I'm feeling a little sad as I write this, as if I've just left behind a group of fond friends after a long and enjoyable journey together, and I guess in a way I have.
Two days ago, NetGalley gifted me all four books in the "Beyond the Orphan Train Series" by Arleta Richardson, in return for an honest review.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first received these books, I guess a part of me expected to cringe my way through them because the description likened them to the Little House on the Prairie, which I've always found to be a bit corny and though at times these books could indeed be that way, they still managed to absorb me completely.
The four books in the series are called, Looking for home, Whistle-Stop West, Prairie Homestead and Across the border.
All four of the books follow the story of the Cooper family which is comprised of Ethan and his younger siblings Alice, Simon and Will.
We meet the children not long after their mothers death as they are setting off on the first journey of their young lives, to a Christian orphanage.
What's great about these books, is that they came about because of the remembering of a real person, which means the majority of the happenings within its pages, really took place. Which only helps to further endear you to the characters and the amazing experiences they lived through in their younger years.
Not only that, but you get an interesting glimpse into American History that includes the little known ophan trains that transported thousands of children to Midwestern farm homes and small communities between 1854 and 1929.
As I read these books I found myself falling in love with not only the main characters but many of the bit players too and wishing that I could travel with all the children as they disembarked from the train and into the arms of their new families. So much so, that I was often holding back tears as I watched characters that I'd become attached to walk out of the story for good.
This was made even more poignant, by the thought, that many of them may have actually been real children, whose ancestors might still be alive today.
Oh how I'd love to be able to track those relatives down and discover what became of each and every child on that train, and that's the main problem with these books, the desire for them never to end.
These books; however, are not for everyone. Written in a simple fashion, no doubt due to their target audience being children, there were times when I felt as if issues resolved themselves a little too quickly and dare I say it unrealistically. This was probably in an attempt to hold children's attention, but after, what could be fairly long build up, at times, these quick endings left me feeling a little cheated. On top of that, there were times when I felt it would have been nice for the story to divulge a little more detail. Especially in the case of the other children that traveled on the orphan train. That said the stories base in reality probably made this impossible for the author to actually achieve, without adding a lot more fiction.
So who is this book for?
A young audience could definitely gain a lot from these books, not only can they enjoy a heartwarming tale of adventure, but they'll also learn some interesting American history, that could very easily open the door for some extended learning, which is always great for homeschooling mums like myself, that said, I still think there is a lot, adult readers can take away from these books if they approach them with an open mind. I've certainly enjoyed them and am really glad that I've read them.
Something else to remember is that these books are relatively short reads on their own. In fact, I found that reading all of them together, felt like reading just one novel of around 60'000 words.
If you do pick them up, remember to keep some tissues on hand.
love and hugs