In the crowded world of orphans in children's literature, how can there be room for two more? After all, we have some pretty famous and worthy ones: Oliver Twist, Anne of Green Gables, the Little Princess, Heidi, and Emily of New Moon. But oh, when I tell you about the two that I've recently discovered, you'll see why we need them: Gilly from the book, The Great Gilly Hopkins, and Bud, from the book, Bud, not Buddy.
Gilly from the Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
We first meet Gilly chomping a wad of bubble gum in the back of a car on the way to meet her newest foster mother, Trotter. Gilly's full name is Galadriel. No one is allowed to call her Galadriel but her mother, who is still alive but not interested in Gilly. She lives in San Francisco among the hippies--the book is set in the 1970s.
The Trotter foster home that Gilly is speeding towards includes a young boy named William Earnest Teague, who appears a bit slow and is psychologically scarred from his time in other foster homes. Trotter attempts to heal him by heaping enormous amounts of love and praise on him, which Gilly resents. The foster home also includes Mr. Randolph, a blind man from next door who comes to dinner every evening, where he praises Trotter's cooking, which Gilly resents.
As you can guess from their names, Trotter, William Earnest Teague, and Mr. Randolph are wonderfully eccentric people. Gilly, however, closes herself off from them until she realizes that they need her, but by then it's too late. She herself has set in motion events that will send her away.
Throughout the book, the author Katherine Paterson shows us the trauma that Gilly has been through and the manipulative brat she has become. However, the author also shows us the good side of Gilly so we grow to love her, and understand the deep loneliness that comes from being abandoned by a mother who just doesn't care.
If after reading Gilly, you'd like another Katherine Paterson novel about orphans, try Lyddie. Lyddie and her brother are hired out as servants to help pay off their family farm's debts. Lyddie ends up working in a garment factory in Massachusetts. I knew very little about the garment mills, and found the historical information engrossing. It is a harsher book than Gilly. More is at stake for Lyddie than Gilly. And the scarring to Lyddie's psyche from being left on her own at so young of age turns her into a selfish miser. The choices she makes because of her parsimonious ways have serious life and death repercussions.
Bud from Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
If you read my blog or my books, you know that I love the 1930s so I knew I'd like at least the setting of Bud, not Buddy by fellow Michigander, Christopher Paul Curtis, which I did. Bud, not Buddy is a great introduction for kids to the 1930s, as well as to a great character, 10-year old Bud. He tells everyone to call him Bud, not Buddy. His mother died and he was sent to the orphanage (the home) and then to various foster homes that scar him, like they did Gilly. In the last foster home, he's put in a shed. He fights his way out and starts on a journey to find his father, whom he never met and only senses is the leader of a band.
Along the way, he meets and is befriended by librarians, families in a Hooverville near Flint, a family in line for free breakfast, and a grandfatherly railroad porter. Everyone he meets can't help but love Bud because of his intrinsic kindness and well-brought up manners. Bud thinks he gets along with adults because of his rules for living and having a funner life but it is because of his goodness and kindness, his very own self, that he gets along with them.
For example, when we are first introduced to Bud like Gilly, he is on his way to yet another foster home. Even though he is upset, he takes time to reassure another boy who is also being sent to a foster home that everything will be fine. Bud shows other acts of compassion like that throughout the book.
My book group loved Bud, Not Buddy, so much that our next book is Christopher Paul Curtis' latest, The Journey of Little Charlie. Perhaps a blog post on that will be coming next month. Here's to more orphans in children's literature!