4.7 11
by Karen Cushman

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Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski is the new face in Karen Cushman’s gallery of unforgettable heroines. One of a group of orphans, 12-year-old Rodzina boards a train on a cold day in March 1881. She’s reluctant to leave Chicago, the only home she can remember, and she knows there’s no substitute for the family she has lost. She expects to be


Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski is the new face in Karen Cushman’s gallery of unforgettable heroines. One of a group of orphans, 12-year-old Rodzina boards a train on a cold day in March 1881. She’s reluctant to leave Chicago, the only home she can remember, and she knows there’s no substitute for the family she has lost. She expects to be adopted and turned into a slave—or worse, not to be adopted at all.

As the train rattles westward, Rodzina unwittingly begins to develop attachments to her fellow travelers, even the frosty orphan guardian, and to accept the idea that there might be good homes for orphans—maybe even for a big, combative Polish girl. But no placement seems right for the formidable Rodzina, and she cleverly finds a way out of one bad situation after another, until at last she finds the family that is right for her.

Once again, Karen Cushman brings us a compelling story that is thoroughly researched, full of memorable characters, and told with wry humor and keen observation by an absolutely captivating narrator. Afterword.

Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
Newbery Medalist Karen Cushman takes readers on a 19th-century journey westward in this engaging novel about one Polish orphan's uncertain train ride.

When 12-year-old Rodzina boards the orphan train in Chicago, she's not sure where she'll end up. One thing's for sure, however: the strong-willed girl "would rather die right here and now" than be with parents who make her "a nurse, a cook, and a slave." As she and 20 other children travel toward California, the train stops in Omaha, Cheyenne, and several other towns, where Mr. Szprot and "Miss Doctor" (the orphans' hard-line chaperones) almost place Rodzina with folks not up to snuff. But when Rodzina sees a posting for "miners and[ing] women to share their prosperity," she secretly hops aboard a train bound for Reno, Nevada, to start her own family. Thankfully, though, Miss Doctor turns up in Reno to find her, and the two head to California for a new beginning together.

With a main character whose sure-minded attitude evokes memories of previous heroines, Cushman delivers a pleasant read that sheds light on this little-known part of U.S. history. Anyone interested in immigrant culture and self-sufficient kids will find Rodzina enlightening, while educators in particular will want to add Cushman's book to their discussions. Shana Taylor

Publishers Weekly
After taking on medieval times in Catherine Called Birdy and Matilda Bone, Cushman here follows another feisty heroine as she makes her way West on an orphan train. Narrator Rodzina Cara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski (who is "big for twelve and every day getting bigger"), starts out with 22 other orphaned children in Chicago, and the novel ends as her train pulls into Oakland Station in California. The author packs a lot into the intervening chapters, often at the expense of character development. A few of Rodzina's fellow riders stand out, such as pretty (but "slow") Lacey, who attaches herself to Rodzina, and Mickey Dooley, who introduces himself as "Orphan, purveyor of blarney, and a genuine bag of laughs." Although many of the train stops are a blur, a memorable scene takes place in a dugout east of Cheyenne, where Rodzina briefly finds a foster home with the Clench family (until she discovers that Mr. Clench plans to wed her); the details of the Clenches' claustrophobic, filthy conditions make for the most palpable setting in the book. Miss Doctor, as Rodzina refers to the female physician who acts as a guardian for the group, sees through Rodzina's tough fa ade and enlists her to care for the youngest of the orphans. But the development of the relationship between Miss Doctor (who, by her own admission, comes across as "cold and frosty") and Rodzina stumbles and, consequently, the ending of the novel rings hollow. Ages 10-14. (Mar.) Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Rodzina has seen the face of tragedy several times over, and now it seems as if hope has really turned its back on this homely immigrant from Poland. Rodzina and many other orphaned children of all ages are being shipped out of Chicago on a train. They are going west to find new homes and new lives. It was believed by the powers-that-be of the time that working on farms as farm laborers would be good for these orphans from the cities. Rodzina and many of the other orphans see this change in their circumstances as a sentence to a life of slavery. Needless to say, Rodzina would rather live in an orphanage or even on the streets, than face an existence in a strange place where she has to work in the fields from sun-up to sun-down day after day. Bitter, sharp, and angry, Rodzina isolates herself from everyone else on the train as it clatters west. At each train-stop, a few more orphans find homes, until Rodzina is the only one left, alone and unwanted. Carefully researched, this is a book that tells the story of a time when orphans were considered to be people who were not to be trusted, and who were often treated little better than slaves or beasts of burden. It was not uncommon for orphans to have their teeth and limbs examined by prospective 'parents' at the time of 'adoption' to determine their worthiness as potential farm hands. The skill and finesse we have come to expect from Karen Cushman weaves a rich and powerful tale of self-discovery, and ultimately, hope. The reader will find a detailed history of the orphan train and other similar efforts to "rehabilitate' orphaned and unwanted children in the back of the book. Karen Cushman has received great acclaim for her historical novels,having been awarded a Newbery Honor for Catherine, Called Birdy and the Newbery Medal for The Midwife's Apprentice. 2003, Clarion Books,
— Marya Jansen-Gruber
The orphan trains that were a well-meaning effort to get urban orphans transported from the cities of the east to the farm communities of the west have been the subject of many children's books—it is an endlessly fascinating story, after all. Cushman turns her considerable talent as a writer of historical fiction to this era in Rodzina. The cover art (by Trina Schart Hyman) probably limits the readership to the youngest of YAs. Rodzina herself is 12 years old, big for her age, capable and strong. She is an orphan from Chicago, more fortunate than other orphans because she had been part of a loving Polish family before their untimely deaths left her alone. She is admired and respected by the younger, weaker children on the orphan train, and she speaks up when she sees injustices. A woman doctor is one of the adult chaperones for the group, and she becomes a central figure in the story, a character in her own right—first as Rodzina's adversary and later as her protector. As the train stops at various towns across the country, people interested in taking the orphans come to look them over. Rodzina of course resents this inspection and fears people are just looking for slaves to do their heavy work. When she is selected by a man with many children and taken to a sod home on the prairie where the ill wife lies in bed, she learns that the man expects the wife to die soon and thereafter he plans to marry Rodzina. Rodzina escapes that horror. Readers ages 10-13 will enjoy this well-written novel about a strong heroine in terrible circumstances, who finds a way to not just survive but to create a life with real possibilities for herself. Cushman has won the Newbery Medal for The Midwife'sApprentice, and is also the author of Catherine, Called Birdy, a Newbery Honor Book. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2003, Houghton Mifflin, Clarion, 215p.,
— Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Twelve-year-old Rodzina Clara Jadwiga Anastazya Brodski, a strong-willed Polish girl from Chicago, tells the story of her 1881 journey across the U.S. on an orphan train. On the cassette, Ann Baker's subtle reading reflects the emotions and maturity level of each character, and her pronunciation of the Polish words is helpful. Cushman's introduction about her Polish family is particulary poignant. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Young, self-reliant, resilient Rodzina (from the Polish for "family") Brodski is an orphan at age 12 in the winter of 1881-her father, mother, and young brothers all dead. She is gathered up in Chicago with other orphans and street children and sent west on one of the "orphan trains" that took children to be placed out on the farms and in the towns of the prairies and mountain states. Among her companions are several younger children Rodzina has known from her days on the street and in the orphanage. As the eldest girl, she is put in charge of these children on the train, and demonstrates her warmth and competence through her grudging attention to them. Along the way, Rodzina goes twice, unwillingly, to unsuitable new homes: once to a couple of women who plan for her to be not only a nursemaid but a farmhand as well, and once to the father of a large hardscrabble family-his wife is dying and he plans to make Rodzina his new wife. Each time Rodzina resourcefully makes her escape and returns to the train. As she continues westward, Rodzina gradually befriends the formidable lady doctor who accompanies the orphans, and begins to long for a new home for herself. The story is undemanding and engaging, rolling along with the journey, subtly letting readers into Rodzina's memories of the home she once had and of her immigrant parents and her Polish heritage. Trina Schart Hyman's intriguing cover art depicts a stocky, fierce young girl-prickly Rodzina with her "stink face" on-and the younger child she shelters. Cushman (Matilda Bone, 2000, etc.) as usual conveys a contemporary feel without anachronism, and the conclusion of Rodzina's journey, though unsurprising, is an agreeable one. (Fiction.11-13)
From the Publisher

"A natural for American history or social studies classes...especially interesting as a women's history title...a great story." ALA BOOKLIST, STARRED REVIEW Booklist, ALA, Starred Review

"An engaging, well-fleshed-out heroine...narrative voice is by turns curious, resentful, humorous, and sad...a comfortable and informative read" BULLETIN FOR THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN'S BOOKS The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"...story is undemanding and engaging, rolling along with the journey...intriguing cover art...a contemporary feel without anachronism." KIRKUS REVEIWS Kirkus Reviews

"Engaging characters, a vivid setting, and a prickly but endearing heroine... first-person narrative captures... personality and spirit...poignancy, humor." SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL, STARRED REVIEW School Library Journal, Starred

"Rodzina is prickly, stubborn, and heart-sore but she's also honest, likable and smart...Enough unpredictability to nicely unsettle expectations." THE HORN BOOK Horn Book

"marvelous cover irresistable...her [Cushman's] choice of subjects is always excellent...a delightful, thoroughly Polish, heroine." NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW The New York Times Book Review
Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
It is 1881 and twelve-year-old Rodzina is just boarding a train from Chicago with other orphans to find a new home out west. Rodzina’s parents, Polish immigrants, had recently passed away due to an accident and illness; and her brothers succumbed to a tenement fire. The orphanage where she was living could no longer keep her so she and a small group of boys and girls were being taken to new homes. She’s expecting the worst from the trip?stories of orphans working practically as slaves are on Rodzina’s mind as they make the long, tiresome journey. The majority of the story describes Rodzina’s interactions with the two chaperones accompanying them, the other orphans on the train and the trip through an entirely new environment. As younger orphans begin finding new families on successive stops along the way, Rodzina worries that no one will want her. She is finally chosen but ends up in a horrible situation and begs to be taken back to the train. As the trip continues, Rodzina builds character and understanding especially through her association with the woman doctor who has accompanied the orphans on the train. Although the train trip is monotonous at times, this story of growing up in a different era is an interesting look at childhood hardships. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.; Ages 8 to 12.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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2 MB
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10 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chicago, 1881

On a cold Monday morning in March, when a weak, pale sun struggled to shine and ice glistened in the cracks in the wooden street, a company of some twenty-two orphan children with stiff new clothes and little cardboard suitcases boarded a special railway car at the station near the Chicago River. I know, because I was one of them.
The station was noisier and more confused than Halsted Street on market day. Travelers carrying featherbeds and bundles wrapped in blue gingham cloth shoved me aside in their hurry to get here or there. A man in a bright red jacket bumped into me and apologized in a language I did not know. At least I assumed it was an apology, because of all the bowing and tipping of his hat, so I said, "It's all right, mister, but I'd say you should know a little English if you expect to get wherever you're going." He tipped his hat again.
One woman, burdened with children, blankets, a tin kettle, and a three-legged stove, finally put that stove right down on the platform, sat herself atop it, and began to cry. I knew how she felt. I myself was a mite worried—not scared, being twelve and no baby like Evelyn or Gertie to be afraid of every little thing, but worried, yes. It was all so loud and disorderly and unfamiliar.
I forced my way through the crowd and grabbed on to a belt in front of me. The boy it belonged to said, "Hang on tight, Rodzina, afore we're swept into the lake like sewage." It was Spud, whom I knew from the Little Wanderers' Refuge. He and Chester, Gertie, Horton, Rose and Pearl Lubnitz, the baby Evelyn, and I—we had been there together. The others were from the Infant Hospital and the Orphan Asylum near Hyde Park. Orphans, all of us, carrying all we owned in our two hands, pushing and shoving like everyone else.
A lady, standing straight and tall in a black suit and stiff white shirtwaist, put her hands up to her mouth and shouted, but I could not hear much over the din. I finally gathered that she was from the Orphan Asylum and was calling us all together. Letting go of Spud's belt, I stretched myself even taller so I could get a better look at her over that expanse of heads. She was pale and thin, her mouth ill-humored, and her gray eyes as cold and sharp as the wire rims of her spectacles. I should have known they would not send someone kind and good-natured to accompany a carload of orphans.
Roaring and cursing, a short, barrel-shaped man togged out in a checked jacket and yellow shoes pushed his way through the crowd. "You! Orphans!" he shouted, the cigar in the corner of his mouth waving and waggling with his words. "Pipe down! I am Mr. Szprot, the placing-out agent for the Association of Aid Societies. That means I am the boss and you do what I tell you. You are, you know, none of you, too young to go to Hell. Or to jail. So shut your mugs and line up." After my time on the street I was used to being threatened with Hell, so it didn't bother me much, but still I shut my mug. There was silence from the other orphans too, and we walked noiselessly to the train.
Trains had hooted and rumbled behind our house on Honore Street, but I had never seen a locomotive up so close, looming like the fearful dragon of Wawel Hill in the story Auntie Manya used to tell, its smokestack belching sparks, and a line of cars trailing behind like a tail of wood and iron. If I had been younger or smaller, even I might have been scared.
Getting on this train had not been my idea. I wanted to go home. But I had no home anymore, except the Little Wanderers' Refuge, and they had sent me away to be sold as a slave. I knew that because a kid on the street, Melvin, had told me. "That orphanage ships kids on trains to the west," he said. "In freight cars. Don't feed 'em or nothin'. Sells 'em to families that want slaves." He shook his head. "Orphans never come to no good end." I found that easy to believe, so I believed every word.
No, I surely did not want to get on the train, but the crowd of orphans shoved me onward. The long black wool stockings they'd given me at the orphan home itched something fierce, and pausing midway up the iron steps, I bent down to scratch my knees. Three orphans knocked right into me.
"You, Polish girl," said Mr. Szprot, his voice even louder than his jacket, "try not to be so clumsy."
A big boy behind me snickered. "Clumsy Polish girl," he said. "Ugly cabbage eater." Accidentally on purpose I swung my suitcase and cracked him on the knee. I knew he wouldn't try to get even with Mr. Szprot so close.
Once up the steps, I looked back. This was the last I'd ever see of Chicago, this view of soot and ice and metal tracks. On such a cold, gray, blustery morning, it looked like a dead place, but at least it was familiar. Chicago had always meant Mama and Papa and the boys. Now Mama and Papa and the boys were gone, home was gone, and soon Chicago would be gone. I felt like I was jumping out a seventh-story window, not at all sure someone was down below to catch me. I scratched my knees again and, holding tight to my suitcase, went in.

Meet the Author

Karen Cushman was born in Chicago, Illinois and lives now on Vashon Island west of Seattle, Washington. She received an M.A. in human behavior and one in museum studies. Ms. Cushman has had a lifelong interest in history. She says, "I grew tired of hearing about kings, princes, generals, presidents. I wanted to know what ordinary life was like for ordinary young people in other times." Research into medieval English history and culture led to the writing of her first two novels, the Newbery Honor book CATHERINE, CALLED BIRDY and the Newbery Medal-winner THE MIDWIFE'S APPRENTICE. She is also the author of MATILDA BONE, THE BALLAD OF LUCY WHIPPLE and, most recently, RODZINA.

Karen Cushman's acclaimed historical novels include Catherine, Called Birdy, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Midwife's Apprentice, which received the Newbery Medal. She lives on Vashon Island in Washington State. Her website is

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Rodzina 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Karen Cushman has taken one, not so small orphan, and placed twelve-year-old Rodzina Brodski, and some other 21 orphans, on the legendary orphan train heading west so all of the child outcast aboard have their chance at kissing-up to find a home. Rodzina is not just an orphan, but a large, stubborn, polish girl, that does not want to go west to be adopted, but to stay in Chicago at the Little Wanderer¿s Refuge. Too bad it¿s only a place where kids on the street may live temporarily, so she obviously had no choice. Aboard the train, Rodzina was ordered by Miss Doctor ¿ Miss don¿t touch¿ as Rodzina would say, to tend to the other children, do to the fact she was the oldest one there. Lacey a feebleminded little girl, leisurely over time became Rodzinas friend. While traveling from station to station, Rodzina is sad, full of loneliness, memories of her family, happy and excited at times, and a heart full of hope. All in all, Rodzina is a wonderful book, and completely deserves the medal it won.
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿Rodzina is a wonderful and enchanting book that portrays the life of an orphan beautifully . Rodzina is a young orphan girl who¿s parents died in accident¿s. Rodzina¿s life is an exiting and mysterious story. Food loving Rodzina will enchant you with feelings that make you want to cry. If you like ¿Anne of Green Gables¿ you¿ll love this exiting book. As the mysteries of Rodzina¿s life unfold and she tries to find the meaning of her life. An enchanting story that keeps you captivated to the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. I finished it really quick and was disappointed that it was over, so I read it again!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rodzina is a bitter sweet heartwarming story about a girl named Rodzina. She is an orphan who lives on a train because the train travels around to find famlies for the kids. Rodzina and her friends have a can as a bathroom and basically live off of peanut butter and jelly sandwhiches. All readers of realistic fiction will love Rodzina. It will make you want to keep reading until it is finished.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rodzina is a sad firceful journey for Rodizna to take. She is an orphan who is on a train a lot and eats peanut butter and Jelly sandwhiches for all of her meals. Her bathroom is a can in the back of the train. I highly recomend this book to anyone in 4th and 5th grade. You will enjoy it and not want to put it down until you finished it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The reason I put this headline is because it shows that Rodzina hoped that someone will love her. Rodzina is a Polish girl that ends up in a train with other orphans. It turns out, that orphans aren't going to find a good place to live, because a guy named Melvin called people to adopt orphans as slaves. Rodzina didn't have to go to a bad family, because Miss Doctor adopted her. Miss Doctor and Rodzina started a new life in California. I recommended this book to everyone, because it shows that if you lose someone you dearly cared about, you can love another person that you now dearly care about.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Rodzina is a girl that has lost her parents and must board an orphan train.I love books about orphans beacause their stories ( even fiction ) are more touching. But, this has got to be one of my favorites!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is just as fun for kids as Harry Potter. Like Harry Potter Rodzina has lost both her parents, but unlike Harry Potter she lacks all the magic and charm. The book is more of a historical fiction set in the 1800s. It tells the story of destitute orphans made to live with rural families as free child labor. This is the story of one of those orphans. Rodzina, proud of her Polish heritage, and unwilling to lose her identity, struggles to maintain her self-worth living with a family that treats her like a commodity. Two other books I highly recommend for children are: The Butterfly (Jay Singh) and The Little Prince (Saint-Exupery). And the one book I supremely recommend to all: The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho).
Guest More than 1 year ago
The girl's name and description of the book's theme has compelled me to buy this -- I am certain I will love it. 'Rodzina' means 'family' in English -- how appropriate (and clever of Cushman)!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Rodzina' is a wonderful book. It is about an orphan who is traveling west on an orphan train, trying to find a home. She ends up in a few bad homes, but finds a way to get out of them and back to the train. On the train, she meets many fellow orphans. You get to know them very well--it's almost as if you are riding the train yourself. The ending of the book is great, too. This book is a wonderful story telling about the quest to find a home. Highly recommended.