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June 2, 2008

A Family Apart

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A Family Apart

Author: Joan Lowry Nixon

Page Length: 162

Reading Level: 7

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: It is the 1850’s and Frances Mary Kelly and her five brothers and sisters live in New York. Her father died in the past year and her mother is struggling to survive and support her six children. All of the children do their part around the house. Mike and Danny go downtown to shine shoes, and Mary Frances goes to work with her mother. The family struggles to survive; Mary Frances travels the streets without even a pair of shoes. Mike, the oldest brother, is caught stealing and a difficult decision is made. Mother sacrifices everything to save Mike and to provide for the rest of her children. She puts them on the Orphan Train to Missouri.

The children are devastated; they miss their home and their mother. As the train chugs closer to Missouri they each fear for their safety and what fate awaits them. Will they find a home? How will their new “parents” treat them? Will they be able to stay together? What will life in pro-slavery Missouri be like?

REVIEW: Nixon does an excellent job of bringing historical fiction to life. The reader can feel the struggles of the family and their love. Nixon portrays the anger and shock the children feel at their mother’s actions vividly. Historically, the mannerisms of the people, the tensions of slavery in the states, and the roles of women at the time are accurate. Hardships appear but the Kelly children persevere and May Frances begins to understand how much her mother truly loved them to have made the greatest sacrifice of all.

AREAS FOR TEACHING: summarization, theme, setting, characters, point of view, conflict, sequence, cause and effect (mother’s actions), author’s purpose

TOUCHY AREAS-PAGES: issue of being put up for adoption

RELATED BOOKS: Anne of Green Gables, Jane Eyre, Pollyanna, The Thief Lord, Oliver Twist

MOVIE, MUSIC, ART CONNECTIONS:  Bruce Springsteen – Songs to the Orphan, Annie, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables (movie and mini-series)


REVIEWED BY: Dayna Taylor

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