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RODZINA by Karen Cushman


by Karen Cushman

Age Range: 11 - 13

Pub Date: March 24th, 2003
ISBN: 0-618-13351-8
Publisher: Clarion

Young, self-reliant, resilient Rodzina (from the Polish for “family”) Brodski is an orphan at age 12 in the winter of 1881—her father, mother, and young brothers all dead. She is gathered up in Chicago with other orphans and street children and sent west on one of the “orphan trains” that took children to be placed out on the farms and in the towns of the prairies and mountain states. Among her companions are several younger children Rodzina has known from her days on the street and in the orphanage. As the eldest girl, she is put in charge of these children on the train, and demonstrates her warmth and competence through her grudging attention to them. Along the way, Rodzina goes twice, unwillingly, to unsuitable new homes: once to a couple of women who plan for her to be not only a nursemaid but a farmhand as well, and once to the father of a large hardscrabble family—his wife is dying and he plans to make Rodzina his new wife. Each time Rodzina resourcefully makes her escape and returns to the train. As she continues westward, Rodzina gradually befriends the formidable lady doctor who accompanies the orphans, and begins to long for a new home for herself. The story is undemanding and engaging, rolling along with the journey, subtly letting readers into Rodzina’s memories of the home she once had and of her immigrant parents and her Polish heritage. Trina Schart Hyman’s intriguing cover art depicts a stocky, fierce young girl—prickly Rodzina with her “stink face” on—and the younger child she shelters. Cushman (Matilda Bone, 2000, etc.) as usual conveys a contemporary feel without anachronism, and the conclusion of Rodzina’s journey, though unsurprising, is an agreeable one. (Fiction. 11-13)