Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Orphan band of Springdale by Anne Nesbet

"(The) letter described some lamentable instances of exploitation and injustice ... So I've come, to support the fine work of the Federation of Woolen and Worsted Workers and to organize our brothers and sisters in the mills and shoe factories."

Gusta is a character who will linger with me for a long time. She is wise, determined and strong. It is 1941 and later this same year America will enter WWII. Suspicion is growing against 'aliens'. Neubronner sounds foreign and so does Bertmann. Even more suspicious Mr Bertmann, the oculist, has pigeons and he is training them to carry cameras.  But Mr Bertmann is a true friend to Gusta. He is able to provide her with glasses and suddenly her world comes into focus.

Gusta and her father are travelling to Springdale in Maine but on their last stop her father leaves the bus and does not return. Gusta is so worried about him. Men are hunting him.

"Their eyes looked like mysterious dark pools to Gusta. ...and the men were in uniforms, and that was how she knew the thing they had been dreading and expecting all these months, even years ... "

Gusta has with her a French Horn. At the orphanage, run by her grandmother, she meets a wonderful girl called Josie. Josie has a beautiful singing voice so the girls form their band with Gusta's cousin Bess but this is just a diversion from the real issues driving Gusta.  She meets her uncle and learns about his factory accident. His hand is bound up tight with scars and he has been dismissed. Gusta's father, a union activist, has shown her workers have rights. Gusta is determined to right this wrong and help her uncle but she will need a lot of money to do this.  If you click on either of the review quotes below you can read more of the plot.

Initially I liked the cover but now that I have read this gutsy book about unions and human rights I am not so sure - it is perhaps a little too 'pretty'.  I rarely give star ratings as you know but I give The Orphan Band of Springdale 5 stars out of 5. I especially enjoyed all the tension created by Anne Nesbet as Gusta finds herself in one predicament after another. This is a book which should be in your school library.

A big thank you to Beachside Bookshop for giving me this advanced reader copy of The Orphan Band of Springdale.  Here is an audio sample from the first chapter of this book.  Here is a detailed set of discussion questions.  This book would be perfect for a senior grade book discussion group.  Read an interview with the author.  I would follow this book with another favourite of mine -  Bread and Roses, too.

Sometimes suspenseful and always engaging, this snapshot of determined Gusta and life before the war is sure to captivate readers. Kirkus

Sometimes kids just need a book to cozy up with in an overstuffed chair, a secluded treehouse, or a nest of pillows. This is exactly that book. Elizabeth Bush

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