Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Train to Somewhere

Bunting, E. (1996). Train to somewhere. New York: Clarion Books.
(Thanks to Derek Poe for this reflection.)
 Bunting's sad historical fiction, illustrated in naturalistic watercolor and charcoal (in some places) by Ronald Himler (Impressionist), details the story of fourteen fictitious-but-plausible orphans with dreams of adoption.  This Industrial Age tale, its integral setting, and its images echo not only the issues facing America at the time but also those of England and Ireland that were critiqued in the works of Charles Dickens, Jonathan Swift, and Mary Shelly during Britain's Industrial Age.  The book's introduction provides background information necessary to understand and appreciate the story, but under the story, we find enduring social concerns still faced today.

From first touching the book, one cannot help but notice the somber mood captured on the dust jacket, thanks to Himler's artistic rendition of two young girls who have been denied the secure childhood that every young one needs.  No love.  No happiness.  No warm blanket.  Just worry and fear and "terrible hurt" (p. 23) in the face of challenges far too advanced for young minds to understand as the hulking, black land-serpent belches steam and uncertainty at the feet of the two young girls who carry everything they own in small totes.  The story's cause and effect organizational pattern is used to help explain the terrifying, wearisome, and downright sad conditions these orphans faced.

These same feelings are expressed through the dialogue the author uses to create the solemn tone, evident when, for example, Marianne, the story's narrator, has insecure thoughts: "I can see my own long, thin face.  I'm not pretty.  I know Nora will be one of the first ones taken" (p. 7).  Her worry is suitably portrayed in the preceding illustration as the two pretend-sisters clutch one another tightly to gain the security they have been denied--and in Maryanne's grave expression and she hopes that she and Nora will not be separated and that her real mother will be waiting for her.  It is events like this that able readers make grim predictions.  As the chronological plot rails along, we find more disappointment and worry in Maryanne, who continues to dream of a mother's open arms as the orphans are paraded like cattle in front of prospective takers, until finally she is accepted.

This book reminds us that every child deserves a family, a home, and unconditional love.  In America, particularly in our larger urban settings but also in our smallest towns, children face the same uncertainty and fear, the same loss and abandonment, the same inner pain and psychological dismay that Marianne faces in the story.  If I read this tragic book to a child, and he or she said to me, "I don't get it."  I would simply say, "I'm glad."

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