The Orphan Collector

How about this book? Does it interest you? Maybe you’ve read it already. If so, let us know what you thought about it! Because I’m old enough to remember the impact of polio before there was a vaccine (two of the boys in my neighborhood were stricken), I’m not sure I want to revisit this topic, especially since we’ve just been through a modern-day pandemic. On the other hand, history is a great teacher and often helps broaden my perspective, while allowing me to cancel out all the current noise and notions that have a tendency to be politically motivated.

In the fall of 1918, thirteen-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded streets and slums, and from the anti-German sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army, hoping to prove his loyalty. But an even more urgent threat has arrived. Spanish influenza is spreading through the city. Soon, dead and dying are everywhere. With no food at home, Pia must venture out in search of supplies, leaving her infant twin brothers alone . . .

  1. Jean Pici says:

    This book hit very close to home because my maternal grandmother along with two of her small children succumbed to the Spanish Flu in 1919 in Buffalo New York. Diligent genealogy searches have never been able to turn up any death records for her or the children. After reading The Orphan Collector, I realize that the deaths were occurring so rapidly that bodies were just taken away and buried in mass graves often with no records being maintained. That’s probably what happened to Grandma Jane.

    This was certainly not a happy story but definitely a riveting one. Thirteen-year-old Pia endures unbelievable hardships including the loss of both parents, surviving the flu herself, being sent to an orphanage, and separation from her only two remaining relatives – four-month-old twin boys. She spends years searching for them not realizing they were taken by a neighbor, Bernice, whose own infant son and husband had both died. Bernice is the ‘orphan collector’. She is unbalanced by her grief and is extremely prejudiced. She embarks on a dark journey impersonating a Red Cross nurse and taking abandoned infants and providing them to couples who have recently lost their own asking for healthy donations to an orphanage which she keeps for herself. In other words, she sells babies. She also puts older ‘undesirable’ immigrant children on trains going to rural areas promising them families will meet them at their destination and give them loving homes on farms. No one meets them and they are abandoned to subsist as best as they can far from home.

    This book was written at the dawn of the Covid 19 pandemic and is not for the faint of heart. There were so many similarities in how the two pandemics, separated by 100 years, were handled by authorities — it was eerie. If you love reading good historical fiction and are curious about the Spanish Flu pandemic, this is an excellent read.

  2. Grace Brown katmom says:

    Jean, great review. I will certainly have to check this one out to read. So similar to my mother’s life during WWII. Her hometown of Heilbronn Germany was bombed by the Allies on Christmas Eve, so many deaths that a mass grave was used for the bodies, and like in The Orphan Collector, there was no record of those buried, and so many orphans left to fend for themselves if not taken in by remaining family or neighbors. 1918, 1930’s or 2019, sadly so much history, “people’s stories” are lost.

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The Lost Girls of Willowbrook

I haven’t read this book yet, but historical fiction is a genre I’m drawn to. How about you?

Sage Winters always knew her sister was a little different even though they were identical twins. They loved the same things and shared a deep understanding, but Rosemary—awake to every emotion, easily moved to joy or tears—seemed to need more protection from the world.

Six years after Rosemary’s death from pneumonia, Sage, now sixteen, still misses her. Their mother perished in a car crash, and Sage’s stepfather, Alan, resents being burdened by a responsibility he never wanted. Yet despite living as near strangers in their Staten Island apartment, Sage is stunned to discover that Alan has kept a shocking secret: Rosemary didn’t die. She was committed to Willowbrook State School and has lingered there until just a few days ago, when she went missing.

Sage knows little about Willowbrook. It’s always been a place shrouded by rumor and mystery. A place local parents threaten to send misbehaving kids. With no idea what to expect, Sage secretly sets out for Willowbrook, determined to find Rosemary. What she learns, once she steps through its doors and is mistakenly believed to be her sister, will change her life in ways she never could imagined . . .

“Powerful. Grounded in historical fact, it ends like a fast-paced thriller.” – Historical Novel Society

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    I have read The Lost Girls of Willowbrook and really enjoyed it. I have a big interest in anything related to psychology, especially insane asylums. This book was very hard to put down and the fastest book I have ever read. So many twists and turns. It also encouraged me to look more into the real Willowbrook facility to see what happened with it. I loved that it was based on a real facility. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.

    The next book I would like to read from Ellen Marie Wiseman is The Orphan Collector. It’s based around the arrival of the Spanish flu, and I feel it would be relatable because of some of our most recent events.

    The Life She Was Given also sounds like an amazing read! It’s going to be hard to choose.

  2. Jean Pici says:

    The Lost Girls of Willowbrook by Ellen Marie Wiseman

    Is author, Ellen Marie Wiseman, a gifted wordsmith? YES. Does she do impeccable research? YES. However, I found this to be a very disturbing book that gave me a couple of nights of restless sleep. Before writing this review, I did some internet research to determine what was real and what was fiction. And, I am old enough to remember Geraldo Rivera’s explosive TV documentary about Willowbrook.

    I know this book has received many kudos. But the facts were distressful and the fiction depressing. Perhaps I found the subject matter too close to home. I am a senior handicapped individual. I have friends who have mentally challenged children. As I labored through this story, I couldn’t help but wonder often if we would just be “throwaways” were it not for loving families.

    If you are curious about mental illness and the history of its treatments and you have a strong stomach, then this book may be for you. Otherwise move on to something a little less stressful to read. Whether you read it or not, however, I would urge you to Google “Geraldo Rivera Willowbrook”. You will be able to view the original documentary as well as an updated interview with Rivera 50 years later. But be prepared to view man’s inhumanity to man up close and personal. While it has taken many years, this single documentary changed the way the unfortunates with mental disabilities are treated. Thank you, Mr. Rivera.

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Donna Everhart’s latest novel “When the Jessamine Grows” went on sale only two days ago.

“When the Jessamine Grows” is set during the Civil War, but it is not a war story. Rather, it is a story about those whose fight for survival took place far from the battlefront, told from the rarely-heard perspective of a courageous Southern woman. It is a story about the impossibility of neutrality in times of war. And finally, set amidst the rugged beauty of rural 19th century North Carolina, When the Jessamine Grows is a story about a farm family and survival and standing by one’s values.

When The Jessamine Grows book cover

“Donna Everhart takes a complicated issue—neutrality during the Civil War—and gives an empathetic portrait of a family that tries to maintain it … compelling, harrowing at times, When the Jessamine Grows will keep you on the edge of your seat.” – Linda Hodges, Fiction Addiction (Greenville, NC)

“Historical fiction at its absolute best! Showing strength, courage and resolve in the face of the many cruelties of the Civil War, Joetta McBride is no demure Southern Belle. She deals with grief, starvation, and ruin. Everhart has created a new hero in the unflinching, steadfast, and ever courageous Joetta McBride.” – Sharon Davis, Book Bound Bookstore (Blairsville, GA)

“The divide of the North and South was like a great crack in the earth, a gaping maw of distrust, and the self-righteousness and determination that grew with each passing conflict only served to expand the differences. And here she dwelled, in this land divided, impartial, and nonaligned, hoping to remain thus until it was over.” – from When the Jessamine Grows

I have a sweet little step-back-in-time gift box looking for a home that has Donna’s book, recipe cards for two of the recipes mentioned in her book (Joetta’s Switchel and Idiot’s Delight), an engraved wooden spoon, a hankie, Donna’s upcoming book-signing schedule, plus a few other bookish surprises. 

My gift box is all yours if you’ll share why Donna’s book appeals to you. I’ll toss your name into a hat and voila, it might be headed your way.

  1. maryjane says:

    Early this morning I finished “When the Jessamine Grows.” In a recent NYTimes guest column titled, How to Save a Sad, Lonely, Angry, and Mean Society, David Brooks said,
    “… immersing yourself in novels with complex characters … stories that explore the complexity of this character’s motivations or that character’s wounds, is a training ground for understanding human variety … the resulting knowledge is not factual knowledge but emotional knowledge.” Donna Everhart’s brilliantly crafted book does just that. Her book is important because she takes us back to another time when our nation was divided and there was rancor afoot.

    • Vida says:

      I loved this essay from David Brooks and I love the way you’ve connected his insights to the experience of reading a story that immerses us in a time that feels so wildly remote from our modern lives…and yet so analogous in many ways to our present culture, when ideological divides spur conflicts everywhere from our Capitol to our dinner tables.

  2. Abigail says:

    When war erupts, it impacts so many lives – not just those directly involved in the conflict. I’m intrigued by the description of a family trying to stay neutral and stand by their values in the midst of a civil war; I want to know more. Is it possible to stay neutral in the face of a conflict that threatens to split our country? Is it possible to stay neutral when the outcome of this war will decide the fate of slavery in our country?

  3. Jean Pici says:

    You ask “Why does this book appeal to you?” Aside from the engrossing story based on a very painful time in American history, it seems I am led into moments of introspection — Would I have the inner strength to maintain my convictions and values and to pesevere under such devastating conditions? And in these privileged but tumultuous times of the 21st century, I wonder, who will write our history and will that history be kind to us?

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Wish List Book

Tell boredom to take a hike … with Sisters of Fortune in hand. Due to be released February 20, 2024, I’m looking forward to reading this new novel by Anna Lee Huber. Is this a book that interests you?

photo of Sister of Fortune

  1. Krista Butters Davis says:

    This book is of interest over here! My oldest and I plan to read it together. He loves everything about the Titanic and will take anything he can get his hands on related to Titanic. We look forward to this one coming out next week!

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Not-So Fairy Tales

Most children love a good fairy story, and even us adults have been known to belt along to the songs from the Disney versions. Let It Go, am I right? But most of us only know the watered-down version of the original tales: the beginnings of these stories were much darker … and quite frankly, more than a little strange, they are downright dark.

Sleeping Beauty by Henry Meynell Rheam (1859 – 1920) via Wikimedia Commons

First of all, children’s books didn’t actually exist back when fairy tales started being written down, so they were clearly aimed at an adult audience when Charles Perrault, the Brothers Grimm, Madame d’Aulnoy, and even Hans Christian Andersen took up their pens. Want to hear some of the stories behind the stories? If you’re sure …

  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Supposedly based on Margarete von Waldeck, a 16th century Bavarian noblewoman, whose tale inspired this well-known story. Living alongside her brother (other reports say her father) at his copper mine, the labor was provided by children, who became deformed at the result of the all the work in the mine. They were referred to as dwarves, and the brother was known to poison with apples anyone caught stealing. Margarete was also poisoned to death, after being sent away by her stepmother to live in Brussels. She became embroiled with Prince Philip II of Spain, to the chagrin and rage of his father, the King. Let’s just say she did not live happily ever after. When the Grimm brothers wrote their tale of Snow White, they likely pulled from this story, adding in their own bits that Disney and other children’s books later left out: the evil stepmother demanding and then eating what she believed were Snow White’s lungs and liver (eww!), and how Snow White was saved, not by a kiss, but by the prince tripping and dropping her casket, which dislodged the piece of apple in her throat (which, if you think about it, is a better lesson to teach the youngsters: if someone is choking or poisoned maybe kissing them isn’t the answer. Try the Heimlich maneuver, boys and girls).
  • The Little Mermaid. In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, we find a much sadder and tragic ending for little Ariel. When she gets her new legs from the sea witch, the punishment is that walking around on them will be horribly painful, like knife wounds to her feet. She even leaves behind trails of blood when she walks. Naturally, she makes the deal anyway, determined to win the love of the prince. Sadly, while he finds her nice enough, he falls in love with someone else. The sea witch tells the mermaid if she stabs him to death, she’ll turn back into a mermaid and can forget all about this unfortunate teenage mistake. Unable to do so, she throws herself into the sea and becomes foam. Probably not the feel-good story of the year, Hans.
  • The Sleeping Beauty. Giambattista Basile’s tale is so weird and dark, it’s hard to know why Charles Perrault adapted it later, and why Disney liked it, too. In the original, a king wanders by a castle and enters it, only to find the sleeping beauty, who is in some sort of coma. He doesn’t wake her, and he doesn’t just kiss her either. That’s right, in this twisted tale, Sleeping Beauty wakes up nine months later to twins. The messed-up romance doesn’t stop there: the king is already married, and when the queen finds out about what’s happening, she tries to burn Sleeping Beauty at the stake and plans to feed the babies to the king. She is unsuccessful, which is about the only decent thing in this tale! We’ll stick to Walt’s version, thanks.
  • The Lion King. Shakespeare lovers figured it out pretty quickly, but the rest of us took some time to put two and two together: the Lion King is based on Hamlet. At least in the singing animal version, a few survive to tell the tale, not like the Bard’s original, where basically, the entire cast of characters dies.
  • Rapunzel. There are a few versions of this strange tale of the well-tressed girl in a tower, but one is based on the tale of a 3rd century A.D. woman. Sheltered by her father, who absolutely refused to allow her any suitors, she was locked up in a tower whenever he had to travel for business. Praying loudly throughout the window, annoyed Father Dear eventually decapitated her (later, he was struck and killed by lightning). She became the martyr, Saint Barbara, revered by the Eastern Orthodox Church. When the story morphed into a fairy tale, it got even stranger by adding in the long hair and some darker elements: having twins out of wedlock, the witch blinding the prince by plucking out his eyes, and Rapunzel wandering for years with her babies until the lovers meet again. Which, as we’re learning, is a surprisingly happy ending for these types of tales!
  • Hansel and Gretel. Most likely based off the story of Katharina Schraderin, a 16th-century baker. She made such a delicious gingerbread cookie house that her rival, a man who was a baker himself, accused her of witchcraft. The townspeople, loving a good mob and BYOP (bring your own pitchfork) party, burned her to death in her own oven. Feeling warm and fuzzy yet? Me neither.
  • Pinocchio. Carlo Collodi’s version of the tale of the walking, talking marionette, ends with Pinocchio accidently killing the wise cricket and himself being strung up and hung. Gulp.

Knowing all this makes me even more grateful for modern-day children’s books that are what they are, with most of them being downright wonderful, clever, and full of goodness and light. Have you read any good children’s books lately? You might want to try Something to Tell the Grandcows by Eileen Spinelli and Bill Slavin. Or, Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go To Sleep by Joyce Dunbar. In the adult genre, Bill Gates said, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker is “my new favorite book of all time.”  Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise.

And there you have it! No need to throw yourself into the sea. We really have come a long way.

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  1. Lisa Von Saunder says:

    I had heard that the original fairy tales were grim ( parden the pun) but not this awful.

    I have my old 1933 copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that has very frightening paintings, which I feared and loved at the same time when I was a child. The dragon is amazingly lovely and scary at the same time.

  2. Debbie Klann says:

    YIKES!!!! I think I might stick to reading “The Elk Princess ” to little Merit instead of the Disney princess stories. The book by Steven Pinker sounds interesting…especially after all of the recent news. I will have to track it down.

  3. Barbara Criss says:

    I did not know this about fairy tales. I still have a book from my childhood called Slovenly Peter and it was full of horrible things that happened to children that were bad. I realize now that I am older how terrible it really was. The book was old and I do not know how or why we had it. I still like to look at it now and then.

  4. Susan says:

    I just read these two books:
    Five Bad Deeds by Caz Frear. The book was sort of ok till about half way through, then I had to keep reading to finish it!
    From Blood and Ash by Jennifer Armentrout. I loved this book, and have ordered the next book in the series.
    Hope you’ll donate books to soldiers.

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    I love the composition of this photo with the flowers and metal.

    My poor Bump has not been well the past two weeks so they did an ultrasound today. It is not definitive but either kitty irritable bowel disease or early stages of Lymphoma. Treatment will be long term steroids for either exact diagnosis. So, it is going to be a day by day thing with him as he turns 14 in early September. At least they have him feeling better than he was. Some days are like totally normal and others it is obvious he just doesn’t feel terrific. My little buddy! I love that kitty so.

    • MaryJane says:

      Oh my dear Winnie, I am so sorry to hear that your sweet and precious Mr. Bump is not well. But glad to know that with the help of those dedicated to helping animal lovers, he (and you) can have some normal days. Let’s hope that continues for a good long while.

  2. Paula Cramer says:

    Am so anxious to read Anna Lee Huber/Sisters of Fortune, a Kensington Book publication I saw on the inside
    cover of MaryJane’s Farm magazine.

    It is available Feb 20th at which time I will read and write a review.

    • maryjane says:

      Hi Paula,
      We’re still doing some repairs to this site to make it functional on our end but we’re getting close. We’re scheduled to work on it again today. Stay tuned.

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    This photo is perfect. I love the colors of the feathers in this Hummingbird too. We don’t have this type here in Florida.

  2. BB king says:

    lordy –I just love these amazing Hummingbird Photos! thanks

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  1. terry steinmetz says:

    ahh…spring is coming soon!

  2. BB king says:

    1 inch of rain here in lancaster county PA, yesterday – and our first Thunderstorm of the season too.

  3. Diana Shelton says:

    This photo reminds me of a picture just after the rain, all is calm and the drip off the branch how peaceful!

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  1. Elisabeth Perkins says:

    Looks like a very nice library!! The chalkboard shelfs are a smart idea.

  2. BB king says:

    my idea of heaven – shelves full of of books !!

  3. Karlyne says:

    This reminds me that for my new book cases, I need to quietly “borrow” my husband’s old orchard ladder…

  4. Lisa Bell says:

    Anywhere there is a library of books 📚 is a very happy place!

  5. Deb Morris says:

    My happy place!!

  6. Hope Schultz says:

    Read a book a day and it’ll keep the doctor away.

    Or was that read a book a day it’s good for your health.

    My memory is not so good.

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  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Isn’t this a garlic flower? Just guessing by the way the stem looks. Whatever it is , it sure is pretty.

    • MaryJane says:

      It is in the Allium family, but this one is decorative, planted expressly for pollinators. I think this one may be called Gladiator. I planted them too long ago to remember:)

      • Winnie Nielsen says:

        Hmmm, does that mean that the honey has a hint of garlic in flavor and aroma? Last week in Apalachicola, we were in Tupelo Honey territory. I learned from one of my books I read for the Bee Badge, that the concentration of Tupelo trees exist in this part of the Florida panhandle up into the lower parts of Georgia. I was lucky enough to find a local farm stand and purchase their honey. It was $15 for a 12oz jar but there is nothing quite like it in taste and color when you get the real deal.

        • MaryJane says:

          I haven’t noticed too many of my honeybees on it, but it’s been covered in other kinds of pollinator insects. Tupelo honey? Very cool.

  2. Amy Cloud Chambers says:

    I really like this flower, I’ve always seen them in catalogs and wondered how they do. So pretty!

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