ABOUT THIS BOOK
Created for children ages 7-11 by award-winning author Joan Lowery Nixon, these books transport readers to late 1860s America. History unfolds in touching stories about the adventures of the children who rode the orphan train from the city streets of New York, in search of families.
Each book includes maps, historical documents, and photos.
In Lucy's Wish, when 10-year-old Lucy Griggs loses her mother to cholera, she turns to the Children's Aid Society to become one of the thousands of children who ride the orphan train. Lucy's wish is to find a loving family and a little sister to care for. But the family who takes her in is not exactly what Lucy had in mind.
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Joan Lowery Nixon is the author of more than 90 books for young readers. The only four-time recipient of the Edgar Allan Poe Award for the Best Juvenile Mystery, Nixon knows what interests readers and delivers it to them without fail. A native Californian and a transplanted Texan, Nixon lives in Houston, where she is hard at work writing more books for her legions of fans.
In creating the acclaimed Orphan Train Adventures, Nixon explores a time and place in America's recent past that is not widely covered in history lessons. She explains: "It was a part of history I hadn't known: that beginning in 1854, over 100,000 homeless children were rescued from the streets of New York City and sent by train to new homes n the West. As I researched early journals, I found many letters--some hopeful, some sad--and reports which told of tears as brothers and sisters were separated or a child was not chosen. How would it feel to be examined by a sea of eyes, terrified that no one would want you? To leave a loving sister, wondering if you'd ever meet again? To find yourself in the midst of new people and new places, some of them open and friendly, some of them not? Once I discovered these children of the past, I wanted to bring history and fiction together in an exciting, adventurous time and place, to tell the stories of those who could have traveled west on the Orphan Train."
Charles Loring Brace founded the Children's Aid Society, an organization that provided food, lodging, and clothing to the thousands of homeless children wandering the streets of New York. Have students research the Children's Aid Society to find out about the beginnings of the orphan trains as well as the kinds of projects that are being done today. Students can brainstorm possible projects to help homeless children.
Thematic Connections for Lucy's Wish
Ask students what makes a happy family. Then have them focus on the story. In what ways does Lucy get her wish? In what ways doesn't she get her wish? Have students contemplate what it would it take for Lucy to feel as if she's a part of the family.
Have students define the word diversity . Then ask them to explain what life would be like if everyone were the same. Have them imagine that everyone possessed the same talents, attributes, and backgrounds, and even looked the same. Ask: What makes Henry and Emma different? Have students explore the rights and responsibilities of people with special needs.
Ask students to explain how Mrs. Olney and Mrs. Snapes are similar to one another. Why is Mrs. Snapes cold and hard-edged? How might life with Lucy soften Mrs. Snapes?
One Step Beyond
Looking at Medicine
Have students define the word epidemic. In 1866, cholera, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis were the diseases of the day. What are some of the diseases of today? Have students report on medical breakthroughs in the news.
What do children need to thrive and be healthy? Have the class pretend that they are about to place homeless children with adoptive families. Have them write a list of guidelines for making sure that the children are well provided for. Review the list with the class.
In 1917, a survey was taken to determine what became of some of the orphan train children who had grown up. The results showed that among them were governors, U.S. Congress members, district attorneys, mayors, a justice of the Supreme Court, judges, college professors, teachers, journalists, bankers, doctors, attorneys, army officers, and soldiers and sailors. What does this tell students about Charles Loring Brace's plan?
For the orphan children, it must have been a big adjustment to go from the big, crowded city to the quiet, open fields of Missouri. What are some differences between city life and country life? Ask students to explain what kind of setting they prefer.
Have students create their own characters and write their own orphan train adventures. Students can work alone or in pairs. Encourage them to illustrate their adventures.
One Step Beyond
Have students imagine that they are riding the orphan train. Describe in journal format how it feels to be singled out as an orphan by the townspeople and what it's like waiting to be chosen by a family.
Explosion of the Senses
Have students pretend that they have never before stepped outside the city. They are about to enter the country and for the first time they will:
taste a juicy apple
have a picnic
milk a cow
run through an open field
Challenge students to describe each of these experiences.
Writing in Style
Have students write stories based on the following:
Will Scott and Lucy Griggs meet at school, become great friends, and eventually fall in love
Jesse Scott loses his circus job and tries to locate his son
Mr. and Mrs. Snapes legally adopt Lucy Griggs
A street Arab was a term used in the late nineteenth century for a homeless child living on the streets. Have students list the circumstances that might occur that would lead a young person onto the streets. How do their daily lives differ from the life of a homeless person?
Teaching Ideas prepared by Jamie Kyle McGillian, Language Arts editor, Children's Television Workshop.
Have students define each of the words and put them in the context in which they were used.
--tenement (an apartment house in the poorest part of the city)
--waif (a homeless, friendless child)
--tourniquet (a tight bandage meant to stop the flow of blood)
--liniment (a liquid medication)
--privy (slang for an outside toilet)
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