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Book Discussion Questions: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Cover of The Orphan TrainTitle: Orphan Train
Author: Christina Baker Kline
Page Count: 278 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Tone: Thoughtful, Poignant, Sobering

Summary from publisher:
Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to “aging out” out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse…

As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance.

Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Rich in detail and epic in scope, Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a powerful novel of upheaval and resilience, of unexpected friendship, and of the secrets we carry that keep us from finding out who we are.

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. Were the orphan trains a good thing? Why or why not? What, if any, better options were available at the time?

2. What did you notice about the style of writing and how this story was put together?

3. Thinking back on the children that were highlighted in the book, Carmine, Dutchy and Niamh, what were the motivations of the families who took in these orphans? How did these differing motivations affect the children’s lives?

4. What similarities or differences are there between the past as shown in the story and our present foster care system?

5. In what ways are Molly and Vivian similar? How are they different?

6. Do you have things that you don’t use or are stored away but you can’t part with? What are those things and why do you keep them?

7. What would a timeline of Vivian’s life look like? Use a white board to diagram this or just do it verbally. What characterizes each segment of her life?

8. What would a timeline of Molly’s life look like? What characterizes each segment of her life?

9. “You can’t find peace till you find all the pieces.” How is this true in Vivian’s life? How is it true in Molly’s life?

10. Molly’s charms on her necklace are mentioned throughout the story. What is their significance? What did Vivian’s Claddagh cross and Molly’s charms mean to them?

11. How has Molly changed Vivian’s life? How has Vivian changed Molly’s life?

12.  Read the prologue aloud to the group. Having read the book and rereading the prologue what does this tell you about Vivian’s view of the people in her past? What does this show about her character?

13. How did you feel about the way the author ended the story? Is Vivian’s happy ending enough?

14. If you were to write additional chapters to the book what would happen to Vivian, to Molly?

15. The American Experience, a PBS show, has a program on the orphan trains. There was also a movie made in 1979 called The Orphan Train. Do you think this book will come to the big screen? Would you want to see it?

Other Resources

Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Video interview with Christina Baker Kline
History of orphan trains from The Children’s Aid Society
Huffington Post interview with Christina Baker Kline

If you liked The Orphan Train, try...

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The Forgotten Seamstress by Liz Trenow
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The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on January 21, 2015 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

New: Historical Fiction and Romance

Every other Friday the Library will bring you short lists of buzz-worthy books in a rotating series of popular genres.

For these and other fresh reads, stop by the second floor Fiction/AV/Teen desk. While there, talk to a Readers’ Advisor about new and old titles tailored to your taste.

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Faint Promise of Rain by Anjali Mitter Duva
The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell
The May Bride by Suzannah Dunn

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The Lodger by Louisa Treger
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Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar

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The Kraken King by Meljean Brook
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Rogue Spy by Joanna Bourne
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By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on January 9, 2015 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, New Arrivals, Romance

Book Discussion Questions: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Cover of The Light Between OceansTitle: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M.L. Stedman
Page Count:  345 pages
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Tone:  Haunting, Melancholy

Excerpted summary from publisher:

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

 

SPOILER WARNING:
These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points if you have not read the book.

1. Who was wronged in the book? Whose story would you say this is?

2. Are any of the characters “bad?” If so, who? What makes a person warrant the description “bad?”

3. How would you describe Tom? Why does he enjoy his lightkeeper duties?

4. Why does Isabel want to marry Tom? Why does he agree? What are his hesitations?

5. Did you find Tom and Isabel’s courtship convincing? Do you understand their attraction to one another and their decision to marry?

6. What are some of the signs and hints of Isabel’s manipulative nature early on in the book?

7. Which character were you rooting for more than the others?

8. Was there a character you identified with more? If so, did this change as you read the book?

9. Was there any one character that frustrated you more than others?

10. How does Tom’s quietness play a role in the story? What about Isabel’s quietness?

11. Are Tom and Isabel a mystery to each other?

12. As the reader, are Tom and Isabel mysteries to you as well? Do you feel you know Tom better or Isabel better?

13. How does Tom’s experience in the war affect his relationship with Isabel, being a lightkeeper, and response to the baby arriving?

14. Do you think the pregnancy and childbirth losses they went through affect the right or wrong of keeping the baby? Does knowing what they went through affect your judgment of their choices?

15. Tom and Isabel live a solitary life. How would their response to baby arriving been different if they weren’t isolated on island? How would their marriage have been different?

16. How did you respond to the focus on various characters in town in Part 3? Do you like the variety or is the book better when focused on Tom and Isabel?

17. What does it mean to be an “outsider” and how does that affect one’s perception?

Other Resources

An interview with M.L. Stedman
The Light Between Oceans Reading Group Guide
One Book One City Resources
Lit Lovers’ Discussion Questions
Reflection on a Light Between Oceans book discussion

If you liked The Light Between Oceans, try...

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By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on December 31, 2014 Categories: Book Discussion Questions, Books, Historical Fiction

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By Cathleen, Readers' Advisor on December 15, 2014 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, Horror

2014 Goodreads Choice Award Winners

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Fiction: Landline by Rainbow Rowell
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Science Fiction: The Martian by Andy Weir
Romance:
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Fantasy:
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Humor: Yes Please by Amy Poehler
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By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on December 5, 2014 Categories: Awards, Books, Fantasy & Sci-Fi, Historical Fiction, Horror, Humor, Literary, Romance

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New: Historical Fiction and Romance

Every other Friday the Library will bring you short lists of buzz-worthy books in a rotating series of popular genres.

For these and other fresh reads, stop by the second floor Fiction/AV/Teen desk. While there, talk to a Readers’ Advisor about new and old titles tailored to your taste.

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List: Booklist Online’s Top Ten Debut Novels

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By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on October 24, 2014 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, Lists, Literary

New: Historical Fiction and Romance

Every Friday the Library will bring you short lists of buzz-worthy books in a rotating series of popular genres.

For these and other fresh reads, stop by the second floor Fiction/AV/Teen desk. While there, talk to a Readers’ Advisor about new and old titles tailored to your taste

New: Historical Fiction Books

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Barb B. staff picks photoThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak is superbly written almost in a poetic way. In 1939 Germany, Death has never been busier, yet it’s captivated by a young orphan who learns to find comfort in the written word. After the Nazis burn the town’s books, Liesel steals from the mayor’s own library and shares with a Jewish man hiding in her home. You will not be able to put this book down because of its award-winning writing.

By Jenny, Readers' Advisor on September 2, 2014 Categories: Books, Historical Fiction, Picks by Barb B., Staff Picks