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We Rode the Orphan Trains by Andrea Warren

We Rode the Orphan Trains

by Andrea Warren

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    Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed by Stephen O'Connor (alco261)
    alco261: O'Conner's book provides a history of the orphan train effort and Warren's book gives the reader an idea of what it meant to those orphans who were the focus of the orphan train endeavor.

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We Rode the Orphan Trains, written by Andrea Warren, is a collection of brief biographies of men and women whose lives were changed by the orphan trains. Compiling personal interviews with historical research, Warren has gone through great lengths to merging memories with information as she tells the orphan train riders’ stories. Each chapter begins with the orphan train rider’s memories before the train, their experiences on the train, their life after being paired with a new family, and where they are presently (at the time of publication).

This book is written for young readers in grades 4-6. The cover is mostly navy blue with three photographs of children, who do not appear to be orphans, dressed up and posing for pictures with the title We Rode the Orphan Trains across the top. On the inside cover, Warren gives brief background information about orphan trains and their riders, as well as a brief description of the different lives these children found as a result. Each orphan’s story is completely unique, including “Betty, who found a fairy-tale life in a grand hotel; Nettie and her twin, Nellie, who were rescued from their first abusive placement and taken in by a kindhearted family who gave them the love they had hoped for; brothers Howard and Fred, who were adopted into different families; and edith, who longed to know the secrets of her past.” Warren highlights the pain and sorrow of growing up an orphan, as well as the joy belonging to a family.

Warren’s inspirational collection gives hope to adopted and foster families everywhere showing that “family can transcend biology, that strangers can learn to love each other, and that their bonds as family can be strong and true” (124).

I will add that I read Warren’s book in a pairing with a fictional piece titled Orphan Train Children: Lucy’s Wish by Joan Lowery Nixon. While both of these books are set during the same historical time period, and they tell similar stories of abandonment and belonging, they are starkly different. I found Nixon’s piece more difficult to read, even though it was written for a younger audience. I think the reason being that I knew I was reading historical fiction, so Lucy’s story, however emotional and inspirational it may be, is not real. However, Warren’s book is filled with personal accounts from real survivors of orphan trains, their struggles, their insecurities, their personal triumphs.In fact, if Nixon hadn’t included a nonfiction section at the end of her book, I’m not sure how useful it would be for a young reader because the lines between historical fact and fiction have been blurred. Also, Warren’s book seems to focus more on the personal success stories even though the people interviewed were orphan train riders. Nixon spends much of the novel highlighting the emotional pain and physical duress Lucy experiences, which could be useful to young readers. I would definitely use We Rode the Orphan Trains in my high school classroom. I would only suggest Lucy’s Wish to ab interested middle school student as an extension to a unit. ( )
  JoeBar | May 2, 2017 |
I read this in one sitting. Pretty good overview for a children's book. Several short, true stories - more like vignettes- of people who had ridden the 'orphan trains' at the turn of the century (early 1900's) as the title states. I would like to read something on the same subject that goes into a bit more depth. I'm not sure this is possible, as most of the train riders are deceased , and many of them who are still living did not want to speak about their early experiences. I think I liked the first book more, "Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story". ( )
  homeschoolmimzi | Nov 28, 2016 |
*To understand this review fully, please read my review of Orphan Train Rider first.
In We Rode the Orphan Train's introduction, Andrea Warren says readers "were hungry for more stories," so wrote the follow up to Orphan Train Rider: One Boy's True Story. Like these readers, I wanted to hear about other experiences. They couldn't have all been like Lee Nailing's story. Warren gives readers new perspectives, but the historical context is, at times, reprinted verbatim from the first text. Many of the visuals are also the same. I understand that she has to fill in readers who have not read her first book, but I would appreciate some effort to change it up a bit.

Here's what she does well: She includes a chapter about Miss Clara Comstock, a matron on the orphan trains who rode with the children and then became an agent. Warren describes her duties, highlighting her enormous responsibility. Lee Nailing hated the matron on the train, but it seems Miss Comstock was beloved by most orphan train riders.

After Miss Comstock's chapter, the following chapters are devoted to other riders. Readers can trace some common experiences and reactions to this experience. The riders tend to hate the secrecy surrounding their origins, which was upheld by the various societies that sent them away. It was considered better for the children if they didn't know anything about their parents and past. Most of the riders were bullied for being an orphan, and many of the riders do not remember what life was like before the train.

For the most part, the stories are positive ones. However, I was not shocked to discover more stories of abuse. For example, one girl couldn't stop crying at her new "home"; the woman who took her home slapped her and then locked her in the basement, in the dark. When Miss Comstock came to visit (as the agent), she took her away immediately. Another story involves a brother and sister who were sent to Michigan. Because of how isolated the home was, an agent didn't visit them for a full year. When the agent finally came, he/she took them away immediately. The sister, Marge, never talked to her little brother about what happened there. To reiterate what I said in my Orphan Train Rider review, silence is a common reaction to trauma.

In the last chapter, Warren writes: "There will always be critics of the placing out program who say that the orphan trains were wrong. Yet no better alternative was available at that time" (122). Let me break down my problem with this: Warren never includes criticism of the program. I may agree with her that this program was right for the time, but I find this shoddy scholarship. Always include naysayers. Or trust your young readers enough to let them make up their own minds about whether this program was right or wrong. And weren't there alternatives? Isn't that why they stopped running the programs?

Most of the sources cited in Orphan Train Rider were used for this book. Although I was shocked to see that there were fewer of them, she does mention that information was also gathered from interviews and "file materials from the Children's Aid Society" and "Orphan Train Heritage Society" (127). Neither organization is an unbiased third party. While troublesome, Warren does provide a platform for the riders to tell their stories though, and this is an important part of history that needs to be heard. ( )
1 vote ewalker1 | Apr 6, 2016 |
A really nice little book, actually from the IMC collection at UWGB. I chose it because book club read Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline) some months ago and did not want to reread. Plus I really wanted the non-fiction version. This gives that, plus pictures. If you, like literally everyone else I know, were not taught this chapter in American History, here's your chance. They chapters are vignettes of the different orphans and different placements. As is usual, truth is more interesting than fiction. ( )
  JeanetteSkwor | Jul 7, 2015 |
I saw this just in passing at one of the local libraries and have heard a bit about orphan trains. This book definately showed me that they were a bit different than I thought, and not something you hear too much about in American history. I loved the stories and thought this was a great book for young readers. Wish I could find something for adults though. The idea of orphan trains in my opinion was a great one, but only for back then. It is certainly NOT something you could do today! ( )
  briannad84 | Oct 24, 2012 |
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For Lee Nailling, 1917-2001 who rode an orphan train to Texas in 1926, For Alice Bullis Ayler, an orphan train rider who met every obstacle with grit and grace, for my adopted daughter, Alison Doerr, whose "orphan train" was an airplane from South Vietnam to the United States of America in April 1975, and for children of all ages who know that real family does not have to be biological.
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Shortly after her birth in 1922, Lorraine Williams was put in a New York City orphanage; she was there until she was four.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618432353, Paperback)

They were “throwaway” kids, living on the streets or in orphanages and foster homes. Then Charles Loring Brace, a young minister in New York City, started the Children’s Aid Society and devised a plan to give these homeless waifs a chance at finding families they could call their own. Thus began an extraordinary migration of American children.
Between 1854 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 children ventured forth on a journey of hope. Here, in the sequel to Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story, Andrea Warren introduces nine men and women who rode the trains and helped make history so many years ago.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:29 -0400)

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They were "throw away" kids, living in the streets or in orphanages and foster homes. Then Charles Loring Brace, a young minister working with the poor in New York City, started the Children's Aid Society and devised a plan to give homeless children a chance to find families to call their own. Thus began an extraordinary migration of American children. Between 1854 and 1929, an estimated 200,000 children, mostly from New York and other cities of the eastern United States, ventured forth to other states on a journey of hope. Andrea Warren has shared the stories of some of these orphan train riders here, including those of Betty, who found a fairy tale life in a grand hotel; Nettie Evans and her twin, Nellie, who were rescued from their first abusive placement and taken in by a new, kindhearted family who gave them the love they had hoped for; brothers Howard and Fred, who remained close even though they were adopted into different families; and Edith, who longed to know the secrets of her past. Listen to these and other child orphans as they share their memories of transition and adventure, disappointment and loneliness, but ultimately of the joy of belonging to their own new families.… (more)

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