Cover image for A family apart
A family apart
Nixon, Joan Lowery.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Milwaukee, WI : Gareth Stevens Pub., 2000.

Physical Description:
162 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
In 1860, when their widowed mother can no longer support them, six siblings are sent on the orphan train by the Children's Aid Society of New York City to live with farm families in Missouri.
Reading Level:
820 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 5.4 7.0 610.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 6.1 9 Quiz: 03784 Guided reading level: W.
Format :


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X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

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The Kellys traveled across the Atlantic Ocean looking for relief from Ireland's potato famine and a better life in America. For years, everything went well, until Tom Kelly became ill and died, leaving his wife to support their young children. Although she tried desperately to find employment, Mrs. Kelly could not sufficiently support her children and eventually had no choice but to send them west on the Orphan Train. Join in the fascinating adventures of the Kelly children as they settle into their new lives with new families in the West.

A young widow realizes that she can't give her six children the life they deserve. Mrs. Kelly makes the ultimate sacrifice of love and sends them west on the Orphan Train to find better lives. One by one, western families adopt them -- some looking for children to love, others only seeking cheap labor. Frances has promised Ma that she will look after Petey, her youngest brother, no matter what. Masquerading as a boy, "Frankie's" adventures eventually involve her in the activities of the Underground Railroad. Will honoring Ma's request help Frances understand that splitting up the family was really a mother's act of love?

Author Notes

Joan Lowery Nixon was born in Los Angeles, California. She attended the University of Southern California where she received a B.A. in journalism and later an education certificate from California State.

She has written over 100 mystery books for young adults. She is known for her Orphan Train Adventure Series and other titles including A Family Apart, The Seance and Other Side of the Dark. Her works have earned her the honor of being the only writer to win four Edgar Allen Poe awards and in addition, two Spurs from Western Writers of America. She was a past President of the Mystery Writers of America.

She died from complications of pancreatic cancer on June 28, 2003, in Houston, Texas. She was 76.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This first book in the Orphan Train Quartet tells the story of 13-year-old Frances Mary, eldest of the six Kelly children who have been sent West on the ``Orphan Train'' by their widowed mother in the hope that they find loving parents to adopt them and begin a better life. (S 15 87)

Publisher's Weekly Review

This first book of the Orphan Train Quartet tells the story of Frances Mary, 13, eldest of the six Kelly children. Life in New York's grim 19th century slums consists of hardship for the poor but honest Kelly clan. When widowed Mrs. Kelly feels that she is no longer capable of providing for her children, she sends them west on the Orphan Train, to be adopted by farm families. Frances masquerades as a boy in order to be adopted with Petey, the brother she promised her mother she would protect. The practical difficulties Frances faces in maintaining this disguise are handled in an amusing and thoughtful manner. Since Frances and Petey are adopted by a couple with strong abolitionist sympathies, it should come as no surprise that Frances, just days after her arrival on the farm, finds herself helping two runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. Though the plot is predictable and sometimes overly sentimental, and the Kelly family lapses into stilted Irish syntax, the rapid succession of high-spirited adventures make for lively reading. Ages 10-up. (October) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-8-Barbara Caruso's voice and skill as a narrator quickly bring listeners into Joan Lowery Nixon's A Family Apart (Bantam, 1987), the first book in the Orphan Train quartet (which later became the Orphan Train Adventures). Set in New York City in 1856, listeners are introduced to Frances Mary Kelly, one of six children in a poor Irish family. When things finally fall completely apart for the Kelly family, Mrs. Kelly learns about the Children's Aid Society, and sees a way to provide for her children. She makes the ultimate sacrifice of love, and sends them West on the Orphan Train to be adopted. The children are confused and angry about what they feel is abandonment and betrayal by their mother. Caruso's skill as a narrator makes listeners feel the children's emotional turmoil. Frances, in order to keep a promise to her Ma, disguises herself as a boy in order to remain with her little brother. "Frankie," as she is now known, is adopted by a loving farm family in the Kansas Territory. Frankie learns that her new family provides a refuge for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. In her desire to help the runaway slaves get to the next stop on the Railroad, she makes an exciting but risky trip. It is through her actions and the eventual discovery of Frances' true identity that she finally understands the sacrifice that her mother made. Listeners will be entranced as Caruso captures the personalities of the Kelly children and brings history from that time period alive. Students will be clamoring to listen to the other adventures of the Kelly children and to know more about the Orphan Train and the time period surrounding the Civil War.-Lisa K.Whitley, Mount Laurel Library, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.