10 Of The Very Best Historical Novels About Orphans

For those who have had the privilege of finding a group of people that you can call ‘family’, without having any blood ties, you’ll know the power of such a bond.

After all, family isn’t about who we’re related to, but rather, who we choose ourselves.

10 Of The Very Best Historical Novels About Orphans

It seems to be a bit tricky to find books about orphans, and when we think of this book genre, Oliver Twist is usually the only one that springs to mind.

But, there are actually a whole host of books out there that cover the themes of chosen families.

Some of these are poignant and heart-wrenching, whilst others are funny and heartwarming.

Whatever you’re looking for, we can guarantee that there’s a suitable one out there.

Below, we’ve compiled a list of what we believe to be some of the very best books about orphans and found families.

Each of these novels is based in a different time period in history and has different subgenres to delve into too.

To find some reading recommendations, simply keep reading below, as we take a closer look.

Vera By Carol Egarian

Vera: A Novel

If you want a truly heart-wrenching novel to settle down to, then we’d recommend that you pick up this book called Vera by Carol Edgarian.

It follows the story of a young woman, who isn’t necessarily an orphan but is shipped away to a foster family nonetheless, because of her seedy upbringing.

Her family are actually brothel owners, and these are the surroundings in which Vera is haphazardly brought up.

After she moves in with her foster family, they don’t allow her to visit her former home at all, save for two days in the year.

Vera feels as though she’s torn between two separate worlds, and doesn’t truly belong to either.

This all happens against the backdrop of San Francisco at the earliest point of the 20th century.

Eventually, something truly terrible happens, an earthquake ravages the city, leaving very few survivors in its wake.

Vera’s family is killed, including her foster parents.

Now, she has to take charge of her limited resources and make her own way in the world.

Thankfully though, she comes across another group of survivors, and they all band together to try and piece their lives together again, showing the true power of a found family.


  • Poignant – Egarian does a fantastic job of writing a truly poignant tale that will tug at your heartstrings.
  • Exciting – As well as being incredibly poignant, Vera is an incredibly exciting story filled with both personal and environmental drama.
  • Atmospheric – Egarian does a great job of painting the backdrop of San Francisco in 1906, ravaged by the effects of the tumultuous earthquake.


  • Gloomy – With the setting being torn – apart from San Francisco, the book can be incredibly bleak and gloomy at times.

American Hippo By Sarah Gailey

American Hippo: River of Teeth, Taste of Marrow, and New Stories

If you’re looking for a found family book that has an extremely unique premise, then we think that we’ve found the perfect one for you.

This book, called American Hippo by Sarah Gailey is a truly wide ride of a novel.

In the book, we find ourselves following the perilous journeys of Winslow Houndstooth, and yes, he’s just as impressive as he sounds.

He’s essentially brought to the American South in order to reclaim the lands of the people living there from a hippo infestation. That’s right, we said hippo.

The book takes place during the 19th century, and the people living in the area can’t carry on with their day-to-day activities safely anymore, as there are hippos running wild all across the area.

Houndstooth is given a very unique task. He must band together with some of the most notorious criminals in the land in order to complete his task.

Together, they must tame these unruly hippos.

Something very unexpected happens, however, and we find ourselves in the midst of a very heartwarming plot.

These outcasts in their quest to control the band of hippos, discover that they are more alike than they anticipated, and create a found family.

They also surprisingly find that they feel most at home amongst the hippos that they’re charged with disposing of.


  • Unique – We have to give Gailey credit because she’s come up with an incredibly unique premise.
  • Fun Cast – We love the cast of characters here, and they all feel as though they have a special place in the story.
  • Heartwarming – Even though the premise appears to be somewhat strange, this is actually an incredibly heartwarming story that will leave you feeling warm inside.


  • Violence – There is some violence in the story in regards to some of the descriptions, so if this isn’t your thing, then consider steering clear of this novel.

Sin Eater By Megan Campisi

Sin Eater: A Novel

Calling all unusual book lovers, we’ve got the perfect one for you! If you love all things dark, weird, and wacky, then take a look at this twisted tale.

This book takes place on the British Isles, long ago in its gory past.

‘Sin Eater’ refers to the punishment that some people in the town would be subjected to if they failed to follow the rules.

Our main protagonist is given the sentence of being a sin eater when she’s just 14 years old.

She doesn’t do much to earn the title but merely steals a loaf of bread.

The punishment for a sin eater is severe, however, and she is completely shunned from the entire community, and any kind of communication with her former relationships is severed.

When you’re labeled a sin eater, you’re forced not only to exclude yourself from society but are also punished by hearing the confessions of dying people.

The sin eaters are then forced to eat ritualized foods at the funerals of these people, as a symbol of their sinful lives.

May, our protagonist, finds herself in the middle of a very confusing situation. As one of the older mentors refuses to eat a deer heart that she’s given and is executed, she must get to the bottom of things.

Why did the elder refuse the heart? And, is there a way out of this terrible fate she’s found herself following?


  • Interesting Plot – This is an incredibly interesting plot, and full of twists and turns.
  • Mystery – For those of you who are great lovers of mystery, you’ll adore this plotline, as you’ll be trying to unearth the story as you read.
  • British Folklore – For those who love learning a little bit about history whilst they read, this book is peppered with lots of interesting information about British folklore throughout.


  • Confusing – With so many different complexities throughout the narrative, this book can be a little bit confusing at times.

The Forgotten Home Child By Genevive Graham

The Forgotten Home Child

If you’re looking for the most poignant book about orphaned children, then this book will tug at your heartstrings.

This book is unique in the sense that it actually took place, and is based on a true story.

This gives the tale a lot of added dimension and makes it even more heart-wrenching to think that these things actually happened.

It follows the story of a woman called Winifred, as she recounts the events of her youth in 2018, by telling her grandson about what happened to her.

When she was a little girl, and the same age as him, she was caught stealing some bread at the market.

After she’d stolen the loaf of bread, she was immediately shipped away to an orphanage.

Winnifred was heartbroken, because she lived with a group of friends, and they had formed their own family outside the confines of society.

When they’re taken to the orphanage, so are her friends, but they’re not to stay together for long, and they’re all taken to Canada.

In Canada, they find themselves separated from one another, and Winnifrid is given to a young family.

She hopes that this family will love her, and provide her with the proper parenting she missed out on in her youth.

This is not to be, however, and her new family is incredibly cruel, forcing Winnifrid to essentially work as their slave.


  • Research – One of the main pros of this story is that it’s incredibly well-researched by Graham, and you feel as though you’re really experiencing the events as they happened.
  • Heart-Wrenching – When you read this tale, you’ll be surprised at how heart-wrenching it truly is.
  • Narrative – We think that the narrative structure of this book is excellent. Having the older version of Winnifred telling the story to her grandson gives it an added dimension, and makes us feel as though we’re truly there, hearing this account firsthand.


  • Familiar Tale – This is a very familiar story, as there have been lots of accounts published about British home children, therefore you may feel as though it shares similarities with other stories you’ve read.

Howl’s Moving Castle By Diana Wynne Jones

Howl's Moving Castle

If you’ve never seen the movie, or read this classic tale before, then you simply have to get your teeth stuck into Howl’s Moving Castle, as it’s one of the best stories about found families that’s ever been written.

Based in the early portion of the 19th century, it follows the journey of Sophie Hatter, who starts out as a young and carefree girl.

That is until an evil witch decides to place a curse on her.

Initially, Sophie doesn’t realize what’s happened, but as she takes a look in the mirror, she’s absolutely horrified to discover that she’s prematurely aged into an old woman.

Sophie decides that she’ll do anything in her power to break this curse and return to her former self.

On her journey, she discovers a great magician called Howl, along with a dancing flame demon called Calcifer, and his quirky apprentice Michael.

Together, they discover the great power of a found family.

If you want to read a truly quirky book that’s full of heartwarming friendships and packed with adventure, then this is the one for you.


  • Entertaining – This is a truly entertaining read, and is full of fun and interesting plotlines.
  • Fantasy – We loved the fantasy elements in this book, particularly the anthropomorphic flame.
  • Easy Reading – If you’re looking for an easy read to get your teeth stuck into, then we’d recommend chilling out with this book.


  • Intended For Younger Readers – Although this isn’t necessarily a con, this book is geared towards a younger audience, so this might not be for everyone.

The Girl They Left Behind By Roxanne Veletzoz

The Girl They Left Behind: A Novel

If you’re a lover of wartime stories about orphans, then you should definitely check out this book called The Girl They Left Behind by Roxanne Veletzoz.

It follows the story of a young Jewish girl during the height of the war.

She grows up in Romania, and to her misfortune, the country she inhabits decides to ally with the Nazi party, as a result, she’s left in an entirely hopeless situation.

Thankfully though, Natalia, who is the protagonist of our tale, finds herself adopted by an extremely wealthy family, who manages to save her from her terrible fate.

They are the most perfect family she could have ever imagined, and love Natalia with all of their heart.

The more time she spends with this new family, the more she forgets about her old one.

The family she lived with previously had quickly given her up for adoption in order to secure a different fate for their daughter.

No matter how hard Natalia tries to forget, however, she can’t seem to let go of her past and her desire to see her old family again.

One day, she meets a handsome young gentleman called Victor, and he wants Natalia to run away with him.

The trouble is that Victor is holding some secrets of his own, which could get them both into trouble.

Natalia is given a difficult choice, either forgo her relationship with Victor or forsake another parental relationship with those who have adopted her.


  • Atmospheric – Veletzoz does a great job of painting the atmosphere of the 1940s in a very descriptive manner.
  • Romantic – We loved the romantic elements of this novel.
  • Powerful – Veletzoz depicts the power that family has over us with her haunting descriptions of Natalia’s reflections.


  • Era – Some people might not be big fans of the wartime era that the book is set in, and so many have been based on this time period.

Meddling Kids By Edgar Cantera

Meddling Kids: A Novel

This novel isn’t based too far off in our history, as it takes place during the height of the 1970s.

It’s an incredibly fun book about a family and reminds us very much of our childhood favorite, Scooby Doo.

This one, however, follows a gang that hunts down very real criminals.

In the novel, we follow the adventures of a group of unruly teenagers, who have decided to call themselves The Blyton Summer Detective Club.

They love nothing more than spending their time hunting down the town’s villains and spending time with one another away from their dysfunctional families.

The book, however, takes place after they’ve all grown up.

All of them are now facing their own personal problems, and are haunted by the same thing.

That thing is the last case they tried to solve before they all moved away all those years ago.

They decide to contact one another, and eventually, they all agree to put a stop to this final crime once and for all by returning to their little hometown that they left all those years ago.


  • Nostalgic – We love the nostalgia of this book, having been based in the 1970s, which really makes us feel like we’ve been transported back in time.
  • Fun Filled – This is a really fun-filled book that’s packed full of mysteries to solve.
  • Friendship – Cantera’s depiction of friendship in this book is absolutely terrific, and we love witnessing the different dynamics between the group.


  • Silly – This book can be a little bit silly in parts, so if you’re looking for something more serious, maybe this isn’t the book for you.

Orphan By Kim Van Alkemade

Orphan #8: A Novel

This is a truly harrowing tale, which makes us truly question what is more important, peace or revenge.

This tale is set during the early portion of the 19th century and follows a young girl called Rachel.

Rachel has had a very difficult life as a result of something terrible which happened to her when she was just four years old.

When she was four, she was taken away by a doctor called Dr. Solomon.

Dr. Solomon conducted brutal experiments on his patients, taking away their humanity in the process.

The experiment that he performs on Rachel leaves her completely disfigured, and she must carry her scars with her forever.

Being an orphan, Rachel had no parents to help her to escape her fate, but one day, when she was much older, she managed to leave the facility.

She goes in search of her brother whom she hasn’t seen in many years, and this brings her eventually to New York.

As Rachel grows older, she decides that she’s going to dedicate her life to helping others, and as a result, she decides that she’s going to be a nurse.

But something incredibly unexpected happens, and once again, Rachel is forced into facing her past traumas.

The very same Dr. Solomon who conducted those experiments on her many years ago enters the hospital she’s working as a patient.

It turns out that he himself is close to dying from cancer.

Rachel is intent on exacting revenge on the man who ruined her life, but, perhaps things aren’t all that they seem to be.


  • Intriguing – The plotline of this book is incredibly intriguing, and had us on the edge of our seats.
  • Thought-Provoking – We think that this is one of the most thought-provoking books on our list, and even leads us to question what we would do if we were in Rachel’s situation.
  • Compelling – This book is a real page-turner, and is so compelling that you won’t want to put it down.


  • Upsetting – The descriptions of the various experiments in this book might prove to be too upsetting for some readers.

The Gilded Wolves By Roshani Chokshi

Gilded Wolves (The Gilded Wolves, 1)

We absolutely adored this book called the Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi. It’s a real adventure novel that reminds us of a classic Indiana Jones movie.

It follows the story of Severin, who is an incredibly enigmatic character and spends his time hunting treasure.

He has many different professions, including being the owner of an illustrious hotel.

Treasure hunting is his real game, however, and one day, he finds himself being recruited by an incredibly powerful group called The Order Of Babel.

The Order Of Babel has a particular artifact that they’re desperate to get their hands on, an artifact that they believe Severin can find.

Severin decides that he’s going to need some help along the way, and as a result, groups together a band of unlikely individuals.

They each have their own personal motivations for undertaking the journey, but despite their differences, they become a true ‘found’ family.

This is an incredibly exciting book that’s full of adventure, and we absolutely love the backdrop of The World’s Fair, which acts as the setting for our novel.


  • Adventure – We absolutely adored the adventure elements of this novel, which were a real treat to read. It read as though you were watching an action-packed movie.
  • Aesthetic – We know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case, we’ll make an exception, as it has an incredibly beautiful design.
  • World Building – There are magical elements in this novel, and Chokshi does an excellent job of building the world the characters live in.


  • Some Parts Are Difficult To Understand – Some readers found that there were elements of the story that prove to be a little bit difficult to understand.

The Chanel Sisters By Judithe Little

The Chanel Sisters: A Novel

Looking to bring a little bit of glamor into your life? If so, then we’ve got the perfect book for you.

This book by Judithe Little tells the story of the Chanel sisters, who are the founders of the Chanel empire.

It follows Coco Chanel, as she vows to make a better life for herself when she grows up.

She and her sister are raised with no family, in the care of some very severe nuns who punish them frequently.

They are determined to become a part of the society that has shunned them for so long.

Eventually, they’re employed in some glamorous shops in Paris, and their worlds are about to change for the better when Coco’s talents are finally recognized.

This book is great at finding the perfect balance between history and fiction.

During portions of Coco’s life that we don’t know about, Little fictionalizes these effortlessly.

You’ll find all manner of different subgenres within this book, including family drama, intrigue, and romance.


  • Glamorous – We loved all the glitz and glamor in this book.
  • Based On Real Events – Little has done a great job of researching the events that take place in this novel, and she effortlessly fills in the gaps when needed.
  • Descriptive – This book is very descriptive of the era in which it’s set. Little describes Bohemian cafes, polo fields, and the streets of Paris in exquisite detail.


  • Not For Purists – Those who are avid fans of Coco Chanel might feel frustrated, as not all of the events depicted in the book actually took place.

Buyers Guide

Now that we’ve taken a look at some of our very favorite found family and orphan books, we can move on to discuss our buyer’s guide.

Below, we’ll be discussing some important details to take into account before choosing your perfect book.

Sub Genre

We’d say that the most important thing you should consider before choosing your book, is the subgenre you’re most interested in.

As you can see from our list above, there are a wealth of different books about orphans, and they all differ from one another.

Some are harrowing tales of abandonment, others are witty and humorous, and others are full of adventure.

Depending on the type of book genre you most like to read, this should help you choose a found family novel to enjoy.

Time Period

All of the books on our list take place in a different time and place. This is a great way of choosing the found family book that you’d most like to read.

For example, if you’re enthralled by the 19th century, look for books that are based specifically in this era.

Or, if WW2 is more your jam, there are heaps of orphan-based novels set during this timeframe.

You can even find found family books set in the 1970s featured on our list above.

Fantasy VS Historical

Although all of the books featured in this list are classified under the umbrella of historical fiction, some of them do contain fantasy elements.

Lots of readers prefer to read novels that are believable and set in a realistic version of the world. Other people, however, enjoy having fantasy elements added into the mix.

Either way, take this into consideration when choosing your favorite book from the list above.

Reading Age

If you’re choosing a book for somebody else, you might want to take the reading age into consideration.

On our list, we’ve provided a range of different books, some of which are geared towards an adult audience, whereas others are suitable for teens and children too.

You can find books about orphans to suit all age groups.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, there is a whole host of found family and orphan-based books out there to read.

On our list, we have ones that span several different time periods, and genres.

Whether you’re in the mood for something impeccably witty to lift your spirits, or something dark and harrowing, you’ll find it above.

Remember to take a quick glance over our handy buyer’s guide for some help regarding choosing the perfect book for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Is A Famous Orphan In A Book?

When it comes to books which feature famous orphans, Mowgli, who is the protagonist of the Jungle Book, is known as one of the most famous ones of all time. He is raised in the wild by a band of animals.

What Is The Book The Forgotten Orphan About?

Some of you might have heard about a book called The Forgotten Orphan, written by Glynis Peters, as it’s become very popular in recent years.

This book tells the story of Maisie Reynolds, a young girl who was kidnapped when she was just four years old. The story goes on to depict her difficult life in the orphanage she was raised in.

Which Heroes Are Orphans?

As many of you will already know, a lot of the superheroes that we see depicted in comic books and onscreen are actually orphans.

Some of the most popular orphan superheroes include Aquagirl, Robin, Daredevil, Spiderman, and Superman.

What Is The Most Famous Movie About Orphans?

One of the most famous movies ever produced which depicts the lives of orphans in Oliver Twist. This follows a young boy, and his difficult life in the orphanage, along with his quest to find a loving family.

Noah Burton