Cover image for Rodzina
Cushman, Karen.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Clarion Books, [2003]

Physical Description:
215 pages ; 24 cm
A twelve-year-old Polish American girl is boarded onto an orphan train in Chicago with fears about traveling to the West and a life of unpaid slavery.
Reading Level:
740 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 4.8 6.0 68142.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.3 11 Quiz: 33307 Guided reading level: T.
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Mass Market Paperback Central Library
X Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski, a strong and stubborn Polish orphan, leaves Chicago on an orphan train, expecting to be adopted and turned into a slave--or worse, not to be adopted at all. As the train rattles westward, she begins to develop attachments to her fellow travelers, even the frosty orphan guardian, and to accept the idea that there might be good homes for orphans--maybe even for a big, combative Polish girl. But no placement seems right for the formidable Rodzina, and she cleverly finds a way out of one unfortunate situation after another until at last she finds the family that is right for her. Like Karen Cushman's other young girl protagonists, Rodzina is trying to find her place in the world--and she does.

The compelling narrative is laced with wry humor and keen observation, full of memorable characters, and thoroughly researched, Afterword.

Author Notes

Karen Cushman was born on October 4, 1941 and grew up in a working-class family in Chicago, but never put much thought into becoming a writer. Though she wrote poetry and plays as a child, Cushman didn't begin writing professionally for young adults until she was fifty. She holds an MA in both Human Behavior and Museum Studies.

Cushman has always been interested in history. It was this interest that led her to her research into medieval England and its culture, which led to both Catherine, Called Birdy, a Newbery Honor Book, and The Midwife's Apprentice, her second book and winner of the prestigious Newbery Award in 1996.

Both Catherine, Called Birdy and The Midwife's Apprentice have earned many awards and honors including the Gold Kite Award for Fiction from the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and was chosen as one of School Library Journal's Best Books of the Year. Cushman's work has also been recognized for excellence by Horn Book, Parenting Magazine, Hungry Mind Review, and the American Library Association.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

After taking on medieval times in Catherine Called Birdy and Matilda Bone, Cushman here follows another feisty heroine as she makes her way West on an orphan train. Narrator Rodzina Cara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski (who is "big for twelve and every day getting bigger"), starts out with 22 other orphaned children in Chicago, and the novel ends as her train pulls into Oakland Station in California. The author packs a lot into the intervening chapters, often at the expense of character development. A few of Rodzina's fellow riders stand out, such as pretty (but "slow") Lacey, who attaches herself to Rodzina, and Mickey Dooley, who introduces himself as "Orphan, purveyor of blarney, and a genuine bag of laughs." Although many of the train stops are a blur, a memorable scene takes place in a dugout east of Cheyenne, where Rodzina briefly finds a foster home with the Clench family (until she discovers that Mr. Clench plans to wed her); the details of the Clenches' claustrophobic, filthy conditions make for the most palpable setting in the book. Miss Doctor, as Rodzina refers to the female physician who acts as a guardian for the group, sees through Rodzina's tough faade and enlists her to care for the youngest of the orphans. But the development of the relationship between Miss Doctor (who, by her own admission, comes across as "cold and frosty") and Rodzina stumbles and, consequently, the ending of the novel rings hollow. Ages 10-14. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Gr. 5^-9. As in Cushman's Newbery winner, The Midwife's Apprentice (1995), the hero of this lively historical novel is a mean orphan, desperate for home, and her adult mentor is both as tough and as needy as the orphan child. Here the setting is the U.S. in 1881 on the orphan train going west from Chicago to California; but the story of the wild, lonely pauper kids is like something out of Dickens, especially when they remember their desperate lives in the streets and orphanages of the city they left behind. Twelve-year-old Rodzina's first-person account of the uproar on the journey makes the dramatic history immediate. She's terrified of being given away as a slave to strangers. Indeed, as the train stops at various frontier towns along the way, she sees kids brutally exploited for their labor, and she herself escapes a nightmare forced "marriage." But she also sees successful mail-order couples, and some kids do find homes with loving families. A natural for American history or social studies classes, this is especially interesting as a women's history title, with Rodzina portrayed as an unromantic protagonist, big, angry, and tough. The boss of the orphan train is a woman doctor, cold and distant, and as lonely as Rodzina. Yes, it's clear that these two strong women will get together by the end; how that happens makes a great story. Cushman talks about the history in a lengthy final note, and she includes a bibliography of other orphan train books. --Hazel Rochman

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-7-Twelve-year-old Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski, a strong-willed Polish girl from Chicago, tells the story of her 1881 journey across the U.S. on an orphan train. On the cassette, Ann Baker's subtle reading reflects the emotions and maturity level of each character, and her pronunciation of the Polish words is helpful. Cushman's introduction about her Polish family is particulary poignant. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chicago, 1881 On a cold Monday morning in March, when a weak, pale sun struggled to shine and ice glistened in the cracks in the wooden street, a company of some twenty-two orphan children with stiff new clothes and little cardboard suitcases boarded a special railway car at the station near the Chicago River. I know, because I was one of them. The station was noisier and more confused than Halsted Street on market day. Travelers carrying featherbeds and bundles wrapped in blue gingham cloth shoved me aside in their hurry to get here or there. A man in a bright red jacket bumped into me and apologized in a language I did not know. At least I assumed it was an apology, because of all the bowing and tipping of his hat, so I said, "It's all right, mister, but I'd say you should know a little English if you expect to get wherever you're going." He tipped his hat again. One woman, burdened with children, blankets, a tin kettle, and a three-legged stove, finally put that stove right down on the platform, sat herself atop it, and began to cry. I knew how she felt. I myself was a mite worried--not scared, being twelve and no baby like Evelyn or Gertie to be afraid of every little thing, but worried, yes. It was all so loud and disorderly and unfamiliar. I forced my way through the crowd and grabbed on to a belt in front of me. The boy it belonged to said, "Hang on tight, Rodzina, afore we're swept into the lake like sewage." It was Spud, whom I knew from the Little Wanderers' Refuge. He and Chester, Gertie, Horton, Rose and Pearl Lubnitz, the baby Evelyn, and I--we had been there together. The others were from the Infant Hospital and the Orphan Asylum near Hyde Park. Orphans, all of us, carrying all we owned in our two hands, pushing and shoving like everyone else. A lady, standing straight and tall in a black suit and stiff white shirtwaist, put her hands up to her mouth and shouted, but I could not hear much over the din. I finally gathered that she was from the Orphan Asylum and was calling us all together. Letting go of Spud's belt, I stretched myself even taller so I could get a better look at her over that expanse of heads. She was pale and thin, her mouth ill-humored, and her gray eyes as cold and sharp as the wire rims of her spectacles. I should have known they would not send someone kind and good-natured to accompany a carload of orphans. Roaring and cursing, a short, barrel-shaped man togged out in a checked jacket and yellow shoes pushed his way through the crowd. "You! Orphans!" he shouted, the cigar in the corner of his mouth waving and waggling with his words. "Pipe down! I am Mr. Szprot, the placing-out agent for the Association of Aid Societies. That means I am the boss and you do what I tell you. You are, you know, none of you, too young to go to Hell. Or to jail. So shut your mugs and line up." After my time on the street I was used to being threatened with Hell, so it didn't bother me much, but still I shut my mug. There was silence from the other orphans too, and we walked noiselessly to the train. Trains had hooted and rumbled behind our house on Honore Street, but I had never seen a locomotive up so close, looming like the fearful dragon of Wawel Hill in the story Auntie Manya used to tell, its smokestack belching sparks, and a line of cars trailing behind like a tail of wood and iron. If I had been younger or smaller, even I might have been scared. Getting on this train had not been my idea. I wanted to go home. But I had no home anymore, except the Little Wanderers' Refuge, and they had sent me away to be sold as a slave. I knew that because a kid on the street, Melvin, had told me. "That orphanage ships kids on trains to the west," he said. "In freight cars. Don't feed 'em or nothin'. Sells 'em to families that want slaves." He shook his head. "Orphans never come to no good end." I found that easy to believe, so I believed every word. No, I surely did not want to get on the train, but the crowd of orphans shoved me onward. The long black wool stockings they'd given me at the orphan home itched something fierce, and pausing midway up the iron steps, I bent down to scratch my knees. Three orphans knocked right into me. "You, Polish girl," said Mr. Szprot, his voice even louder than his jacket, "try not to be so clumsy." A big boy behind me snickered. "Clumsy Polish girl," he said. "Ugly cabbage eater." Accidentally on purpose I swung my suitcase and cracked him on the knee. I knew he wouldn't try to get even with Mr. Szprot so close. Once up the steps, I looked back. This was the last I'd ever see of Chicago, this view of soot and ice and metal tracks. On such a cold, gray, blustery morning, it looked like a dead place, but at least it was familiar. Chicago had always meant Mama and Papa and the boys. Now Mama and Papa and the boys were gone, home was gone, and soon Chicago would be gone. I felt like I was jumping out a seventh-story window, not at all sure someone was down below to catch me. I scratched my knees again and, holding tight to my suitcase, went in. From the Trade Paperback edition. Excerpted from Rodzina by Karen Cushman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

1 Chicago, 1881p. 1
2 Somewhere in Illinois or Iowap. 20
3 Omahap. 32
4 Grand Islandp. 46
5 Western Nebraskap. 67
6 Cheyennep. 85
7 The Prairie East of Cheyennep. 101
8 Wyoming Territoryp. 120
9 A Thousand Miles from Omahap. 138
10 Ogden, Utah Territoryp. 150
11 Nevadap. 166
12 Virginia Cityp. 176
13 Californiap. 192
Pronunciation Guidep. 205
Author's Notep. 207