Wednesday, March 3, 2004


Cushman, Karen. 2003. RODZINA. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0618133518 [Suggested Grade Levels 5-8]

Through a series of tragedies that strike her family, Rodzina Brodski is orphaned in Chicago in 1881. She is put on an orphan train with the hopes of finding a new life out west. Tall and awkward, Rodzina seems to wear a perpetual scowl on her face. Through Rodzina’s narrative, Cushman offers a pragmatic look at orphan trains. Not all orphans wanted to be shipped away, nor did they all find new loving families. One young boy is adopted to be an additional farm hand. One girl is adopted to replace a grieving family’s dead child. Before demanding her return to the orphan train, Rodzina is adopted to be a new wife for a family whose mother is dying. Enlisted as a chaperon for the trip, Miss Doctor goes west hoping to practice medicine. Since she is not accustomed to taking care of children, she enlists Rodzina’s assistance on the train. The two outcasts are immediately at odds with one another. Rodzina misinterprets Miss Doctor’s aloofness for insensitivity and Miss Doctor feels Rodzina is being too demanding and unappreciative of the adoptive families. Both characters are independent and determined to succeed. Eventually they decide to create a new life in Oakland together.

Through Rodzina’s eyes, Cushman gives realistic insights into the practice of sending orphans to new cities in the hopes of finding families. Since Rodzina recently lost her family, she is the orphan most likely to resent being shipped away from her home to find a new life. In homage to her great-grandmother who emigrated from Poland, Cushman sprinkles Rodzina’s language and habits with authentic words and habits. Her portrayal is honest, but not depressing. Rodzina is a reluctant heroine who finds a reason to be optimistic by the end of the novel.

Rodzina’s family came to America from Poland. Readers could research Poland in the late 19th century, including why families chose to leave and start new lives in the United States. Children can compare maps of Europe in the 1880’s and Europe today.

Have readers investigate what brought people to the western United States during the 1800’s. What did life in Montana or California offer that was different from Chicago or New York? Were their motivations similar to those of the Europeans who came to America? Also encourage readers to chart the path of Rodzina’s trip on a map.

Other books by Cushman that could be compared to this one:

No comments: