Monday, May 23, 2011


Jane Eyre. Anne of Green Gables. Pollyanna. Orphans have long been the subject of great stories. For Tuesday Book Talk, I want to tell you about two new orphans that have come along and made my heart expand in true Grinch-style. Gracious hostess Kelly will gather the book talk links at The Lemme Library. Go on over and add yours!

First, Maud from A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR by Newbery medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz.
The thing about Maud is, she's "plain, clever, and bad." She's also desperately in want of love. So when she's plucked away from the orphanage by the elderly Hawthorne sisters, she thinks her life will be rosy. Instead, she's a "secret child," banished to the attic, brought out only to work in the Hawthorne sisters' money making schemes, which happen to involved pretending to commune with the dead during seances.

I loved being inside Maud's head. I was also taken by her relationship with the deaf maid, how she continue to doubt and disobey and eventually finds love, in spite of everything. I think the book would have benefited greatly from a more engaging title. But don't let this shortcoming prevent you from getting to know Maud. She's quite the memorable, inspiring character.

Next, meet Betti, or Babo, from BETTI ON THE HIGH WIRE by Lisa Railsback.
I enjoyed an audio version of this one, and again, we've got a "bad" orphan desperately in need of love. The focus of Babo's journey is her immigration to America from an unnamed war-torn country where she has lived with the circus. She wants to be bad and unloveable so the family will send her back, so she makes all sorts of missteps during her adjustment.

The family renames her Betti (is this common? It seems awfully cruel to change something so vital about a person, even though I understand the intentions behind such a decision), and I was captivated by the sense of wonder and confusion this child experiences -- it seemed very real to me, and I enjoyed the misinterpretations and adventures of a child learning a completely new way of life. She's a funny kid, Babo... any person struggling with finding a place to belong (and who doesn't?) will relate to her story.

So here's to plucky orphans. Who are your favorite fictional orphans?


  1. I loved A DROWNED MAIDEN'S HAIR. Have we talked about WE HEAR THE DEAD? I think you need to read it!

    Looks like I need to read BETTI, too!

  2. These books are very timely for me! I have a 5th grader who is in love with Anne of Green Gables and asks for "orphan stories" all the time. Would you give these to a very innocent 5th grader? (She doesn't like sad stories where the dog dies...). Thanks for posting to Book Talk Tuesday!

  3. Kelly, no dogs die in either of these. I would have no problem recommending to a very innocent 5th grader. Let me know how she likes them!

  4. There are also near-orphans in literature....most of the Chronicles of Narnia kids (as in, no adult guardians around)...

    Dorothy Gale is living with her Aunt and Uncle---where are her parents in that story??

    Now my brain won't be quiet...

  5. I have always adored Mary Lennox from THE SECRET GARDEN. She is described as unattractive. Sickly, angry, pinched. Prone to tantrums, if I recall correctly. Her parents and everyone she knew has died in India in a cholera outbreak. But she's fierce, resilient. Brave. I love her. When I was a child, I thought I was her, or could be. Now I'm an adult I wish I could claim her as my own child.


Your thoughts?