Friday, January 22, 2010

Extra! Extra!

Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York
by Renee Wendinger

(Legendary Publications / 978-0-615-29755-2 / 2009 / 180 pages / Hardcover $29.95)

Reviewed by Donna Aviles for PODBRAM

The orphan train movement of 1854-1929 was a 75-year period in American history when over 250,000 orphaned and abandoned children were transported by train from East coast cities to farming communities in the Midwest in search of homes. The brainchild of Rev. Charles Loring Brace who founded the Children’s Aid Society, the process was soon duplicated by other agencies, including the New York Foundling Hospital. Known at the time as “placing out”, the orphan train movement has come to be recognized as the forerunner of today’s foster care system.

Renee Wendinger, president of the Orphan Train Riders of NY and daughter of orphan train rider Sophie Kaminsky Hillesheim, has recently released Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York. A wonderful addition to other books available on this subject, Extra! Extra! takes a unique approach to the topic, educating the reader through archival materials such as newspaper articles, rider biographies, letters written by mothers who were forced to abandon their children, and original poetry. There are several books that delve deeply into the history of this time, but this work puts a very personal face on the subject that will no doubt grab the interest of anyone who is fortunate enough to pick it up.

A 170-page hardcover, 8 ½ x 11 book using high quality gloss paper, Extra! Extra! is divided into two sections. The first half of the book gives a concise history of the orphan trains, the Children’s Aid Society and the New York Foundling Hospital. There are many wonderful photographs and drawings on each page and, as someone who has studied and written about the orphan trains, I was thrilled to find new and interesting material and pictures. There are over thirty biographies of children who rode the trains and there is even an entry by Baby Peggy, a child star from the 1900’s who visited the Foundling Home in 1923.

The second half of Extra! Extra! is devoted to the Newsboys and Bootblacks of the time period. I was most struck to learn that although these boys worked for pennies a day, they had a strong code of conduct and were especially protective of one another. The reader will learn – through photos and news articles of the day – about the lodging, lifestyle, and struggles of the thousands of adolescent boys who often opted for the chance of a better life in the West (via the orphan trains).

Extra! Extra! is well designed and edited, published independently through Legendary Publications. This documentary type book has already gained the attention of professors at Brooklyn College who have developed a graduate level course based on Extra! Extra! entitled, Flight of the Social Classes in Urban Communities.

Extra! Extra! The Orphan Trains and Newsboys of New York is sold exclusively through Renee Wendinger’s website at The Orphan Train.

See also: The Author's Website
Donna Aviles' Orphan Train Blog
Donna's Orphan Train Review