Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Review The Forgotten Home Child Interview with author Genevieve Graham

Genevieve Graham is fast becoming one of my all time favorite authors. I love how she delves into Canadian history and brings it to life for her readers. This book, The Forgotten Home Child is about the tens of thousand of children either homeless or orphaned that England put on ships and sent to Canada some as young as six years old. Genevieve's interview goes into it more.

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Canada

Release Date: 3-3-2020

 Author/Publisher for review



The Home for Unwanted Girls meets Orphan Train in this unforgettable novel about a young girl caught in a scheme to rid England’s streets of destitute children, and the lengths she will go to find her way home—based on the true story of the British Home Children.


At ninety-seven years old, Winnifred Ellis knows she doesn’t have much time left, and it is almost a relief to realize that once she is gone, the truth about her shameful past will die with her. But when her great-grandson Jamie, the spitting image of her dear late husband, asks about his family tree, Winnifred can’t lie any longer, even if it means breaking a promise she made so long ago...


Fifteen-year-old Winny has never known a real home. After running away from an abusive stepfather, she falls in with Mary, Jack, and their ragtag group of friends roaming the streets of Liverpool. When the children are caught stealing food, Winny and Mary are left in Dr. Barnardo’s Barkingside Home for Girls, a local home for orphans and forgotten children found in the city’s slums. At Barkingside, Winny learns she will soon join other boys and girls in a faraway place called Canada, where families and better lives await them.

But Winny’s hopes are dashed when she is separated from her friends and sent to live with a family that has no use for another daughter. Instead, they have paid for an indentured servant to work on their farm. Faced with this harsh new reality, Winny clings to the belief that she will someday find her friends again.

Inspired by true events, The Forgotten Home Child is a moving and heartbreaking novel about place, belonging, and family—the one we make for ourselves and its enduring power to draw us home.

My Interview with Genevieve:

Genevieve hi! Welcome back to the blog.
Your new novel was amazing, clearly and elegantly told with characters that will stay with me for a long long time.
You said you accidentally stumbled on an article about these children.
How hard was it to find information on them once you started looking?
Hi Deb! Thanks so much for inviting me here. I’m so glad you enjoyed “The Forgotten Home Child”.
I am always looking for little or unknown stories in history, and as a result I follow a lot of historical pages on Facebook (as well as other places). The story of the British Home Children popped up on my page one day, and at first I thought I must be reading it wrong. This was a huge story, set in my home country of Canada, and yet I’d never heard anything about it. I chased around online, reading articles, watching videos, and diving into the British Home Children Advocacy and Research Association’s website (https://www.britishhomechildren.com/). So, in answer to your question, it wasn’t hard at all. I just needed to know what to look for.
That’s when “it” happened. “It” is the moment when I feel a shift inside me, a knowledge that I had found the subject of my next novel. And this time, I felt “it” resound all through me. The story of the British Home Children is such an important one, and I was determined to pay tribute to those children through the best book I could write.
I ordered everything I could find from my library, and I read it all from cover to cover. Once I understood the black and white history, I took the next step, which was to join all the British Home Children groups I could find on Facebook. Those groups are amazing. They are not only filled with descendants seeking information about their own Home Children, they are also manned by generous, diligent volunteers who dig expertly into the genealogy records and archives to unearth the lost children’s history. Even though I am not one of them, the descendants welcomed me with open arms, and I was invited to a couple of events. Their eagerness to learn and to educate about the children was contagious, and I realized the best way to find the heart of the story was through them. I put together a survey, asking what they knew about their ancestors, where they’d been born and sent, and about their personality and character later in life. The next morning I hoped to see one or two responses in my email, but it was far more than that. Within two weeks I had over 200 survey responses, filling in those deeply personal gaps I needed to create compelling characters in the book.
What made you decide to tell their stories?
I think for me, the question was how could I not? I have wept over many of their stories, imagining what a terrifying time it would have been for anyone put into that strange, unfamiliar position, let alone a child. And knowing that so few of us were aware that had even happened made it very clear that I had to write this book.
For me, the magical thing about Historical Fiction is that it not only teaches, it touches. Historical Fiction educates the mind while it fills the heart. Sometimes history feels very far away, and parts of it can be forgotten, but when you weave memorable characters into the facts, it makes it much, much harder to forget. I wanted these children to be remembered.
Talk about the group of children you feature in the book, they were mostly terribly and cruelly mistreated in the book.
During your investigations were the way they were treated in the minority or the majority?
Yes. Most were neglected, abused, and some were even killed. It’s impossible to know exact numbers, but from what I’ve learned, between two-thirds and three-quarters of these children were mistreated.
I used a combination of the written history and the survey responses from descendants to form compelling, realistic characters. Each one of them had a different experience, including Charlotte. She represented the minority of children who joined loving families and enjoyed happy lives. But even Charlotte suffered, having lost all contact with her family after being told the lie that her mother was dead.
It’s hard to believe these children traveled across the ocean all alone.
How old were the youngest to make the voyage?
A handful of adults travelled with every group of children shipped across the ocean, though that might just have been two or three supervising over a hundred children. Within those groups were infants and toddlers, but those were specially “ordered” by families wanting to adopt. The majority of children sent as indentured servants ranged between about four and seventeen years old.
You say more than fifty organizations were involved in what you called; “the child migrant scheme”.
Were most legitimately trying to find better lives for these children or were they in it for the $$$?
The plan was born of good intentions. Of those fifty organizations, the one most mentioned is Dr. Thomas Barnardo, since he shipped the largest number of children overseas, so I focused on him in the book. Back in 1867, Dr. Barnardo started up a school for destitute boys. After one of those boys took Barnardo out one night and showed him all the children sleeping on roofs and in gutters, Barnardo decided to dedicate his life to saving these children. He opened his first shelter for boys in 1870, training them in practical skills like metal work, carpentry, and shoemaking, but there wasn’t enough room for all the boys out there. One evening an 11-year-old boy nicknamed ‘Carrots’ was turned away because the shelter was full, and two days later he was discovered dead on the street from malnutrition and exposure. After that, Barnardo opened his doors to every child in need, saying “No Destitute Child Ever Refused Admission”. The trouble was, there simply wasn’t enough room, so they had to look for options.
A social reformer named Maria Rye was credited with pioneering the emigration scheme. She saw an opportunity to take girls off the filthy streets, train them to make a good life working in domestic service, then send them to work in Canada, a place sorely in need of servants. Seeing her success and the benefits to all, other groups began to join in. They all believed in the programme. They just never counted on it getting so out of control.
But yes, there was money involved, and it was pretty substantial by the end. Canadian farmers, excited by the idea of acquiring cheap labour, paid $3 per child ($80 value in 2020), and the Canadian and the British government each added $2. A child, to them, was worth $7 (approximately $165 today).
At one point Barnardo said he couldn’t fill all the requests he had received for children, saying he had seven applications for each child – and those application fees were non-refundable. Think about that. Dr. Barnardo sent approximatley 33,000 children to Canada. Thinking in terms of our money today, that $165/child could total well over five million dollars. And if there were seven applications per child at $4, as Dr. Barnardo said, that raised it to over eighteen million dollars in today’s value. That doesn’t include the payouts from the children’s life insurance policies, or donations from the public.
Lets talk about the stigma attached to these kids, your main characters Jack and Winny were embarrassed by their label of Home Child.
During your research did you find that’s how most of the children felt?
Absolutely. Those who were abused or neglected (approximately 70% of them) were ashamed of who they were. That’s about 85,000 children who grew up lonely and humiliated. Most never knew love, and as I
discovered from the surveys, their descendants paid the price for that as well. Many of their grandparents or great-grandparents were bitter, preferring solitude to crowds or simple conversation. They were the reclusive ones sitting in the back corner of a gathering, hiding away. Some made up stories about their pasts when they were asked. And since they didn’t know love personally, they were often unable to show it, affecting generations.

In your message to readers in the back of the book you ask why you never learned about these children in school. It’s hard to believe they just forgot about almost a century of shipping as many as 130,000 children from England. My country is also guilty of keeping things from its citizens.
Do you think countries want these historic embarrassing things swept under the rug? Or was it just not that important to the powers that be when the textbooks were being printed?
I think it was convenient for the countries involved to sweep this story under the rug and hope no one came looking for dust. The children were made to feel such shame that most never told anyone who they really were or where they’d come from. It wasn’t until recently, when genealogy became more well known and accessible, that people started discovering them. Now, it has been determined that approximately 12% of Canada’s population is descended from them – over 4,000,000 people who have no idea! Since then, there have been official apologies made by both the British and Australian governments (thousands of children were also shipped to Australia, New Zealand, and Rhodesia), but the government of Canada says it has no plans to issue an apology. Quarriers Sending Home in Scotland recently put together a compensation package for the few remaining Home Children they had sent away, but I don’t think compensation is what this is about. To me, and to many, an apology is recognition. It is validation and respect. And perhaps it is the way toward including this story and these poor, forgotten children in our history books.  
Genevieve thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Good Luck with The Forgotten Home Child. Will you be touring south of your boarder for the book?
I would love to say yes, but I leave that up to the experts at Simon & Schuster Canada, my wonderful publisher. They call all the shots!

For generalized information check out the Home Children Wikipedia page=https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_Children

 My Review:

The Forgotten Home Child
Genevieve Graham
The past has told us that when England doesn’t want something or somebody they ship them to a faraway colony, out of sight, out of mind, so in true English fashion like they populated Australia with their criminals they also sent as many as 130,000 orphans, homeless and destitute children to England’s colony of Canada. But the better life these children were promised was just worthless words to most of them who endured unbelievable hardships and cruelties as indentured servants. This is a fictionalized story of a small group of these children who helped make Canada what it is today and should never be forgotten by an outstanding author who has made it her mission to recount Canada’s history. Genevieve Graham’s latest novel based on real Canadian history is an amazing tale that’s hard to put down but equally hard to read because of the inhumanity done against these innocent naïve children who believed what they were told at the beginning of their life-altering journey. The past to present time line Genevieve uses to tell this unforgettable story works perfectly filling in the blanks telling readers how Winny made it to the ripe old age of 97. The extraordinary characters and vivid backdrops stay with the reader because of the author’s flawless and flowing narrative making it hard to stop reading even though the subject is often hard to stomach, but also gives these young characters gumption, hope and the ability to come out the other side better then they were. It’s just an awesome piece of writing from a master storyteller who wants readers to never forget the past.
Thank you Genevieve Graham for yet another vivid, heartbreaking poignant trail of tears from Canada’s past.

Present day 97 year old Winny is confronted by her granddaughter and great-grandson wanting to know about their family history, only Winnie has been keeping a deep dark secret about her past for most of her life because having the label of being a Home Child was never a good one. But maybe it’s finally time to come clean for her family and for herself too.
Its 1936 and 15 year old Winny Ellis and her small pack of friends living on the streets of Liverpool embark on a journey across the ocean with the promise of good homes and a better life than being homeless street urchins. But when they get there they soon find out that for most of them life in this place called Canada is not what they were promised. In fact sometimes it’s almost not worth living another day.


  1. Oh dang, that sounds like an emotional read.

  2. Loved the interview. This one made me cry :)

  3. Replies
    1. it amazes me what inhuman things we've done to each other through the eons and are still doing to each other.

  4. Wow, How horrible! I didn't know this history. So sad what happened to these children and Winnie. I'm glad she passed on her story to her grandson. Thanks for sharing Debbie.

    Lindy@ A Bookish Escape

    1. I know LIndy I love learning about forgotten and not told history that countries like to sweep under the rug.

  5. OMG - I had no idea that this happened, and it sounds like it will be a tearjerker for sure. What a horrible situation, but I give kudos to Ms Graham for having the skill, patience and courage to share what sounds like an incredible story. Hugs, RO

    1. Yes she is incredible and I've loved every one of her Canadian historical novels

  6. I have heard great things about this one. Lovely interview

  7. Love her books, too, and all the appreciation I've gotten for Canadian History. Enjoyed the review and will definitely be reading this one. :)