In 1904, three children from New York City’s Lower East Side are sent to Kansas on an orphan train.
Jack’s father drinks and does not want him. Frances and her little brother, Harold, have no parents to care for them. They meet while boarding the train at Grand Central Station and start out on a journey fraught with unanswered questions while under the supervision of two matrons, one sympathetic and one coldhearted. When rumors spread about their placements, the three children jump the train in Kansas and meet a boy named Alexander. He has fashioned a children’s-only town for himself called Wanderville, building it with his imagination and stolen food. (Alexander refers to taking food from the nearby town as an act of liberation, a usage more suited to the latter half of the century.) As it turns out, the rumors were true; the other children have been delivered to a Dickensian work farm. A dramatic rescue and sympathetic townspeople put a stop to the horrors, and the three orphans and Alexander are ready for their next adventure and book as they set out for California. The tale is fast-paced but superficial, and beyond the immediate appeal of its subject, it offers no sure sense of place or character development.
Perhaps it’s intended as a fiction tie-in to Common Core Curriculum studies, but it’s not at all successful, compelling or memorable. (Historical fiction. 8-12)