Inspired by The Boxcar Children books, Wanderville is a story of unwanted children making a place for themselves in spite of uncaring and inattentive adults. The believability factor in this story for younger middle grade readers is low, but it is a good adventure.
A group of orphans are sent west to Kansas on the Orphan Train. They escape before they are sent to a sugar beet farm to work as practical slaves, and they create their own (partly imaginary) town of Wanderville, a town that is “open to any child in need of freedom. No matter who they are.” It’s historical fiction with some near-fantasy elements. All of the events in the book could happen, but some of them are highly unlikely.
The story is very anti-adult, but it is the adults who unwittingly provide the food that the children “liberate” and who clumsily participate in the successful rescue effort toward the end of the book. Perhaps the author was taking a polite jab at the oft-repeated convention in children’s book that has children taking care of themselves without any adult intervention or help. Or maybe she was trying to “empower” children to take control of their own destinies. Whatever the author’s intentions, the adults in the story range from incompetent to slow-witted to downright cruel, with not a helpful adult in sight. Maybe that aspect will improve over the course of the series.
For fans of The Boxcar Children series, Joan Lowery Nixon’s Orphan Train Adventures, or even the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Wanderville might be a welcome follow-up. A series of Wanderville books is in the works. Book 2 is Wanderville: On Track for Treasure, due out in October 2014.