The Orphan Band of Springdale
1941 in Small-town America
The year is 1941, and Gusta and her father board a bus to make their way to Springdale, Maine so that Gusta can spend time with her grandmother--and then Gusta's father, August Neubronner, disappears just as men search the bus looking for a fugitive. That fugitive is Gusta's Papa.
Gusta manages the bus trip on her own, and upon being deposited in Springdale she finds her grandmother's home where Gusta is the latest of the foster children to be welcomed by Mrs. Hoopes and her daughter Marion.
THE ORPHAN BAND OF SPRINGDALE by Anne Nesbet follows this sweet, strong girl through her fifth-grade school year in a new town. Fortunately, Gusta is accustomed to new schools; her parents have kept her moving as they left homes due to lack of funds or traveled to new places as August Neubronner fought to organize workers for the union. Gusta has picked up her father's strong sense of right and wrong, and she draws on her memories of him as she navigates all the trials that come with being a new kid, being someone with an "un-American" name, and finding that she has family members who she wants to help.
Through false accusations, pre-World War II prejudices, and life's smaller hurts, Gusta finds the value in family, friendships, and wishes. Anne Nesbet manages to tie a lot into this lovely book, and the narrative keeps moving at a good pace. Along with the fantastic main character, Gusta, I especially enjoyed the writing in this book. Nesbet drops little bits of wisdom and beauty throughout THE ORPHAN BAND OF SPRINGDALE, and she does so with elegant language that doesn't get in the way of the pacing. Looking at a time in history that doesn't always show up in children's literature is another plus... in fact, there are so many plusses to this book, their hard to fit into one small review!
I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages. My thanks to the publisher and YA Books Central for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.
A look at a time in history that doesn't often get portrayed
Music in World War II
Gusta Neubronner is on a bus from New York City to a small town in Maine in 1941 when her father disappears. He is a union organizer, and has told Gusta a little bit about what to do if men come for him, but she just didn't expect it. At least she is on her way to her grandmother's house, and manages to arrive without other incidents. Her grandmother runs an odd sort of orphanage, so there is plenty of room for Gusta. She settles in to school, gets to know her cousin, and finally gets a much needed pair of eyeglasses. In order to pay for the glasses, she helps a German optometrist who keeps pigeons. As WWII heats up, everyone comes under suspicion, especially the optometrist and Gusta, who is unable to furnish a birth certificate to the school. Gusta plays the French Horn, and is glad to be approached by the high school band, but when her uncle needs an operation to repair damage done by the looms at his work, she sells the instrument to help pay for it. She also writes to a labor organizer in New York who worked with her father, hoping to get some representation for the uncle's case. Long held family secrets emerge, and eventually Gusta is able to make sense of her world.
This Nesbet's own mother's story, and the love that goes into the details is very evident. I would have adored this one as a child because of all of the details of life in the home front, and of Gusta's adjustment to being with a new family and in a new community. This had a classic feel to it, reminiscent of Sorenson's Miracles on Maple Hill or Gates' Blue Willow.