Author shares words with Park City students
September 20, 2016
About a decade ago, Christina Baker Kline was visiting her in-laws in Fargo, North Dakota, when she stumbled on a story that would change her life.
When her husband's grandfather was a child, she said, he was orphaned and put on a train to Jamestown, North Dakota. His experience was later featured in an article about orphan train riders, children shipped from the East Coast to the Midwest to join new families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Reading the article was the first time Kline had ever heard of orphan trains, and it piqued her interest. She began doing research and quickly came to a conclusion: There was a story to tell.
Kline, an author, would later pen a novel about the practice. "Orphan Train" went on to become a New York Times No. 1 bestseller, and Kline recently visited the Park City School District to discuss the book as part of the Park City Education Foundation's Author-in-Residence program.
The book features two main characters whose true stories are hidden to those around them. Kline said she hoped that aspect of the book helped show students that sometimes people aren't always as they seem. Students who aren't considered popular or cool may have a lot of things going on in their lives that their peers don't realize — so don't be so quick to judge.
"I hope it encourages students to take a second look at the world around them and the other students around them," she said. "I also hope it helps students who feel that they're not part of the mainstream to have more confidence in telling their stories and claiming their truths about the world."
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Being able to deliver such a message is one reason Kline chose to write a fictional story about orphan train riders, as opposed to a non-fiction work. Creating her own story, she said, allowed her to strive to make characters that jump off the page and who readers would connect with.
She was optimistic that Park City students felt that she met her goal.
"I think the power of a novel is in creating characters and a world that make you feel like you're there," she said. "They make history that might have seemed dry and that it has nothing to do with you seem immediate and compelling and sweep you up in other people's lives. I think novels help create empathy and at their very best give us access to worlds that we never would have understood even more powerfully than movies and television."
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