Tag Archives: orphans in literature

Innocence corrupted

5 Aug

When we first meet Pierrot Fischer, he is a sweet 7-year-old, small for his age, bullied by bigger boys, but certain in his friendship with Anshel. His father disappears and dies. When his mother dies, he moves in with Anshel’s family temporarily.  Because pre-WWII France is not an easy place for Jews, Anshel’s mother finds a place for him in an orphanage, where he stays until he is claimed by his long-lost German aunt. When he joins her in Austria, Pierrot’s eyes are opened to a new world and we see him evolve into someone far less likable.


Publisher’s Summary: When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.

What I, and his Aunt,  found most terrifying is the ease with which Pierrot is turned from sweet boy to Nazi thug. She calls him on his behavior.

“Perhaps you shouldn’t spend so much time with the Führer from now on,” she said, finally turning around to look at her nephew.

“But why not?”

“He’s a very busy man.”

“He’s a very busy man who says he sees great potential in me,” said Pierrot proudly. “Besides we talk about interesting things. And he listens to me.”

“I listen to you, Pieter,” said Beatrix.

“That’s different.”

Pierrot gets caught up in the uniforms and the power he begins to feel, turning the small bullied boy into a bully. He does some terrible things. When the war ends, he claims that he was only a child and didn’t really understand, but Herta, a maid in the house, calls him out, claiming he knew what was going on.

“You have many years ahead of you to come to terms with your complicity in these matters.Just don;t ever tall yourself that you didn’t know.” She released him now from her grip. “That would be the worst crime of all.”

We see that the post war years are emotionally difficult for Pierrot but the ending brings some catharsis.

As with Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, the reader requires some background knowledge to truly understand what appears, on the surface, to be a simple book.  But it is a book worth reading.

Soccer Goals

24 Nov


When I saw my class list in late August I noticed a name I recognized and knew to be a naughty boy. I was surprised when there was none of the naughtiness I anticipated. Instead, I found a young man who has to work hard at school, but was a positive influence. I just figured he had matured.

At conferences, his mother told me that he was on a soccer team and his coach had very high scholastic expectations for his players. If they don’t do their homework or get in trouble at school, they don’t play, or might even lose their place on the team. Soccer has really turned this boy around.

In Eugene Yelchin’s Arcady’s Goal,  Arcady is an excellent soccer player, but lives a bleak life in an orphanage, the son of, what Stalinist Russia called, “enemies of the people”. One day his life changes and he is adopted by one of the orphanage inspectors. Believing the inspector is actually recruiting youth players for the Soviet’s greatest team -the Red Army- in disguise, Arcady calls his new benefactor Coach, and treats him like one, always trying to impress Coach with his skills. Ivan lives up to his new title, creating a youth soccer team just for Arcady to play on. There is no escape from the labels Stalinism has put on Arcady and Coach. However, as they learn to live together, they learn that this might be the glue holding their relationship together.

Short chapters and pencil sketches keep the reader interested. I think I might like this book even more than I liked Breaking Stalin’s Nose,  which was a 2012 Newbery Honor winner. The author;s note at the end is beautiful and heart-breaking.

Orphans and Poor Children

8 Jan

Every year, I have the kids in my reading and/or writing group participate in the Library of Congress’Letters About Literature contest. The kids write letters to an author telling how a favorite book impacted their life. The letters are often poignant, but this year I had one that made me burst out laughing. The author, a girl, was writing to Elvira Woodruff to tell her how  The Christmas Doll changed her life. In the letter, the author tells Woodruff that use had long wanted to be a poor orphan, but The Christmas Doll cured her because their life was so difficult. The author reads a lot. Mostly books about poor orphans it seems. I read a lot about going to boarding school when I was in school and & wanted to go myself, so I totally understand her desire to be like the characters she reads about.

A few weeks after reading this letter a colleague asked me why there were so many books about orphans or that have a character who dies. She has a sensitive niece and they were trying to find a book that wouldn’t upset her too much.

I’m reading Rooftoppers  by Katherine Rundell right now. Orphans & poor children.


It is a very good read, but reminded me of a number of other books, especially a few written by Eva Ibbotson.

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I just read The Great Trouble by Deborah Hopkinson  and  The Real Boy by Anne Ursu. Orphans & poor children are there, too.

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So, I wonder, what are your favorite books with orphans and poor children?

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