent to Auschwitz, while the second part, “And Here My Troubles Began”, focuses on his father’s experience in the concentration camp and after the war for his parents.

MAUS depicts the story of Spiegelman’s father’s survival of the Holocaust in Europe, as he relays it to his son. A Polish Jew, Vladek Spiegelman marries his wife Anja and they are wealthy and successful business owners. WWII is creeping across Europe, however, and antisemitism is on the rise. Vladek relays when they first see a Nazi flag, when their first friends lose their businesses, when people begin to disappear. Slowly you see their world deteriorating, yet through it all, Vladek’s resiliency and resourcefulness shine through. He protects his wife first and foremost, and tries to save her parents as well. They have their young son go to live with friends so that he will be safe (he ends up dying though). Their main goal becomes to survive and make it through to the other side of WWII. The stories become more and more disturbing as the war progresses, and are made all the more disturbing as you know this is a true story.

I know I’m a little late to the party here as this book has been around for a while, but I am so thankful that I came across it and read it. Spiegelman’s depictions of the Nazi’s as cats and the Jews as mice is very clever (the Americans are dogs), and this book can be a great teaching tool in the classroom, particularly with older students. The graphic novel form makes it both easy to read and yet disturbing. Peppered throughout is Spiegelman’s own relationship with his father, especially in the second volume. You can see him trying to come to grips with their relationship, his father’s seemingly eccentric ways, and his father’s failing health, along with his mother’s death several years earlier. This was a touching and brilliant depiction of a Holocaust survivor which stayed with me long afterwards.

Highly recommended for this genre/time period! I got mine at the library.

Saturday Snapshot: Mount Rushmore in Lego

The US government shutdown is continuing (as of this writing – 10/16) and people are bemoaning the closing of many of the national parks (really quite a tragedy — I realize they don’t have the funding to run them, but it’s keeping people from experiencing our great country!). While I believe Mount Rushmore is now open, at one point I read that it was not only closed, but access roads not in the park to where you could view it were also closed.

So – for your viewing pleasure – and complements of LegoLand- I give you Mount Rushmore —



Notice that George is having his ears cleaned!! lol

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at

You, too, can participate by posting a pic and linking it to her site. ๐Ÿ™‚

Quick Kids’ Review: How to Make Friends and Monsters by Ron Bates

I received HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND MONSTERS from my friends at Zondervan and gave it to my 4th grader to read. Here’s the blurb from Amazon on it:

Some Friends Are Just Worth Making For Howard Boward, science genius, making friends in middle school is hard. The other kids have more fun creatively expanding Howard’s name than actually hanging out, as in How-weird or How-Lame. . So, why not actually make a friend? A little wonder putty, some DNA, a few accidentally spilled chemicals and—boom!—instant friend. Monster friend, that is. Franklin ends up being cool in middle school, and he helps Howard climb the uber-popular ladder, becoming How-Cool. But the new fame and friendship isn’t exactly everything Howard hoped. Turns out real friendship might not be so simple, even when you create your own friends from scratch.

Mini Me says that the theme of this book is it’s hard to be a new kid. Overall, she says it is really funny and fun to read. It had some hard words, but not too many. At 352 pages, she was fine with it, but it may seem like a long book to some. We made sure we got a copy for our school library!

Review: The Clearing by Dan Newman

Just in time for Halloween! Dan Newman’s THE CLEARING is a suspenseful story within a story. In 1976 four boys were playing the swamps and woods of St. Lucia when one of them dies. The others decide to keep the events surrounding his death secret and instead blame it on island superstition: the monster Bolum. Time passes and while lives are irreparably changed by the child’s death, life does go on.

Fast forward forty years to present day, and our hero, Nate, is returning to the island to put old ghosts to rest. However, in doing so, Nate opens up old wounds and upsets the precarious balance of society on the island. Soon he is being followed and attacked by scary men wielding sacrificed animals and vials of blood. Someone is trying to hush up the events of that night and will stop at nothing to keep Nate and anyone who helps him quiet.

I enjoyed reading this novel which read quickly and was rather thrilling. At the end things tied up pretty neatly, and I felt that Newman expounded the final conclusions a bit too much (just in case someone couldn’t figure it out on their own, I guess); however, all in all, I enjoyed this light read and kept going to the end. A little fantastic – yes. A good read for the Halloween season – yes!

I got mine as an ARC from Net Galley (Exhibit A Publishers) – thanks!

Review: SILENT NOON by Trilby Kent

If you read my blog, you know I enjoy reading books by a former student (now grown up!), Trilby Kent. Trilby published SILENT NOON this summer in Great Britain and Canada. I was able to get it on Kindle here in the States.

In SILENT NOON, it is the early 1950’s, and Barney Holland is sent on scholarship to a boys’ boarding school in England. Post-war England is still recovering and the boys are a scrappy lot. Barney doesn’t fit well with the others, and finds a companion in the older (but troubled) pupil Ivor. Then one of the teacher’s daughters starts attending school as the only girl (she was sent home from her boarding school) and she and Barney form an unlikely friendship. Unfortunately, all the plots converge into a somewhat traumatic and unsettling ending.

There’s a lot going on in this book: peer relationships, budding sexuality, a ghost story, and more. Trilby has a wonderful way of making post-war Britain come alive. The details of daily life are quite vivid and one can feel both the coldness of the dormitory and the coldness of the relationships. One note: if you are looking for a neatly tied up ending with full resolution to all plot lines, this isn’t the read for you! I really enjoyed it, and it kept me thinking about it afterwards.

You can see it on Amazon for Kindle, where I got mine.

Saturday Snapshot: Peak Color!

The leaves are peaking around here now, and it is so beautiful!!

Here’s the private drive to our house and the most beautiful tree:

driveway tree


Here’s our driveway: (I took this a few days ago — still some green!)



Here’s that favorite bush I keep taking pictures of in our side yard:



And here’s another from the side yard:



Happy Fall!!

Saturday Snapshot is now hosted by Melinda at You, too, can participate by posting a pic you took and linking it to her site!

Saturday Snapshot: More Fall Color!

The leaves are turning – here in New England! We are certainly not at peak yet (the news said it was peaking in Maine; we still need time for the color to move south), but it is changing! Here are some pictures from my sideyard (click on them for best results!):




I think I like the yellows best! We have all sorts of trees around us – we basically live in the woods. They were all here when we built the house (which is in what was a meadow). The birch trees are so pretty in the fall! Our neighbor has the most lovely red maple trees that turn a gorgeous color, too.

I’ll keep posting as the weeks pass.

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Melinda at You, too, can participate by posting a picture and linking it to her site! (Appropriate pics, please – and no swiping!).

Kids’ Review- Charis: Journey to Pandora’s Jar by Nicole Y. Walters

My friends at Booktrope contacted me to see if I wanted to review this middle grade book. I thought Charis’ story sounded a bit like a female Percy Jackson and I was interested, so I said yes.

I just loved this story about thirteen year old Charis, chosen by the gods (Greek ones that is!) to find and save Pandora’s jar with its last true hope inside. Charis is a pretty typical teen, with typical teen problems with peers and schoolwork, but she is destined to be a great hero. Along with her buddy Gabe, and her love of Greek mythology, Charis has to face down some pretty powerful and scary opponents in order to save the world.

I just loved the character of Charis! She was strong and smart, but not perfect. Her relationships with her family and her friend Gabe were realistic. Charis is a great role model for tweens and teens, and I’ll be giving my daughter this book to read.

While the viewpoint changes throughout this story, from Charis to the gods and back again, it was not overly confusing. I think kids who like a good fantasy/adventure would enjoy this story, girls and boys alike.