Christina Baker Kline’s Orphan Train Inspired by Obscure Family History

Christina Baker Kline, author of the bestselling book Orphan Train, recently kicked off the seventh season of MorseLife Literary Society in West Palm Beach, FL. At a breakfast meeting attended by more than 150 people, Ms. Kline spoke about the turn-of-the-20th-century orphan train movement depicted in her book, as well as about the forces that influenced her decision to write Orphan Train.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline.

One of the reasons for Orphan Train’s outstanding success is its fascinating and until-now obscure historical subject matter. From the late 1800s until the Great Depression, abandoned children along the East Coast were systematically rounded up and shipped to the Midwest where they would either be adopted or be employed in manual labor.

Ms. Kline learned about the U.S. orphan train movement a dozen years ago, when she unearthed an old newspaper article disclosing the fact that members of her husband’s family had been among the thousands of orphaned children forced to board Midwest-bound “orphan trains”. Her husband’s maternal grandfather and his four siblings rode an orphan train to their future home of Jamestown, North Dakota. This discovery sent Ms. Kline down the path to writing Orphan Train: “[My mother in law] was flabbergasted. She’d never heard of this movement. … [These family members] were all dead. She couldn’t ask anyone about it.”

Ms. Kline makes appearances at literary and educational venues around the country to discuss her book and the orphan train movement that inspired its writing. If you would like to invite her to speak at your next event, contact Books In Common.

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