Wanderville by Wendy McClure
Are you familiar with orphan trains? Children from New York (or other big cities) were sent out West to live "better lives" with families and big open spaces. Yet, many children were fearful of the unknown.
Jack, Frances, and Harold were a couple of children sent out to Kansas on an orphan train. They didn't want to leave, but they couldn't escape their traveling fate. After hearing awful orphan stories on the train, they decide to "jump ship" in the middle of Kansas. They meet up with another orphan named Alexander who gives them a new look at life in the prairie wilderness.
When I began reading this story, I thought it would be historical fiction mixed with fantasy. I was completely wrong. The magic of Wanderville and the letdown was realized at the same moment as Jack, Frances, and Harold. It was rather ironic and heartening to relate so well to the characters. Just as the children came to grips with their new situation, I knew that this wouldn't be a fantasy story, but reality (albeit in history). Don't let the knowledge of no fantasy elements steer you away from reading Wanderville!
McClure mixes historical fiction with a kid's today approach. The book is set in history, but the children face many emotions and circumstances that kids' today can encounter. The emotions of loss, fear, hope, friendship, and survival are very relate-able to today's audience. The theme of overcoming circumstances is largely woven throughout the text in different ways, but not overpowering. The story ends with a gentle cliffhanger - one that will have readers imagining what's going to happen next. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment in 2014!
I think this story would be very appropriate for 3-6 graders. The author offers many different situations that can open the floor to great classroom, book club, or family discussions.
Reviewed from an Edelweiss copy. Thank you, Razorbill!