Train to Somewhere

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by Eve Bunting and Ron Himler. ( Clarion, 1996 ISBN 0-395-71325-0). Picture Book. Grades 3+.
This review by Carol Otis Hurst first appeared in the July '96 issue of Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Newsletter.
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Review

This book, although much more serious and set in a different time and place, has a bit in common with Fanny's Dream. Marianne has a dream of being reunited with her mother and also has to give it up and settle for something (or someone) else in Train to Somewhere - a picture book that can be used over a wide range of age groups. From 1850 to the 1920s trains carried orphans and children whose parents could not or would not care for them to new homes on the Great Plains. It was a solution for the many abandoned and homeless children being left at orphanages or left to fend for themselves on the streets of the big cities in the east. Bunting focuses on one trainload and in particular one orphan to make the story more immediate.

Marianne boards the train in New York with fourteen other children and Miss Randolph, their caretaker, to be taken in by people in the country towns at which they stop. Marianne is older and knows she will be difficult to adopt since she's not cute or pretty. Those more physically appealing, younger children and the stronger older ones are taken first. At each town the children put on their most cheerful faces and each time there are fewer and fewer to reboard the train. Marianne clings to a chicken feather and the hope that her mother who promised to come back for her before leaving her at the orphanage will be waiting for her at one of the stops. Finally, it is Marianne alone who gets off the train at Somewhere with Miss Randolph. Standing at the station is an older couple who hold a wooden locomotive that they hoped to give to a little boy they would take home. However, they reach out to Marianne and we know it's a match as Marianne is lovingly embraced by her new family.

This is a tear-jerker, I warn you. I'm still trying to get through it without sobbing, but it can lead to an investigation of the orphan trains, to the study of the development of the Great Plains, or to a look at solutions to similar problems today.

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