Books About The Orphan Trains: Essential Reads for Historians and Enthusiasts

The orphan trains were a significant and often overlooked chapter in American history. Between 1854 and 1929, over 250,000 orphans and surrendered children were transported from crowded cities in the Eastern United States to rural areas in search of new homes. These children faced a plethora of hardships and challenges on their journeys and throughout their lives, making their stories both captivating and educational.

Numerous books have been written about the orphan train movement to showcase these inspiring and heart-wrenching stories. The best books about the orphan trains offer readers an insight into the complexities of this historical event while also evoking empathy and understanding. These books span across various genres such as historical fiction, non-fiction, and children’s literature, ensuring that readers of all ages and preferences can grasp the magnitude of this unique phenomenon.

Through a combination of compelling storytelling and rigorous research, the most renowned books about orphan trains bring to light the experiences of these brave children and the indelible impact their journeys had on the American landscape. By delving into these works, readers are offered a unique opportunity to explore a lesser-known aspect of the nation’s history and gain a deeper appreciation for the resilience of those who traversed the country on the orphan trains.

Understanding the Orphan Trains

The Orphan Trains were a significant part of American history that took place between 1854 and 1929, offering a chance for a new life to over 250,000 orphaned and abandoned children. They started in New York, and these children were transported to various states across the country to be placed with families. This social experiment aimed to give the young a fresh start with a stable upbringing and provided them with opportunities to escape the harsh realities of urban life.

One of the key figures in the history of the Orphan Trains was Charles Loring Brace, who founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853. Brace saw the suffering of countless children living on the streets of New York City and believed that placing them with families in rural areas would offer better prospects. He developed the idea of the “placing out” system, which allowed children to be adopted by families who could provide a healthier environment and a chance at a new life.

Many excellent books delve into the history of the Orphan Trains and explore different aspects of this significant chapter in American history. For instance, “Orphan Trains: The Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed” goes in-depth into Brace’s role and vision, examining the successes and shortcomings of the system he pioneered. Additionally, novels such as “Riders on the Orphan Train” offer fictional accounts of the experiences children might have faced while on the train journey and their struggles to acclimate in new environments.

Contemporary authors have also been inspired by the Orphan Trains’ history, leading to critically acclaimed works such as Christina Baker Kline’s “Orphan Train.” By weaving historical facts through a fictional narrative, these authors outline the struggles of orphaned children during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and humanize the story for modern readers.

Important Geographical Locations

The Orphan Train movement played a significant role in the lives of many children during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This program was responsible for relocating homeless children from urban centers, such as New York City, to foster homes and rural farming communities in the Midwest. The geographical locations that were most impacted by this movement include states like Missouri, Kansas, and Texas.

In the East, New York City was the primary starting point for these journeys, as it was one of the most densely populated cities in the United States at the time. This city had a significant number of homeless children who were in desperate need of safety and care. As the movement expanded, other cities like Boston and Philadelphia also began to participate in the program.

The Midwest was chosen as the destination for many of these children because it was believed to provide a more wholesome environment away from the dangers and vices found in the crowded Eastern cities. States such as Missouri and Kansas became new homes for thousands of orphaned children, who were often placed with farming families in need of help tending to the land and work.

In some cases, children from the Orphan Train movement also found their way to states like Texas. They were brought to these destinations in the hope that they would have an opportunity for a better life and more stability. The vast landscapes and rural settings offered these children not only a new home, but also a chance to grow and thrive as members of their adoptive communities.

Additionally, the Penobscot Indian Reservation in Maine played a role in the Orphan Train history, as some Native American children were taken from their families and placed with white families in the Midwest, assimilating them into the mainstream American culture.

In conclusion, the geographical locations played a crucial role in shaping the lives of the children involved in the Orphan Train movement. From their dark beginnings in New York City to the expansive opportunities in the Midwest, these locations provided hope and a chance for these children to experience a brighter future.

Personal Experiences of Orphans

The orphan trains were a unique social experiment that brought hope and adventure into the lives of many abandoned children. A number of books have been written to capture these personal experiences, often touching on themes such as family, loss, and self-discovery.

Joan Lowery Nixon’s “A Family Apart,” “In the Face of Danger,” “A Place to Belong,” and “Caught in the Act.” These books follow the Kelly siblings, orphans forced to confront their past while being adopted into new families. The series explores the emotions and challenges faced by the siblings, encompassing themes of loyalty, identity, and resilience.

My Heart Remembers


A poignant book highlighting the personal experiences of orphans is “My Heart Remembers” by Kim Vogel Sawyer. This story tells the tale of three siblings separated during their childhood and their journey to reunite as adults. The novel captures the emotional journey of the siblings as they struggle to understand their past and restore the bond they once shared.



Karen Cushman’s “Rodzina” is another gripping work portraying the life of a 12-year-old orphan girl who finds herself on an orphan train heading west. The protagonist, Rodzina, overcomes many obstacles with the help of friends she meets along her journey, learning to cope with the reality of youth labor and servitude.

Circle of Love


The realities of adoption and the challenges faced by young orphans are explored in Joan Lowery Nixon’s “Circle of Love.” The book highlights the emotional struggles faced by orphans in adjusting to new families and an evolving understanding of family bonds in adolescence.

Mail-Order Kid: An Orphan Train Rider’s Story


One unique book that captures the family aspect of the orphan trains is “Mail-Order Kid: An Orphan Train Rider’s Story by Marilyn June Coffey. It tells the true story of a woman who was a mail-order bride, bringing to life the sacrifices and hardships faced by orphan children as they embarked on a new chapter of life in unfamiliar lands.

Looking for Home


Looking for Home by Arleta Richardson follows a young girl separated from her six siblings and sent to an orphanage. The story focuses on her longing for the familiarity of home and yearning for her family, who had all been sent to different places.

Overall, the personal experiences of the orphans captured in these books paint a vivid and heartwarming picture of life on the orphan trains. The stories reflect the resilience and strength of these children, who coped with their harrowing pasts to adapt to new surroundings and chase hope amidst uncertainty.

Novels About Orphan Trains

The Orphan Trains were a unique chapter in American history, transporting thousands of homeless and orphaned children from large cities like New York to rural areas across the United States. Many historical fiction novels have used this real-life event as a backdrop or plot device, providing readers with a glimpse of hope, love, and determination in the face of adversity.

Orphan Train


Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel that has captivated book clubs with its dual-timeline narrative. The story alternates between present-day Maine, where troubled teen Molly Ayer is assigned to help clean out elderly widow Vivian Daly’s attic, and 1929, when young Irish immigrant Vivian found herself on an orphan train bound for uncertain futures. The novel explores themes of adapting to new homes, building chosen families, and the resilience of the human spirit.

Orphan Train Adventures


Another author who delved into the world of orphan trains is Joan Lowery Nixon, who wrote the Orphan Train Adventures series. This collection of historical fiction novels tells the stories of the seven Kelly children placed together on the orphan train and separated, each one sent to different foster homes. The books take readers on a journey through the foster care system and illustrate the challenges these characters face in finding belonging and love.

We Rode the Orphan Trains


We Rode the Orphan Trains” by Andrea Warren is a non-fiction work based on firsthand accounts of orphan train riders. The book offers a touching collection of stories from those who experienced the orphan trains firsthand – from the perspective of both the children riding the trains and the families who took them in. This work adds another layer of understanding to the orphan train phenomenon and its impact on the lives of those involved.

Train to Somewhere


The novel “Train to Somewhere” by Eve Bunting is an excellent choice for younger readers who are interested in learning about orphan trains. This heartwarming story focuses on a young girl named Marianne who is placed on the train with other homeless waifs and hopes for a new family. As the train travels from town to town, Marianne and her fellow orphans face the reality that they may not all find the homes they so desperately seek.

The Brides of Montclair


In Jane Peart’s historical fiction series “The Brides of Montclair“, the orphan train plays a minor yet significant role in the storyline. By weaving this piece of American history into her novels, Peart successfully explores the concept of “placing out” and how it affected both the orphans and the families who took them in.

In brief, the orphan train era has inspired various works of fiction and historical fiction, bringing light to the stories of love, hope, and courage that grew out of these challenging times. These novels offer valuable insight into an often-forgotten piece of history and the lives of the children who rode the orphan trains in search of new homes and family connections.

Families and the Orphan Train Journey

The Orphan Train movement was a unique period in American history where thousands of children were taken from crowded urban settings and sent to foster homes or adoptive families in rural areas. From 1854 to 1929, it is estimated that over 250,000 children participated in the Orphan Train movement, traveling to new homes across the United States. The books about this movement focus on themes such as love, adoption, new families, foster care, foster homes, and foster parents.

Riders on the Orphan Train


Riders on the Orphan Train” by Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, tells the story of several siblings separated by the orphan trains. Their journeys to find one another again emphasize the significance of family bonds in the face of adversity. The struggles faced by orphan train children seeking their families reveal the challenges that came with moving to new foster homes.

Orphan Trains: Taking the Rails to a New Life


Orphan Trains: Taking the Rails to a New Life” by Rebecca Langston-George explores the experiences of seven orphans who found families in the Midwest through the Children’s Aid Society. The nonfiction account sheds light on how the Orphan Train movement operated and the importance of establishing foster care and adoption systems to protect the well-being of vulnerable children.

A Family Apart


In “A Family Apart” by Joan Lowery Nixon, a mother makes the difficult decision to send her six children on an orphan train to escape poverty. Each child ends up being placed with different foster parents or adoptive families, demonstrating the combination of loss and hope that these children experienced during this time. They learn to adapt to their new lives while holding onto the memory of their original family.

These books provide a confident and knowledgeable exploration of the Orphan Train movement and the families that formed as a result. By focusing on themes such as love, adoption, and foster care, they offer a clear and neutral perspective on the impact of this historical event on the lives of those involved.

Issues of the Time

During the era of orphan trains, poverty was a significant issue in society, especially in depression-era Minnesota. Thousands of children were left to live on the streets or in overcrowded, filthy orphanages. This dire situation led to the involvement of people like Charles Loring Brace, who devised the orphan train program to help these destitute children find a better life.

The orphan train program led children from the streets and orphanages to be placed in new homes, often in rural areas. Unfortunately, some of the children faced hard labor and servitude in these placements, with many experiencing whippings and harsh work conditions. This was a major concern since the intent behind the program was to provide these children with a safe and nurturing environment.

Despite the challenges faced by the children in these new homes, some formed unexpected friendships with other orphans and local families. These friendships were often the saving grace for many young children facing their new lives with trepidation.

In some cases, when children faced unbearable situations in their new homes, they ended up in juvenile hall, where they faced further struggles. This was an unfortunate consequence of a system meant to improve the lives of orphans but eventually led to the need for better oversight and stronger regulation.

Throughout the books that cover the orphan trains, the various issues of the time, such as poverty, depression-era conditions, hard labor, servitude, unexpected friendships, and the juvenile system, are explored in-depth from various perspectives. Through these stories, readers gain a better understanding of the historical context and the complexities of the orphan train era, providing insight into the lives of the children who experienced it first-hand.

Social Perception and Impact

The Orphan Trains played a significant role in American society, particularly in shaping the social perceptions of both the children involved and the communities they were placed in. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the influx of Irish immigrants and other newcomers led to an increase in the number of orphans and homeless children in cities like New York. This overwhelming number of disadvantaged children caught the attention of organizations like the Children’s Aid Society, founded by Charles Loring Brace.

Brace’s idea of sending orphans to rural communities, where they could find new homes with families who could provide for them, ultimately became known as the Orphan Train Movement. Despite its long-lasting impact on American history, the social perception of Orphan Trains has often been overlooked in popular print media and books.

In examining the historical novels and other literature relating to the Orphan Trains, it becomes apparent that social perception varied widely among different communities and groups. For instance, certain segments of society saw the movement as an act of charity, helping thousands of children escape a harsh urban life by providing them with better opportunities for growth and stability.

At the same time, some rural communities were initially apprehensive about accepting these children, viewing them as a burden or fearing they might bring unwanted problems. However, numerous instances of successful adoptions and positive outcomes helped change that perception over time.

Books that have tackled the subject of Orphan Trains and their impact on society include some of the following titles:

Literature from this era, like historical novels set in the Fordham area of the Bronx, can also provide insight into the social perception of the Orphan Train Movement. These novels offer a vivid depiction of the tensions and challenges faced by both the children and the communities they were placed in.

In conclusion, the Orphan Trains played a transformative role in American society, both in shaping the lives of the children involved and in shifting social perceptions of their value and worth. The varied reactions to the movement from different communities serve as a reminder of the complexity and nuance involved in understanding the full impact of this noteworthy chapter in American history.


The Orphan Trains not only played a significant role in American history but also inspired a number of authors to write captivating books on the subject. Based on the provided search results and other information, some top books in this genre include:

  • “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline: This historical fiction novel portrays the life of a seventeen-year-old girl living with her foster parents in Maine and delves into the history of the Orphan Trains.
  • “Riders on the Orphan Train” by Alison Moore: This novel captures a lesser-known aspect of the history, telling the story of over 250,000 orphaned and surrendered children sent to various locations across the United States.

These novels allow readers to immerse themselves in the emotional and historical journey of the Orphan Trains. While there are countless other books available, the aforementioned titles stand out as highly rated and well-received by readers. As a result, those interested in learning more about this fascinating chapter in American history should consider adding these books to their reading list.