LaFaye, A. 2004. WORTH. New York: Simon & Schuster Books. ISBN 0-689-85730-6
(2) Plot Summary
Eleven-year-old Nathanial’s life is turned upside down when he breaks his leg in an accident on the family’s farm. No longer able to do farm work, Nate begins to feel useless and unwanted. These feels are exacerbated because Nate’s Pa does not speak to him anymore much less even look at him. The plot thickens when Pa brings home John Worth, an orphan from the orphan train, to work on the farm. Nate gets jealous and begins to hate this boy who gets to spend time with his Pa while Nate has to go to school. John is envious of Nate because he wants to go to school and secure a better future for himself. When a fence war in the community breaks out will Nate and John be able to set aside their differences and work together?
(3) Critical Analysis
The protagonist, Nate, and the main antagonist, John, are both identifiable to young readers. Both boys feel out of their place and element. By showing Ma’s anger and dismay with John, LaFaye keeps the novel very real. Not all orphans from the orphan train were wanted or even treated well by their foster families. It is important to note that Ma is not a bad woman; she is unhappy with the situation her husband has consigned her to. LaFaye also incorporates the death of a sister; the family is still suffering from this loss. Times are tough for Nate’s family. Most of the crops are ruined due to a storm and some renegade cattle and there are bank loans that need to be repaid. Set in the Nebraska plains of the late 1800’s, Worth gives readers a glimpse into the harsh reality of farm life.
(4) Review Excerpt(s)
Publishers Weekly: “The author weaves in a subtle message about the power of story, as Nate builds a bond with John by reading him Greek myths out of a borrowed book.”
School Library Journal: “The author convincingly conveys the boys' gradual realization of the value of one another's friendship. Other themes include the importance of reading and education, meeting challenges head on, relying on and playing a responsible role in your community, and recovering from loss.”
* Assign the class to read other books by A. LaFaye:
LaFaye, A. Stella. ISBN 978-1416911647
LaFaye, A. Edith Shay. ISBN 0670875988
* Have students visit websites of interest:
The Children’s Aid Society (http://www.childrensaidsociety.org/about/history/orphantrain)
National Orphan Train Complex (http://www.orphantraindepot.com/index.html)
Orphan Trains (http://www.genealinks.com/orphantrain.htm)