Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

After their parents die, four orphaned siblings must navigate the challenges of the orphan train in 1860s America.


"A Family Apart" by Joan Lowery Nixon is a historical fiction novel set in the mid-1800s. The story follows the Kelly children as they embark on a journey to find a new family after their parents tragically die. The book explores themes of resilience, family, and the challenges of starting anew.

Brief Synopsis

The plot of "A Family Apart" takes place in the 1850s in New York City and later on a wagon train heading to Missouri. The Kelly children, Frances Mary, Mike, and Megan, are left orphaned after their parents die in a tragic accident. They are faced with the difficult decision of either being separated and sent to different orphanages or taking their fate into their own hands by finding a new family. The children choose the latter option and decide to head west to Missouri on a wagon train, hoping to find a family willing to adopt all three of them.


The story starts in New York City, where the Kelly family lives. After the death of their parents, the children's journey takes them through the vast and challenging landscapes of the American Midwest as they travel on a wagon train to Missouri. The harsh and unpredictable environment serves as a backdrop for their struggle to find a new home and family.

Main Characters

The Kelly Children:

  • Frances Mary: The eldest sibling, responsible and protective of her younger brother and sister.
  • Mike: The middle child, adventurous and resourceful.
  • Megan: The youngest, innocent and naive, but also resilient.

Chapter Summary

Chapter 1-3

The story begins with the Kelly children coping with the loss of their parents. They are faced with the prospect of being separated and sent to different orphanages. Determined to stay together, they decide to find a new family by traveling west.

Chapter 4-6

The children encounter various challenges as they make their way to Missouri. They struggle to find food and shelter, and their resolve is tested as they face the harsh realities of being on their own.

Chapter 7-9

The Kelly children meet different families along the way, hoping to find one that will adopt all three of them. However, they face rejection and disappointment, leading to doubts about their journey.

Chapter 10-12

As they continue their journey, the children encounter a family that shows interest in adopting them. However, they must prove themselves by helping with chores and adapting to their potential new home.

Chapter 13-15

The Kelly children face a crisis when Megan falls ill. They must rally together to care for her while also proving to the family that they are capable of being a part of their household.

Chapter 16-18

The climax of the story sees the children overcoming obstacles and ultimately finding a new family. They learn the true meaning of resilience and the importance of sticking together as they navigate the challenges of starting afresh.

Main Events

  1. The death of the Kelly parents, leaving the children orphaned.
  2. The decision of the children to find a new family rather than be separated.
  3. The journey of the Kelly children on a wagon train to Missouri.
  4. The challenges faced by the children as they search for a new home and family.
  5. The climax where the children find a family willing to adopt all three of them.

Themes and Insights


  • Resilience: The children demonstrate resilience as they overcome adversity and seek a new family.
  • Family: The importance of family and sticking together during difficult times is a central theme.
  • Adaptability: The children learn to adapt to new environments and situations as they search for a new home.


The story provides insight into the hardships faced by orphaned children in the 19th century and highlights the strength and determination needed to overcome such challenges. It also offers a glimpse into the social dynamics and family structures of the time, showcasing the value placed on familial bonds.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers will be inspired by the Kelly children's resilience and determination. The story serves as a reminder of the strength found in familial bonds and the importance of sticking together during tough times. It also offers a historical perspective on the experiences of orphaned children in the 1800s.


"A Family Apart" by Joan Lowery Nixon is a poignant and evocative tale that captures the challenges and triumphs of the Kelly children as they seek a new family. The story's themes of resilience and family resonate with readers of all ages, making it a compelling and thought-provoking read.

A Family Apart FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'A Family Apart'?

    A Family Apart is a historical fiction novel.

  2. Who is the author of 'A Family Apart'?

    The author of 'A Family Apart' is Joan Lowery Nixon.

  3. What is the setting of the book?

    The book is set in the United States during the 1800s.

  4. What is the main theme of the book?

    The main theme of 'A Family Apart' revolves around resilience, family, and survival.

  5. Is 'A Family Apart' suitable for young readers?

    Yes, the book is suitable for young readers and is often recommended for middle-grade audiences.