Author: Wendy McClure
Pub. Date: January 23, 2014
Genre: Middle Grade
Rec. Age Level: 8-12
WANDERVILLE is set in the 1900s and introduces readers to Frances, Harold, and Jack, three kids from New York bound for Kansas on an orphan train. Frances and her little brother Harold have been living in horrible conditions since their Aunt Mare abandoned them. Both hope for a better life out West, though Frances is skeptical of the fate that awaits them. Jack, not technically an orphan, has been sent away by his destitute parents after the loss of his older brother in a tragic factory fire. The three meet aboard the train, where Jack comes to Harold rescue as he’s being picked on by a bully. Jack and Frances are both convinced nothing good awaits them in Kansas, so they hatch a plan to escape the train and make their way back to New York. Dodging the local sheriff, the three escape. Beginning their trek back east, the three runaways literally stumble across Alexander, another escaped orphan. Alexander confirms their fears: nothing good was waiting at the end of their cross-country train ride. But, Alex explains, he has the perfect place for Frances, Jack, and Harold to live. A safe place. A place with no adults. A place all their own. A place where kids like them are always welcome. Wanderville. Population: 4. Everything is perfect until Harold is captured by the worst people imaginable, the Pratcherds, the very family Alex has escaped from. Now Frances, Jack, and Alex must rescue Harold, without getting caught themselves.
Creativity and resilience, key themes found within Wendy McClure’s newest novel, play a large part in the creation of Wanderville. The town, at first glance, might not seem like much, but if you look closely, it starts to take shape. Built with bits and pieces, and no small amount of imagination, the town has everything our four runaways need: food stores (restocked frequently by “liberating” items from the nearby town, right under the sheriff’s nose), a safe place to sleep (both a remarkably comfy area on the ground and hammocks), room to make their own decisions (the courtroom is a great place to determine the laws of Wanderville), and the freedom to explore and play (plus determine how they’ll take on the sheriff if he tracks them down). After all the hardship these four kids have endured, Wanderville is a refuge. A place where no adult can hurt or betray them, a place entirely their own.
WANDERVILLE allows young readers to learn about and explore history, specifically the realities of orphan trains and the harsh lives of young children in the early 1900s, while allowing them to embark on an adventure with plucky characters their own age that they’ll find easy to relate to. Readers will easily compare their lives to those of Frances, Jack, and Harold, finding both similarities and differences. The characters in WANDERVILLE deal with bullies, love their siblings, enjoy reading and learning, etc, all things kids today can easily relate to. But there are notable differences too: Jack works in a factory under harsh conditions, Frances and Harold are briefly taken in many times before being abandoned, and all three are shipped across the country where they are promised a better life, but where a fate of a hard life as cheap labor awaits them.
A fantastic new historically set adventure, readers are sure to love both the adventure and history included in WANDERVILLE. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next for Frances, Jack, Alex, and Harold in the next part of their story, slated for a fall 2014 release.