The Orphan Band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet - book review

Publisher's Synopsis: "With the United States on the verge of World War II, eleven-year-old Gusta is sent from New York City to Maine, where she discovers small-town prejudices — and a huge family secret.
It’s 1941, and tensions are rising in the United States as the Second World War rages in Europe. Eleven-year-old Gusta’s life, like the world around her, is about to change. Her father, a foreign-born labor organizer, has had to flee the country, and Gusta has been sent to live in an orphanage run by her grandmother. Nearsighted, snaggletoothed Gusta arrives in Springdale, Maine, lugging her one precious possession: a beloved old French horn, her sole memento of her father. But in a family that’s long on troubles and short on money, how can a girl hang on to something so valuable and yet so useless when Gusta’s mill-worker uncle needs surgery to fix his mangled hand, with no union to help him pay? Inspired by her mother’s fanciful stories, Gusta secretly hopes to find the coin-like “Wish” that her sea-captain grandfather supposedly left hidden somewhere. Meanwhile, even as Gusta gets to know the rambunctious orphans at the home, she feels like an outsider at her new school — and finds herself facing patriotism turned to prejudice, alien registration drives, and a family secret likely to turn the small town upside down."

My Two Cents: There are many standout elements to The Orphan Band of Springdale that make it a great addition to middle grade shelves.

First, it's simply a good story: The protagonist, Gusta, is engaging and likable, made all the more real through the author's excellent use of narrative monologues which helps the reader to better understand not only Gusta's winning character traits, but also her emotions.
The periphery characters are also well-developed with just enough specifics to draw readers to them. Historical fiction walks two slippery paths: over and under dramatization. Too little and you have one of those bland recountings that put you to sleep; too much and you miss the history bits in favor action. The Orphan Band of Springdale does a fine job of balancing the two.

Secondly, it is well-written: The author has packed the story with overflowing literary devices that could provide not only classroom contemplation, but strong examples for writing exercises.

Finally, it's a great social studies addition to explore the way things were leading up to World War Two. Most importantly (and scary too!) are the relevant topics of xenophobia, immigration, displaced patriotism, and labor movements. It also sends a message about kids doing the right thing when the adults around them are not doing what's right (scary indeed!).

All that said, I will offer one teaching disclaimer: This is a lyrical and smooth writing style preferred by librarians, teachers, and adults, but some kiddos will find difficulty getting into the plot (though disappearing Dad in chapter one tries to help). If I used this in the classroom, it would probably be in snippets as a writing lesson. There are just sooooo many topics/themes I am not certain that I could do it justice in a single semester. But, highly recommended for that student that likes historical fiction, for sure. 

Click HERE for a discussion guide from the publisher to help with those many themes

Click HERE for the author's notes
Genre: Historical Fiction

Age: 10- 14 years / Middle Grade /  Recommended For both classroom and library purchase from grades 4 - 7. 

Pages: 448

Themes: Friendship, doing what's right, xenophobia, immigration, displaced patriotism, labor movements, power of music, family secrets

Character Development: Very strong, especially the main girls

Plot Engagement: Pretty even, a bit slow for some students - looking for that historical fiction reader

Originality: LOVED the magic wish element, gave it a hint of magical realism (my fave) and not too many books out there about labor unions and the world leading up to WWII

Believability: While it is believable, there is A LOT packed in. I could see it easily becoming overwhelming for some struggling readers or even average readers needing time to sort out all the themes.

Thank You to publisher Candlewick and Library Thing for my advanced copy!

Date: Out Now!   /   ISBN 9780763688042

BUY The Orphan Band of Springdale HERE

If you would like to read more about author Anne Nesbet, head over to her website : HERE. She also wrote a lovely blog post over on the blog Project Mayhem about the true story behind this book. Check it out HERE.

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