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.
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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 5-8 First of a projected quartet of orphan stories, each about a member of the same family of children transported by orphan train from New York to St. Joseph, Missouri, and surrounding areas. A kind of period piece, circa 1860, A Family Apart has a distinct Horatio Alger tone. Well constructed incidents, including the widowed mother giving up her children so they can be sent west to find a better life, a grass fire set by sparks from the train, and a holdup of the train contribute to fast action and considerable suspenseparticularly about the oldest girl, Frances, who disguises herself as a boy so she can better help her brothers and sisters. An Orphan for Nebraska (Atheneum, 1979) by Charlene Joy Talbot is a similar orphan train story, but about one boy. Patricia Beatty's That's One Ornery Orphan (Morrow, 1980) is more humorous but less of a saga. What happened to orphans and street children of the last century may well appeal to many of today's children who hear so much about street children and abducted and deserted kids. George Gleason, Department of English, Southwest Missouri State University, Springfield (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.