Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Fascination with Orphans...

I don't recall when it began, but my Mom would vouch for me that I have always had a fascination with orphans. I read books upon books upon books of stories that involved unhappy children in an orphanage (back before foster care)...following their adventures until they found their forever home and lived happily ever after. I wonder why?

Perhaps it stems from my family history? I have heard countless times the fact that a gr-gr-gr-grandfather came to Missouri from back east on an orphan train. He was adopted by a family, took their name, and the rest is history. It has been impossible to trace our family history back further than that (so far!). I can't imagine what it would be like to be afraid, alone, young and traveling on a train with other children into the unknown West.

Maybe it is my curiosity that compelled me to read so many books about sad, lonely children? I wasn't, myself, a sad lonely child. Anyway, I thought I would share some of the best adoption stories I've ever read....



In Louisa May Alcott's book The Quiet Little Woman, Patty lives in an orphanage with little hope of being adopted. When she is finally placed with a family it is only because they need a servant to help around the house...but there is one person in the house who cares for Patty and they are instrumental in changing Patty's life for the better.
From Chapter 2:
No one guessed what a world of hopes and thoughts and feelings lay hidden beneath that blue pinafore, what dreams this solitary child enjoyed, or what a hungry, aspiring young soul lived in her crooked little body. But God knew, and when the time came He remembered Patty and sent her the help she so desperately needed. Sometimes when we least expect it, a small cross proves a lovely crown, a seemingly unimportant event becomes a lifelong experience, or a stranger becomes a friend.

If you liked Little Women, you will like this book.



Ok, who hasn't read, or at least seen Anne of Green Gables?
Marilla and Matthew Cuthburt of Green Gables farm decide to adopt a young boy to help them out on a farm. As series of mistakes later and they end up with Anne. They don't have the heart to send her back and eventually they come to love her.
She drives poor Marilla nuts, but shy Matthew takes to her right away...
I won't go into more detail about Anne of Green Gables...
If you haven't at least seen the movie, I'd recommend it.



Another one of my favorite books is the Prairie River series. It is a set of 4 books by Kristiana Gregory. 13 year old Nessa can't remember any home other than the Missouri Orphans Home. She has not been terribly unhappy there, until she discovers that instead of an opportunity to be adopted, she is to be betrothed to a local minister. (Who is OLD, blech!). She is to be married on her 14th birthday. Really this old minister just wants somebody to take care of all of his kids (he is a widower). Nessa is totally grossed out and runs away. She ends up at Fort Larned in Kansas (which really does exist, I've been there!) working for a woman who runs a boarding house. Eventually she becomes part of the family and teaches school there at the fort.

From Chapter 2:
"Excuse me" a man said to Nessa as he escorted his wife up to the porch.
They stepped around the puddle she had made from scrubbing and they smiled down at her. The woman was beautiful, with the same chestnut hair and blue eyes as Nessa's. Her heart leaped.

Maybe she's my mother, she thought, or an aunt. She often imagined this scenario when visitors came to look over the children. Maybe she had a family after all, who had been searcing and searching and finally had found her. Or maybe a new family would want her.

But she knew that wouldn't happen. Mr Carey had told her so.



Lyddie, by Katherine Paterson is a story about a young orphan girl who's family had been separated and sent to live among relatives after abandonment by their parents. With no where to go, Lyddie heads to Lowell, MA to work in the mills. Conditions are horrific and she is forced to work 6 days a week from dusk until dawn. But, Lyddie does learn to read and when conditions at the mill are causing girls to fall sick, she is strong and educated enough to speak up about the working conditions.
(Lyddie doesn't actually get adopted in this book...but it does have a happy ending).

Katherine Paterson is the famous author of Bridge to Teribithia...
so if you liked that book, you might like this one too.


Oh goodness. I HAD to throw Annie in here. What girl in the world didn't dream of being Annie? Seriously...I can recall belting out "Tomorrow" and "Hard Knock Life". I'm sure I drove my parents bonkers. Poor Annie, she had it tough at Ms. Hannigans School for Girls, but she turned out ok in the end when she was adopted by Daddy Warbucks.


A Little Princess and The Secret Garden were both 2 really great books about orphans too. I adored both of these movies (the Warner Bros versions) when they came out. If you havent seen these yet...I'd recommend them. I've read the books as well, but the movies were really well made and had such a magical quality to them... The music is also really great.


One of my all-time favorite books is Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards. (Yes, it is written by Mary Poppins!) Mandy is a cheerful, 10yr old girl at the orphange but longs for a home of her very own. She finds a cottage in the woods behind the high stone wall at the orphanage and she fixes it up for her very own. One stormy night at the cottage Mandy gets sick and no one knew how to find her -- except for a very special friend that she didn't even know she had.

From Chapter 1
It did not follow that Mandy was completely happy. How could she be? She had neither mother nor father and not even memories of them to sustain her.
She occasionally experienced very disturbing feelings. Sometimes she felt an ache inside that would not go away. It seemed as though her life were very empty.
She would cry for no reason at all, seemingly, and it frightened her when she did. She tried to be brave and put her feelings away.
"I'm having one of my attacks again," she would think, trying hard not to let people see her tears.
Her attempts to keep busy were mostly an effort to fill her life so that she had no time to feel disconsolate. But the nagging sadness was persistent, and it would envelop her when she least expected it.
As Mandy grew, her longings grew stronger and sometimes she felt as though she must surely break apart with so much going on inside her. It was as though she were searching for something, though what or where it was she could not say....

This book is very Secret Garden-y. If you liked The Secret Garden, you will probably like Mandy.


As an adult I've come to appreciate another really great adoption story. Disney's Meet the Robinsons is a great story about a young boy named Lewis who has had countless interview with potential adoptive couples, but they just seem to go awry.

The theme around this movie is from Walt Disney himself when he said,

"Around here, however, we don't look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we're curious... and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths." - Walt Disney

One thing I really enjoyed about this movie is that, in the end Lewis has the opportunity to travel back in time and see his birthmother face-to-face. I won't tell you what he decides to do or the outcome, you'll have to watch the movie to find out.

If you like Disney movies, you'll like this one.

I don't know why I had always enjoyed reading andlearning about this theme throughout my life. I had kind of forgot about it until recently when, out of curiosity, I hopped onto the website AdoptUsKids.org. I found there hundreds upon thousands of children that are waiting to be adopted. None of them are babies...the babies get snatched up quickly by potential adoptive couples. In fact, very few of them are even toddlers. Toddlers are in high demand too. The majority of the waiting children are aged 5+. A lot of sibling groups too. Many of these children have been sitting on this list for years. Some of these children never get placed and eventually "graduate" from foster care and go out into the world completely alone.

I couldn't help but wonder...

I know what it feels like to sit on a list as an adoptive couple...and to not be wanted.
I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a CHILD and to be sitting on a list...and to not be wanted. They must be aching.

So...We've made an interesting decision.
We want one.
Maybe not today...maybe not even tomorrow.
But we both feel strongly that it is in our future.

7 comments:

Mandy Jo said...

Yay! I love this post and when Sierra and I went to see Meet the Robinson's she wa so pumped about seeing a movie that was about adoption! Oh I wish you lived here already we are heading to the Springfield Zoo this weekend!!!

Jen said...

Many of these are favorite books of mine, also, and the ones I haven't read look good, too. I have always remembered reading a book about a girl who found an abandoned cottage and fixed it up, but I couldn't ever remember what it was called. I know that Mandy was the book! I'm going to get it at the library so that my kids and I can read it together. Yay! Thanks so much for posting these! :)

Krystin said...

Very good post Steph.
How ironic that these same books are all my favorites from my childhood as well.

Savannah said...

What a wonderful post. I will need to check out some of those books.
Did you ever read the Box Car Children? I remember my sister was a huge fan of that series. I have no idea how it turns out, it seems like there was quite a few books.

James, Stephanie & Kayley said...

Yes! The Boxcar Children was also another of my favorites. I forgot about that one!

Lee Ann said...

What a great post. I love the list. I also have a great-grandparent that was on the orphan train.

The Pollocks! said...

I LOVE to read but haven't had much time lately, gee. . .wonder why. ANyhow, I want to run out and get some of those books! I have several favorites on your list as well, so I know I'd enjoy the others. I had an obsession with orphans, too, only I dressed my sisters up as orphans and took their picture. ha ha ha. I don't know if Krystin remembers that or not. =) Even left them bedraggled and on the front porch a few times.
Anyhow, your comments at the end are so spot on. There are so many great kids out there, and it's stinkin' hard to take older ones sometimes, but, then there are ones you're meant to keep - we're perusing that possibility ourselves at this very moment - our 2 oldest look like they're going to need a forever home, and they fit! We'll see how it goes. Good luck!