Name of Book: Train to Somewhere
Author: Eve Bunting
Illustrator: Ronald Himler
Publisher: Clarion Books, New York
Audience: Ages 8-13
Summary: From the mid-1850s to the late 1920s, “Orphan Trains” took children from the streets and orphanages of New York City to adoptive families in the West. Some of the children found loving homes. Others traded one sort of misery for another. Some families adopted children who could labor on the farm or help with housework and younger children. Marianne, an older, plain-looking girl is the narrator of this touching story. Marianne is one of 14 children making the trip. She is hoping to be reunited with her mother who left several years previously to make a new life for them in the West and who had promised to send for Marianne. At each stop, Marianne searches the crowds for her mother and watches as the boys and the younger girls are chosen for adoption. Finally only Marianne and Miss Randolph are left on the train. Somewhere, Iowa is the last stop. Waiting for them are an older couple who had been hoping for a boy. The grandmotherly woman looks at Marianne and recognizes the hurt of not being chosen and of not finding her mother. She tells Marianne that “Sometimes what you get turns out to be better than what you wanted in the first place.” The story ends on this hopeful note. Readers may be interested in learning more about the Orphan Trains and what happened to those children seeking a loving home and family.
Literary Elements at work in the story: The setting and theme of this book opens a window to a little-known aspect of history. The illustrations convey the emotions of the story. The story presents the universal desire of every child for a loving family.
Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: The people portrayed are all Caucasian. Orphans who did not have other family to care for them were usually from the poor economic strata of the time. You may want to learn about life for orphans of all ethnicities in this era.
Scripture: Many passages record God’s instructions to care for marginalized people such as orphans. See also Matthew 25:37-40; 1 Peter 2:9-10
Theology: Caring for the marginalized people; Family
Faith Talk Questions:
- What is a family? What makes people a family?
- What is a “church family?” How are the people with whom we worship at church our family?
- Research the orphan trains. Why did people think sending orphans to new families was a good thing to do? How do you suppose the children felt?
- How do we provide for children who need families today?
- What problems do some children face today regarding families and places to live? What is being done for children who are homeless, living in poverty, etc?
- What challenges, opportunities, emotions face children in foster care?
- How has the adoption procedure changed since the days of the orphan trains? What are the challenges, opportunities, emotions faced by adoptive parents? By children who were adopted? By those awaiting adoption?
- Do you think Marianne and her mother ever find each other? Why or why not?
- Marianne felt that she was not desirable to potential parents who wanted boys or younger children or those who were prettier. What characteristics does society value in people? What does God value?
Review prepared by Union Presbyterian Seminary graduate Mary Anne Welch
Train to Somewhere by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.