MASON CITY — “Orphan Train” has been chosen as the Common Read selection for the 2016-17 school year at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC).

The Common Read is designed to engage NIACC students, staff, faculty and community members, and is supported by the Performing Arts and Leadership Series as well as the NIACC Foundation.

First-year students are asked to read the book as part of their Composition One requirements.

The Performing Arts and Leadership Series will sponsor a keynote address by author Christina Baker Kline on Wednesday, Oct. 26.

“Orphan Train” will be available through the NIACC Bookstore for $10.60 starting March 21, and online through the Bookzone at

The program is supported by the NIACC Curriculum and Academic Affairs Council, comprised of faculty and staff, community members, Principal Financial Group Foundation and Mercy Medical Center North Iowa.

Between 1854 and 1929, “orphan trains” regularly ran from the East Coast to the Midwest, carrying thousands of abandoned children whose fates would be determined by luck.

Vivian Daly, a young Irish immigrant, was sent by rail from New York City to an uncertain future. Returning east later in life, she leads a quiet existence on the coast of Maine, the memories of her upbringing a blur. But in her attic, hidden in trunks, are vestiges of a turbulent past.

Molly Ayer knows that a community service position helping an elderly widow clean out her attic is the only thing keeping her from juvenile hall. As Molly helps Vivian sort through her possessions, she discovers that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they appear. A Penobscot Indian who has spent her youth in and out of foster homes, Molly, 17, is also an outsider being raised by strangers.

Moving between contemporary Maine and Depression-era Minnesota, “Orphan Train” is a tale of upheaval and resilience, second chances and unexpected friendship.

Baker Kline did extensive research for this novel, according to a news release. After finding articles online from The New York Times and other newspapers, she read hundreds of first-person testimonials from train riders, reunion groups and archives.

She found a trove of original contemporaneous materials at the New York Public Library and traveled to Ireland to research her character’s background.

She also attended train riders’ reunions in New York and Minnesota and interviewed riders and their descendants.

Baker Kline was struck by how eager they were to tell their stories. She found that they tended not to dwell on the hardships but how grateful they were for their families and communities — lives that wouldn’t have been possible if they hadn’t been on those trains.

For decades, many train riders believed that their train was the only one. They didn’t know that they were part of a massive 75-year social experiment. It wasn’t until their children and grandchildren started asking questions — there are more than two million descendants, according to some estimates — that they met other riders and began sharing stories.

NIACC’s first Common Read selection was “Wine to Water” by Doc Hendley in 2015.


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