City of Orphans


Title: City of Orphans Author: AVI  
Illustrator: Gregg Ruth
Publisher: New York, Scholastic

Genre: History  Level: Upper  Number of pages: 350 Pub. Date: 2011

Summary (Use your own words; 3-4 sentences; setting, characters, plot, conflict, resolution):

Living in New York City in 1893, Maks meets an orphaned girl named Willa when running away from the Pug Ugly gang. Willa moves in with Maks and his family while they try to prove his sister, Emma, innocent of stealing a watch. Together, Maks and Willa defeat the Pug Ugly Gang and discover who really stole the watch.


The setting is the historical New York City in the year 1893. This piece is a historically researched story with imaginary characters.  Many of the attributes of this story are historically accurate. For example, the Pug Ugly Gang was a real gang in the late 19th century and Maks is a Newsboy, like many young children in that time period.  Another great part of this book is suggested materials for further reading or watching. This could be used to broaden children’s knowledge of the time period.


This book wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It was very sad, and even though the ending is technically happy, a lot of issues that are discussed never get settled. For example even though Maks and Willa are able to save Emma, they still live in poverty, and have a tough life.  The brutal honesty about the late 19th century is surprising to me. One part of the book that particularly stands out to me is when Mr. Donck is explaining New York City.

“‘There are more wretched children on these streets than any other species, My Lord,’ he suddenly shouts ‘ the question before the heavenly court today is this: Do You wish any children to survive in this miserable city, this- this city of orphans?’” (P.154)

I believe that this part of the book really describes the horrors of the time period. The imagery of the children suffering on the streets with parents either dead or too naive to help them is shocking and you wonder, like Mr. Donck, if it wouldn’t be nicer to just let the children die so that they can be out of their misery.


After: Once the students have finished reading City of Orphans, they will watch “The Newsies”. This movie is set in New York City in 1899, six years after City of Orphans. This movie shows more of the life of the newboys like Maks. It talks about the Newsboys Strike of 1899. After watching the movie, students can write a one and a half page paper talking about the similarities and differences in both the newsboys and how New York City is depicted.


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