THE ORPHAN COLLECTOR


With vivid writing and immediately absorbing characters, Ellen Marie Wiseman weaves a powerful tale of upheaval, resilience and hope amidst the tragic 1918 influenza – the pandemic that went on to infect one-third of the world’s population…

In the fall of 1918, thirteen-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded slums and the anti-immigrant sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army. But as her city celebrates the end of war, an even more urgent threat arrives: the Spanish flu. Funeral crepe and quarantine signs appear on doors as victims drop dead in the streets and desperate survivors wear white masks to ward off illness.

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With vivid writing and immediately absorbing characters, Ellen Marie Wiseman weaves a powerful tale of upheaval, resilience and hope amidst the tragic 1918 influenza – the pandemic that went on to infect one-third of the world’s population…

In the fall of 1918, thirteen-year-old German immigrant Pia Lange longs to be far from Philadelphia’s overcrowded slums and the anti-immigrant sentiment that compelled her father to enlist in the U.S. Army. But as her city celebrates the end of war, an even more urgent threat arrives: the Spanish flu. Funeral crepe and quarantine signs appear on doors as victims drop dead in the streets and desperate survivors wear white masks to ward off illness. When food runs out in the cramped tenement she calls home, Pia must venture alone into the quarantined city in search of supplies, leaving her baby brothers behind.

Bernice Groves has become lost in grief and bitterness since her baby died from the Spanish flu. Watching Pia leave her brothers alone, Bernice makes a shocking, life-altering decision that leads her on a sinister mission to transform the city’s orphans and immigrant children into what she feels are “true Americans.”

Waking in a makeshift hospital days after collapsing in the street, Pia is frantic to return home. Instead, she is taken to St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum – the first step in a long and arduous journey to find her way back to her remaining family. As Bernice plots to keep the truth hidden at any cost in the months and years that follow, Pia must confront her own shame and fear, ultimately risking everything to see justice – and love – triumph at last.

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  • Kensington Books
  • Paperback
  • July 2020
  • 304 Pages
  • 9781496715869

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$16.95

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About Ellen Marie Wiseman

Ellen Marie Wiseman is the bestselling author of highly acclaimed historical fiction novels, including What She Left Behind and The Life She Was Given, which was a Great Group Reads selection of the Women’s National Book Association. She’s a first-generation German American who discovered her love of reading and writing while attending first grade in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in New York State. Since then, her novels have been translated into eighteen languages and published worldwide. A mother of two, Ellen lives with her husband in Three Mile Bay, NY.

Author Website

Discussion Questions

1. No other pandemic has claimed as many lives as the influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918-1919—not even the Black Death in the 14th century or AIDS in the 20th century—yet the Spanish Flu is seldom mentioned or even remembered. Why do you think that is? Did you know about the pandemic before reading The Orphan Collector?

2. Have you ever heard of or met anyone with Pia’s ability to sense illness in others? Would you want to be able to tell when other people are sick before they know it themselves? Why or why not?

3. When Pia knocks on her neighbors’ doors looking for food, no one will answer. Would you have answered the door if Pia knocked looking for food? What would you do if you were a poor immigrant in that situation?

4. During the time of the Spanish flu, people used all kinds of folk remedies to protect themselves from illness and help cure disease, many of which we now consider useless and even dangerous. Can you think of any other strange things people did in the past to cure or protect themselves from illness? Do you think there are folk or natural remedies that actually work?

5. Though the disease knew no gender, racial, or ethnic boundaries, Philadelphia’s immigrant poor suffered the worst, with the largest loss of life happening in the slums and tenement districts. Why do you think that was? What issues do you think contributed to it?

6. Do you think Pia should feel so guilty about losing her brothers? Do you think it would have been helpful if she had told the nuns at St. Vincent’s what happened? Should she have told Dr. and Mrs. Hudson sooner?

7. Disguised as a nurse, Bernice does a lot of horrible things to the immigrants in Philadelphia. What do you think is her worst crime? Do you think she paid for what she did?

8. How did you feel about Bernice when you first met her? When did your perception of her change? How and why did it change?