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Book Review

This historical fiction novel by Wendy McClure is the first in the "Wanderville" series published by Razorbill, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Group LLC (a Penguin Random House Company).

Wanderville is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Eleven-year-old Jack works with his brother, Daniel, in a New York City factory in 1904. After Daniel dies in a fire, Jack's out-of-work father decides the family can't afford to keep Jack around. Jack's parents put him on an orphan train to Kansas. Francis, also 11, and her younger brother, Harold, are sent from their orphanage to the orphan train as well. Francis and Harold meet Jack as the train chugs west. The kids hear rumors that cruel taskmasters and poor living conditions await them when they arrive in Kansas. Jack hatches a plan to help the three escape.

Jack, Francis and Harold jump off the train when it slows and flee into the woods. There, they wander through the darkness until they meet Alexander. Alexander came to Kansas on an orphan train as well. He was sent to the farm of a man named Pratcherd, where he and other kids were treated badly and used as laborers. Alexander escaped and lives in the forest near the town of Whitmore, Kansas. When he needs food and supplies, he "liberates" them from the locals. He calls his spot Wanderville and says it's a place where children can be free.

At first the kids aren't too impressed with Alexander's so-called town. They help him steal supplies from Whitmore, and he teaches them survival skills, such as how to build a fire. Alexander hangs stolen sheets and repositions logs, giving some shape to the city of Wanderville. Before long, their new place begins to feel like home.

The kids are in Whitmore taking more supplies when Harold wanders off. The sheriff finds him, and learning he's been on the orphan train, sends him to Pratcherd's farm. The kids devise a plan to save him and the other children there, and Jack and Alexander are captured in the process. When the boys don't return from their rescue mission, Francis tells a group of townspeople she's afraid her brother is dead. Her lie causes them to go to Pratcherd's ranch, where they see how the children are treated. While the adults argue with Pratcherd, the kids escape in a wagon, along with other orphans from the ranch.

Six new children become citizens of Wanderville, but the group realizes it won't be able to stay in that location much longer. The kids decide it doesn't matter where Wanderville is, as long as they're together and able to help other kids gain freedom. They decide to be a town that wanders, and they consider heading for California.

Christian Beliefs

When neighbors and relatives will no longer help them, Francis and Harold go to the Fifth Street Mission and Children's Home. They tell the preachers their story and are allowed to live in the cold, dark dormitory. A few poems the orphans have learned are about God creating beautiful things for them and watching them from above. Francis reads one of the poems to herself as a prayer while she waits for her friends to find her brother and return to Wanderville.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Jack's out-of-work father often comes home smelling like alcohol. He puts Jack on an orphan train, despite Mother's objections. Harold and Francis' mother always posed as their aunt so she could receive sympathy as a caregiver rather than scorn as an unwed mother. After she left, the very young Francis and Harold were farmed out to neighbors and an alcoholic uncle.

Mrs. DeHaven, an aid worker in charge of the orphan train, and Mr. Pratcherd, who takes in many of the displaced kids, treat the youngsters with distain and cruelty. Francis notes that any time an adult has made a decision for her life, trouble and turmoil have followed.


One possible objectionable word used is cripes. Mr. Pratcherd gives his son, Rutherford, his cane to beat one of the orphans who is laboring on their farm. Rutherford follows up by kicking the boy several times.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Theft: Alexander "liberates" food and supplies from local shops so he and the other kids can survive. Francis initially disapproves of his stealing, but she comes to accept it as part of their new existence.

Lying: Francis frequently lies in her efforts to rescue her brother and their friends.

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 12


Wendy McClure






Record Label



Razorbill, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Group LLC (a Penguin Random House Company)


On Video

Year Published




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