It sounds odd but some of the best literary classics and novels are orphan books. The protagonists are children who have lost their parents at an early age and thrust into a challenging world.
While it sounds cruel to shove a child into a world like this, it presents some facets that we take for granted – some being the care of parents, security and protection from the bad, bad world. The bud that is just forming is exposed before its time to bloom on its own.
But that is where the beauty lies. These stories give us strong beautiful samples of men and women. To believe in love and goodness when there isn’t any in life. And we pray for them, we journey with them in every word.
Orphan books demonstrate the importance of family without saying a line about it. The characters grow and mature. In the end we want them to be happy, their struggles to end and find love at last.
Here are some classic and timeless orphan books that everyone must read at least once.
Classic books about orphans
David Copperfield has been one of those stories that we all read in school. It is one of the finest novels by Charles Dickens and one of the most classic orphan books. The original title for the David Copperfield is actually ‘The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account)’.
David Copperfield is a reader’s favourite and coming of age tale. David writes his story in his words. We follow his journey from his childhood, youth and marriage. The story starts with the death of his father and soon, his mother passes away after her second marriage. Left an orphan, David is left to himself to find his way through. In his path he will encounter a helpful aunt who did not want him because he was a boy, an evil secretary, a friend who turncoats and the love of his life. In all this, what we see is how difficult is to live without parents.
It is said that Charles Dickens penned David Copperfield somewhat on his own life. There are many anecdotes and situations that he faced in his childhood and youth. David Copperfield is also a depiction of how the Victorian Age was open to child abuse and labour. It is the stories like David Copperfield that make us experience the vantage point of an orphan and a child’s feelings.
As David comes of age, so do us.
Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a timeless classic. Ranking one of the most touching orphan books, it is also a superbly written bildungsroman. The author writes an intimate first hand narration of the life of Jane whose parents died of typhus and was left in her loving uncle’s care.
Jane faces physical and mental abuse from her aunt and cousins. While she leaves their house for school, it is no less cold. However Jane finds a way. Her will and spirit wins many battles. We live her life when she becomes a governess and falls in love.
Jane Eyre is a story not to be missed.
The novel’s popularity has resulted in multiple film adaptations. Here is one trailer of Jane Eyre produced in 2011.
Also read: Who was the the Girl on the Train?
Oliver Twist was Charles Dickens’ second novel and one of those touching orphan books. Charles Dickens was truly sympathetic to the kids growing up parent-less on their own and showed the world the importance of having a family which we take for granted.
Oliver is born in poverty and was sold to an undertaker in his childhood. Then he falls into a group of pickpockets. This is a sordid social story and perhaps not everyone will enjoy it. But it does give a good picture of abuses and hardships a child faces when exposed to labour instead of education and play.
Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Green Gables was penned by Lucy Maud Montgomery, a Canadian author. Based on a true story, Anne was a 11 year old girl who was sent from an orphanage to work at a farm. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert had asked for a boy who could help in the farm but Anne was sent by mistake. However Anne stayed and impressed both with her lively character and enthusiasm. The novel tells her growing up, making friends and getting through life.
Anne of Green Gables has sold over 50 million copies and is one of the books that are read in schools worldwide.
Related: When secrets come out in open
Escape to Witch Mountain
One of the classics of science fiction genres and orphan books, Escape to Witch Mountain depicts the light and shadows of the world. This novel was written by science fiction author for children, Alexander H. Key in 1968. Escape to Witch Mountain is a story that enchants readers of all groups.
Tony and Tia are two orphans who live with Mrs. Malone, their foster guardian. She passes away and both are left alone again. Social services put them in a juvenile home that is far from pleasant.
Tony and Tia are not normal kids. They have special abilities. Tony can move objects at the will of his mind. Tia his sister can unlock any door. She can also speak with animals and makes a friend called Winkie, a black cat.
Tony and Tia talk to each other in ultrasonic waves that cannot be heard by humans. However, Tia is unable to speak normally. Their strange abilities make them feel that they are a misfit in this world. They have memories that are repressed yet they get flashes of it.
When a strange man shows up claiming to be their uncle, the siblings know something is wrong. They run away with the help of the Catholic priest Father O’Day. On the way life gives them clues and leads them to their truth and origins.
Daddy Long Legs
Jean Webster’s Daddy Long Legs will win your heart. It is one of those orphan books that will make you laugh. Judy Abbott lives in an orphanage as long as she remembers. However a kind benefactor decides to send her to school. She does not know his name or how he looks. She has seen his shadow and calls him her ‘Daddy Long Legs’.
Judy writes letters to her benefactor often telling him of her life and education. These letters and Judy’s joyous spirit make it an unforgettable book worth reading many times. Do not miss Daddy Long Legs.
Charles Dicken’s penultimate novel, Great Expectations was also one of great George Bernard Shaw’s favourite. Needless to say, it is one of the best and timeless orphan books. The story is about Pip, an orphan boy who lives with his aunt. He is sent a strange house of Miss Havisham, who wears her wedding dress only since her mishap at the altar. Along with her stays the beautiful but cold Estella with whom Pip falls in love eventually.
Great Expectations is one of the most popular novels ever published and has been translated into numerous languages. Film adaptations have been released many times. Here is a trailer of one that was produced in 2012.
Best orphan books for kids
A Little Princess
A Little Princess is one of those tales that will leaves you teary eyed, no matter what your age is. The story is about a little girl who will inspire each of us. A Little Princess depicts the life of a little girl at her toughest time. In a crisis that would break even adults, the spirit of Sara rejoices us.
Sara lives with father who dotes on her. In the backdrop of World War 1, Sara’s father has to leave for duty leaving Sara in a boarding school in France. She is his little princess and he spares no expense to ask the school for the most luxurious suite. The headmistress Miss Minchin tries to be nice to Sara only because of her wealth whereas she is extremely cold hearted and hates Sara otherwise.
Sara is a kind girl, she is nice to everyone. She is not proud or snobby of her wealth. She shares with everybody, even with Becky the maid. Sara has a strong imagination which captivates the other girls and they come to love her deeply.
Sara writes letters to her father wishing for his return. The war has worsened. Sara’s family wealth had also reduced as her father’s investment in diamond mines failed.
On Sara’s birthday Miss Minchin throws a lavish party to exhort money from her father. But tragedy strikes as Sara’s father dies in the war. At this grievous time when Sara is left alone as an orphan, Miss Minchin takes away her things, does not let her take classes and turns her into a maid to serve her school.
What would break most people, Sara survives like a true princess. She gets up at 5 am, wears old and torn clothes in the cold and run the chores. She goes to bed half fed and is abused. After all this, Sara is still the same – she loves and cares for everyone. She believes that she is a princess at heart. Her innocence wins over depressing years. She stands up against Miss Minchin’s atrocities when none would dare to.
A Little Princess is one of the most touching orphan books you need to read. It is also a great book for kids teaching them a lot about taking on the world.
The story has been made into a movie by Disney. The film and the story have different endings, but both are the happy endings we would wish for.
Many of us have seen the cartoon adaptation of Heidi. Heidi is one of the most beautiful orphan books you can find out there. Set in the beautiful Alps, little girl Heidi is left to live with her grandfather. Her simple joys of living in nature and her time spent with his friend Peter the goatherd is a beautiful tale. This is one story that your kids need to know.
Heidi holds the record of being one of the bestselling books in history.
James and the Giant Peach
Children need a book that is full of compassion as well as imagination. Orphan books teach kids how to stay strong in adversity. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl will set them into a world that is close to nature and magic.
James is an orphan boy who lives with his cruel aunts. His life is far from nice and he is abused and malnourished. His life changes when he meets a giant peach and enters into a dreamy world with friendly bugs.
Somewhere in this tale, the author imbibes the faith that bad days do end and the good will always win- something that children need to learn at heart.
The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden and A Little Princess have been ranked among the Top 100 Books for Children. Both were penned by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The Secret Garden is one of the timeless classics for kids and one of the best written orphan books.
Harry Potter needs no introduction to kids of this generation. Harry, whose parents were killed while he was still a child, lives with uncle and aunt. They are in no way kind to him and treat him like a servant. However Harry knows that there is more to life than this and there is magic in this universe.
Also see: Don’t let the Muggles get you down Harry