City of Orphans

Illustrated by Greg Ruth
LIST PRICE $17.99

About The Book

The streets of 1893 New York are full of life: crowded, filthy, dangerous. If you are a newsboy like thirteen-year- old Maks Geless, you need to watch out for Bruno, leader of the Plug Ugly Gang whose shadowy, sinister boss is plotting to take control of all the newsies on the lower East Side. With Bruno’s boys in fierce pursuit, Maks discovers Willa, a strange girl who lives alone in an alley. It is she, stick in hand, who fights off the Plug Uglies--but further dangers await. Maks must find a way to free his sister Emma from The Tombs, the city jail where she has been imprisoned for stealing a watch at the glamorous new Waldorf Hotel. Maks, believing her innocent, has only four days to prove it. Fortunately, there is Bartleby Donck, the eccentric lawyer (among other employments) to guide Maks and Willa in the art of detection. Against a backdrop alive with the sights and sounds of tenement New York, Maks, as boy detective, must confront a teeming world of wealth and crime, while struggling against powerful forces threatening new immigrants and the fabric of family love. 

Excerpt

1

Amazing things happen.

Look at someone on the street and you might never see that person again—ever. Then you bump into a stranger and your whole life changes—forever. See what I’m saying? It’s all ’bout them words: “luck,” “chance,” “coincidence,” “accident,” “quirk,” “miracle,” plus a lot of words I’m guessing I don’t even know.

But the thing is, I got a story that could use all them words. ’Bout a kid by the name of Maks Geless. That’s Maks, with a k. M-a-k-s.

Now, this Maks, he’s regular height for a thirteen-year-old, ruddy-faced, shaggy brown hair, always wearing a cloth cap, canvas jacket, and trousers, plus decent boots. He’s a newsboy—what they call a “newsie.” So he’s holding up a copy of the New York City newspaper The World,andhe’sshouting, “Extra! Extra! Read all ’bout it! ‘Murder at the Waldorf. Terrible Struggle with a Crazy Man! Two Men Killed!’ Read it in The World! The world’s greatest newspaper. Just two cents!”

Now, not everything gets into the papers, right? But see, the only one who knows what really happened up at the Waldorf is . . . Maks.

You’re thinking, how could this kid—this newsie—know?

I’ll tell you.

This story starts on Monday, October 9, 1893. That’s five days before the day of that headline you just heard. It’s early evening, the night getting nippy. Electric streetlamps just starting to glow. In other words, the long workday is winking.

Not for Maks. He’s still on his regular corner, Hester Street and the Bowery. Been peddling The World for five hours and has sold thirty-nine papers. Sell one more and he’ll have bailed his whole bundle. Do that and he’ll have eighty cents in his pocket.

Now listen hard, ’cause this is important.

In 1893 newsies buy their papers and then sell ’em. So next day’s bundle is gonna cost Maks seventy-two cents. Then he sells ’em for two cents each. Means, for his five hours’ work, he’ll earn a whole eight cents. Not much, you say? Hey, these days, six cents buys you a can of pork and beans, enough eats for a day, which is more than some people gets.

You’re probably thinking, eight pennies—that ain’t hardly worth working all them hours. But this is 1893. These are hard times. Factories closing. Workers laid off. Not many jobs. Housing not easy to find. Fact, people are calling these days the “Great Panic of 1893.” And the thing is, Maks’s family’s rent is due this week. Fifteen bucks! For them, that’s huge.

All I’m saying is, Maks’s family needs him to earn his share, which is—you guessed it—eight cents a day.

Now, most days when Maks finishes selling his papers, he likes staying in the neighborhood to see how his newsie pals have done. Don’t forget, this is New York City. The Lower East Side. Something always happening.

This night all Maks wants to do is to get home and eat. No surprise; he’s hungry twenty-five hours a day, eight days a week. And last time he ate was breakfast—a roll and a bowl of coffee-milk.

So Maks holds up his last newspaper and gives it his best bark: “Extra! Extra! Read all ’bout it! ‘Joe Gorker, Political Boss, Accused of Stealing Millions from City! Trial Date Set! Others Arrested!’ Read it in The World! World’s greatest newspaper. Just two cents! Only two cents!”

Sure, sometimes crying headlines, Maks gets to head doodling that someday he’ll be in the paper for doing something great, like maybe making a flying machine. So The World would pop his picture on its first page, like this here mug Joe Gorker. Then Maks reminds himself that his job is selling the news, not being it. Besides, The World is always laying down lines ’bout Joe Gorker, screaming that the guy is a grifter-grafter so crooked that he could pass for a pretzel.

Anyway, Maks’s shout works ’cause next moment, a fancy gent—top hat, handlebar mustache, starched white collar, what some people call a “swell stiff”wags a finger at him.

Maks runs over.

The guy shows a nickel. “Got change, kid?”

“Sorry, sir. No, sir.”

I know: Maks may be my hero, but he ain’t no saint. Like I told you, for him, pennies are big. Needs all he can get.

“Fine,” says the swell. “Keep the change.”

“Thank you, sir!” Maks says as he slings his last sheet to this guy.

The guy walks off, reading the headlines.

Maks, telling himself his day is done, pops the nickel into his pocket. Except no sooner does he do that than who does he see?

He sees Bruno.

This Bruno is one serious nasty fella. Taller than Maks by a head, his face is sprinkled with peach fuzz, greasy red hair flopping over his eyes, one of which is squinty, and on his head he’s got a tipped-back brown derby, which makes his ears stick out like cute cauliflowers.

But the thing is, Bruno may be only seventeen years old, but he’s head of the Plug Ugly Gang. Lately, Bruno and his gang have been slamming World newsies, beating ’em up, stealing their money, burning their papers.

So Maks knows if Bruno is giving him the eye, things gonna be bad. And it’s not just ’bout being robbed. If Maks loses his money, he ain’t gonna be able to buy papers for next day. No papers, no more money and the family rent don’t get paid. In other words, no choice. Maks has to get home with his money.

Trouble is, his home is a three-room tenement flat over to Birmingham Street, near the East River. That’s fifteen big blocks away, which, right now, feels as far as the North Pole.

In other words, if Maks wants to keep his money, he’s gonna have to either outrun that Plug Ugly or fight him.

Don’t know ’bout you, but Maks would rather run.

© 2011 Avi Wortis

Reading Group Guide

A Reading Group Guide for

City of Orphans
By Avi

About the Book

The streets of New York in 1893 are full of life: crowded, filthy, dangerous. If you are a newsboy like thirteen-year-old Maks Geless, you need to watch out for Bruno, leader of the Plug Ugly Gang whose shadowy, sinister boss is plotting to take control of all the World newsies on the lower East Side.

With Bruno’s boys in fierce pursuit, Maks discovers Willa, a strange girl who lives alone in an alley. It is she, stick in hand, who fights off the Plug Uglies—but further dangers await. Maks must find a way to free his sister Emma from The Tombs, the city jail where she has been imprisoned for stealing a watch at the glamorous new Waldorf Hotel. Maks, believing her innocent, has only four days to prove it. Fortunately, there is Bartleby Donck, the eccentric lawyer (among other employments) to guide Maks and Willa in the art of detection. Against a backdrop alive with the sights and sounds of New York tenements, Maks, as boy detective, must confront a world teeming with wealth and crime, while struggling against powerful forces threatening new immigrants and the fabric of family love.

Text-Generated Questions

1. Avi describes the streets on the Lower East Side of New York, Willa’s alley, Mak’s tenement, the Tombs, and the apartment of Donck, the private detective, using words that include all the senses. What are the sights, sounds, and smells of each? Using each location, explain how they are all examples of “hard times”?

2. What are newsies? What is life like for a street rat? How and why do Bruno and the Plug Ugly Gang terrorize only the newsies who peddle the World?

3. How is each member of Maks’s family expected to help support the family? How does Willa become a member of this family?

4. Who is Bartleby Donck and what is his life like? How is he able to help Maks and Willa? Give all the reasons he decides to help them.

5. Explain the circumstances of Emma’s arrest. How was she cleared?

6. Maks is disappointed with the inaction of his parents in helping his sister, Emma. Why don’t they help? Why does Maks take on this problem? How is Maks’s life different from that of his parents? Is Maks afraid of anything?

7. When Bartleby Donck meets Maks and Willa in Chapter 33 he comments that justice is blind because “No money. No justice.” Does this story prove or disprove this statement?

8. Willa doesn’t have many memories of her father but she does say, “I don’t think he was a good man.” Explain all the ways Mr. Brunswick is not a good man.

9. Avi’s first line in City of Orphans is “Amazing things happen.” How is this a story of luck, chance, coincidence, accidents, quirks, and miracles?

10. There are many stories in City of Orphans. How does each character’s story end?

Beyond the Text

1. Research wasting disease. How are the characters in this story all touched by this disease?

2. This story is told in present tense by an omniscient, or all-knowing, narrator. Find examples of this folksy style told in first person. What effect does this style of writing have on the story and on how the reader gets to know the characters and follows the action?

3. Read another historical fiction book by Avi. How does it compare to City of Orphans?

4. Avi writes a blog, a treasury of an accomplished writer’s thinking and writing. Follow Avi’s blog at avi-writer.com/blog/.

5. Write a book review of this story. Then compare it to a professional review of City of Orphans on Avi’s website. Find three ways you could improve your own review writing.
avi-writer.com/books/awardsreviews/ahr_cityoforphans.html

6. The historic Waldorf was a very famous example of New York architecture. Visit nyc-architecture.com/GON/GON017.htm and discover the history of this hotel.

7. The tenement at 97 Orchard St. on the Lower East Side was home to thousands of immigrants at the turn of the century. It has been restored as a living history of the time of City of Orphans. Walk through a portal to the past.
Tenement Museum site: tenement.org
Tenement Museum video walk-through on youtube.com (3 minutes):
youtube.com/watch?v=sotUOd7s_m0&feature=related

8. Jacob Riis, a famous photographer at the turn of the twentieth century, documented tenement living and displayed it for the world to see. What can be learned from his photographs found at this site? youtube.com/watch?v=SZl4KXsaKVE

9. There are two different worlds in City of Orphans: the tenement world and the Waldorf Hotel world. Compare and contrast the two.

Common Core Standards

R.CCR.1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

R.CCR.2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

R.CCR.3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

R.CCR.4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

R.CCR.5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

R.CCR.6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

R.CCR.7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

W.CCR.4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

W.CCR.5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

W.CCR.7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Guide written by Jan McDonald of Rocky Mountain Readers

This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.

This guide was written to align with the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org).

About The Author

Photograph by Katherine Warde

Avi is the author of more than seventy books for children and young adults, including the 2003 Newbery medal winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead. He has won two Newbery Honors and many other awards for his fiction. He lives with his family in Denver, Colorado. Visit him at Avi-Writer.com.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books (September 6, 2011)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416971023
  • Grades: 5 - 9
  • Ages: 10 - 14
  • Lexile ® HL570L

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Raves and Reviews

CITY OF ORPHANS
Written by Avi and Illustrated by Greg Ruth
(Atheneum; ISBN: 9781416971023; September 2011; Fall Catalog page 51)

“An immigrant family tries to survive crime, poverty and corruption in 1893 New York City. Earning enough money to cover the rent and basic needs in this year of economic panic is an endless struggle for every member of the family. Every penny counts, even the eight cents daily profit 13-year-old Maks earns by selling newspapers. Maks also must cope with violent attacks by a street gang and its vicious leader, who in turn is being manipulated by someone even more powerful. Now Maks’ sister has been wrongly arrested for stealing a watch at her job in the glamorous Waldorf Hotel and is in the notorious Tombs prison awaiting trial. How will they prove her innocence? Maks finds help and friendship from Willa, a homeless street urchin, and Bartleby Donck, an eccentric lawyer. Avi’s vivid recreation of the sights and sounds of that time and place is spot on, masterfully weaving accurate historical details with Maks’ experiences as he encounters the city of sunshine and shadow. An omniscient narrator speaks directly to readers, establishing an immediacy that allows them to feel the characters’ fears and worries and hopes. Heroic deeds, narrow escapes, dastardly villains, amazing coincidences and a family rich in love and hope are all part of an intricate and endlessly entertaining adventure. Terrific!”

-- Kirkus July 15, 2011 *STAR

City of Orphans.
Avi (Author) , Ruth, Greg (Illustrator)
Sep 2011. 368 p. Simon & Schuster/Richard Jackson, hardcover, $16.99. (9781416971023).

Dickensian street action comes to New York’s Lower East Side in this gripping story, set in 1893, of
newsboy Maks, 13, who feels “hungry twenty-five hours a day.” After rescuing a filthy, homeless girl,
Willa, Maks takes her to the crowded tenement he shares with his struggling Danish immigrant family.
Pursued by Bruno, the leader of the Plug Ugly street gang, Maks is desperate to save his sister, Emma,
who was imprisoned after being falsely accused of stealing a watch from the Waldorf Hotel, where she
worked as a cleaner. Just as compelling as the fast-moving plot’s twists and turns is the story’s social
realism, brought home by the contrasts between the overcrowded, unsanitary slums (“No water, gas,
electricity”) and the luxurious Waldorf. Then there are the unspeakable conditions in prison, where, even
as a prisoner, Emma must pay for food. Avi writes in an immediate, third-person, present-tense voice,
mostly from Maks’ colloquial viewpoint (“He’s full of heartache, but no one is seeing it”), with occasional
switches to Willa and to the desperate young gangster leader. Threading together the drama are tense
mysteries: Is Willa really an orphan? Who stole the watch? Pair this riveting historical novel with Linda
Granfield’s 97 Orchard Street, New York: Stories of Immigrant Life (2001), a nonfiction account of Lower
East Side tenements.

--Booklist, August 1, 2011, *STAR

City of Orphans
Avi, illus. by Greg Ruth. S&S/Atheneum/Jackson, $16.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4169-7102-3

Thirteen-year-old Maks Geless, the oldest son of Danish immigrants, makes eight cents a day hawking The World on Manhattan street corners in 1893. Newbery Medalist Avi tells his story in a vibrant, unsophisticated, present-tense voice (a typical chapter begins, “Okay, now it’s the next day—Tuesday”), and it’s a hard life. Maks’s sister Agnes has TB, the shoe factory where Agnes and Mr. Geless work is suspending operations, and the grocer and landlord want their accounts paid. Then Maks’s oldest sister, Emma, is accused of stealing from a guest at the Waldorf Hotel, where she is a maid. Amid this strife, the good-hearted Gelesses take in Willa, a homeless girl who saved Maks from a street gang. Maks and Willa must prove Emma’s innocence, with the help of an odd, possibly dying detective (he’s coughing up blood, too). The contrasts among Maks’s family’s squalid tenement existence; Emma’s incarceration in the Tombs, the city’s infamous prison; and the splendor of the Waldorf bring a stark portrait of 19th-century society to a terrifically exciting read, with Ruth’s fine pencil portraits adding to the overall appeal. Ages 10–14. (Sept.)

--Publishers Weekly, August 22, 2011, *STAR

"Narrating in the present tense, Avi attempts a colloquial, first-person “Lemme tell you how it was” style not normally found in books for middle graders. The opening, which describes Maks so vividly you feel that he’s standing right in front of you, strikes the kind of friendly note bound to draw in the average reader. 'Now, this Maks, he’s regular height for a 13-year-old, ruddy-faced, shaggy brown hair, always wearing a cloth cap, canvas jacket and trousers, plus decent boots.' In short, he’s a 'newsie'…honest-to-goodness historical mysteries are hard to find, and Avi doles out his clues carefully, allowing children the chance to feel smart if they put two and two together."

-- The New York Times Book Review

"Like the intricate inner workings of a fine gold watch from a bygone era, Avi crafts a not-to-be-missed mystery/thriller yarn featuring a colorful cast of mugs and swells and set amidst the opulence and the poverty of nineteenth century Manhattan."

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com

Awards and Honors

  • ILA Teachers' Choices
  • Young Hoosier Book Award Master List (IN)
  • Nutmeg Children's Book Award Nominee (CT)
  • Kirkus Best Children's Book
  • Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Master List (VT)
  • Colorado Book Awards Finalist

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