Wee Gillis is from the writer of Ferdinand. Wee Gillis is an Scottish orphan who spends half of the year with his mother’s family and the other half of the year with his father’s family. He learns about herding cattle in the lowlands and hunting deer in the highlands. Wee Gillis must decide which side of the family he wants to choose as his future home and life.
This picture book is ideal for first through third graders. The illustrations are black and white drawings. This classic tale appeals to both girls and boys, who will like hearing about the outdoors life of a boy their age. To encourage enthusiasm for the story, I would have students choose which life they would want and write why. They would then share their opinions with the class as we tally up the number of votes before reading what the main character chose. The story is long, so there is plenty of time for thought and discussion.
Leaf, M. (2006). Wee gillis. New York: New York Review Children’s Collection.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a mystery about a strange orphanage on an island in Wales. Teenage Jacob seeks to solve the mysteries of the island after listening to his grandfather’s tales and seeing photos of the children who lived there. As Jacob tries to determine what happened to the orphans, he finds himself in a supernatural and thrilling world.
This chapter book is a good pick for grades 8 and up. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children spent a year on the New York Times bestseller list in 2011, so it is likely to be a book many students know. I would recommend it to students to use in literature circles or book clubs. The book includes photographs and letters to mix up the writing style, which is something students will appreciate.
Riggs, R. (2011). Miss peregrine’s home for peculiar children. Philadelphia: Quirk Books.
This picture storybook tells the classic tale of Cinderella, complete with Fairy Godmother and glass slippers. There are also a few new and fun details included, such as the stepsisters having feet too sore to dance at the ball. The book includes gorgeous acrylic illustrations by Nicoletta Ceccoli.
The intended audience for Cinderella is children in kindergarten through third grade, even though it is likely that readers of all ages will enjoy the story.
Cinderella is included in my traditional literature list because this book retells a classic story with enough quirks to keep readers engaged. Younger children love fairy tales, and this book makes a great addition to any classroom library. Additionally, Cinderella is one of the most famous literary and pop culture orphans of all time! This would be an excellent book to read aloud to the entire class or a small group of students. Before reading the book, I would ask students to help me make a list of the details they expect to hear in the story. As we read or after we finish, we would check off the ones we heard and add the new or forgotten details to the list.
Thomson, S. (2012). Cinderella. Las Vegas: Two Lions.
Jane Eyre is Charlotte Bronte’s famous story of a governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer. Jane Eyre overcomes her difficult childhood that included a hateful aunt and a terrible boarding school to educate herself and find work. After beginning work as a governess for Mr. Rochester’s ward, she discovers the secrets he is keeping and learns more about the inner strength she possesses.
This chapter book is appropriate for high school reading levels. Jane Eyre is another famous literary orphan from one of the most well-known novels of the era. While it may be challenging for students to read, I would encourage a good amount of discussion as a whole group and in small groups to ensure that every student understands what is happening. There are numerous film and television adaptations of Jane Eyre, so it could be beneficial to show selected scenes to help students visualize the Gothic setting and get a good sense of the mood of the story.
Bronte, C. (2009). Jane Eyre. Radford: Wilder Publications.
*There are literally too many editions of this book to list. This reference is only one of the editions available for purchase.
This picture book is the story of an orphaned baby hippo named Mzee. Mzee’s parents were killed during the 2004 tsunami. Kenyan villagers worked to save Mzee, who soon became fast friends with an elderly tortoise named Owen. Locals took photos of the pair, quickly making them worldwide celebrities.
This picture book was illustrated using photographs. Mzee is a different type of orphan, but one that is not uncommon. Children in younger grades will love hearing the story of animal friendship. This story also provides a way to integrate science topics into literacy, such as weather and animal adaptations.
Hatkoff, I., Hatkoff C., & Kahumbu, P. (2006). Owen and mzee: The true story of a remarkable friendship. New York: Scholastic.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first in the seven book series about a boy wizard. Harry Potter is an orphan living with his cruel aunt and uncle when he receives a letter to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and WIzardry. He learns that he not only has magical powers, but he defeated the evil Voldemort as a baby. As Harry begins his education, he meets his best friends Ron and Hermione. The three friends uncover secrets of their school, and fight to save it from destruction.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is appropriate for fourth grade and up. Obviously adults have enjoyed this series too! You can’t write about orphans in literature without mentioning Harry Potter! This is a great book for students to read on their own. I would encourage them to discuss the book with me or with their peers. This series almost always grabs a reader from the first page and doesn’t let go till the last word of the seventh book!
Rowling, J. (1999). Harry potter and the sorcerer’s stone. New York: Scholastic.
Ahmed and the Feather Girl is the tale of an orphan who finds a magical egg as he travels with a circus. The egg hatches a singing girl named Aurelia, who is kept in a cage by the cruel owner of the circus. Ahmed is kind to the feathery Aurelia and is able to get the key to release her. He then dreams that Aurelia visits him and gives him feathers, which he finds each morning. Once he has enough, Ahmed makes a cloak and flies away with Aurelia.
This picture books is illustrated with watercolors by the author. Ahmed is an orphan living in a setting many children dream of: the circus. It is a great book for ages 5-8. I would choose to read this book aloud and take time to point out the illustrations. Students could work on making predictions as we read about Ahmed and his dreams.
Ray, J. (2010). Ahmed and the feather girl. London: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.