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Orphan Journey Home
originally published by
Breakfast Serials
illustrations by C.B. Mordan
subsequently published by
Avon Camelot
jacket art by Adam Walko
find this book at
your favorite library or
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Orphan Journey Home



Orphan Journey Home, the serialized story that reached millions of readers in 100 newspapers nationwide, was also published in expanded form by Avon Books. The book is illustrated with C.B. Mordan’s original scratchboard drawings. This expanded version of Orphan Journey Home includes changes inspired by readers’ ideas, comments, and suggestions. Did you ask Liza a question that she answers in the revised book? Take a look! Also, don’t miss the Author’s Note at the end of the book. It answers some of your most frequent questions about historical details.

Orphan Journey Home is a serial novel syndicated by Breakfast Serials. Although it was intended as a children’s story, readers from five to eighty-nine have gobbled it up. The story first appeared in newspapers during the fall of 1998 and has continued to reach readers all over the country, with a total circulation of 18 million. The story is now appearing in papers again, in both English and Spanish. Check availability at Breakfast Serials.

illustration © C.B. Mordan

About the Book

The year is 1828. Jesse Damron and her family are leaving their farm in southern Illinois, headed for their grandmother’s home in eastern Kentucky. The roads are rough, the wilderness is full of wild animals, and a few days into their journey, Mama and Papa both die of a disease called “milk sickness.”

Now Jesse, her older brother, Moses, and the two younger children must make the long wagon journey on their own. They face a dangerous world where orphan children can be “bound out” (trapped and kept as indentured servants until they are grown.) Carrying a letter of protection from their father, the children brave the wilderness. Whom can they trust? How will they feed themselves? Will they ever find their way to the Little Sandy River? And if they do—will Grandma still be there?

Awards and Distinctions

First published in serial form in 120 newspapers nationwide
Oklahoma Sequoyah Book Award list 2002
NCSA list 2003

Reviews and Testimonials

“Cliff-hanging chapter endings make it as suitable for sharing aloud as for independent reading. Ketchum creates realistic problems for her believably drawn protagonists … A riveting adventure.” (School Library Journal)

“I want you to know Liza Ketchum is an intelligent story writer. Her Orphan Journey Home stories are better than any other story I have ever read…She uses lots of emotions.” (Breakfast Serials reader)

“It’s so exciting that it seems real. Very graphic details and chilling tales will catch our attention.” (Breakfast Serials reader)

“It was wonderful to have something to share and enjoy with my grandchildren.” (Breakfast Serials reader)

“I cried at the end.” (Breakfast Serials reader)

“My almost-89-year-old mother and I look forward to every Tuesday. I read to her the way she used to read to me.” (Breakfast Serials reader)

Behind the Book

FAQ: What inspired you to write this story?

Orphan Journey Home is based on a true story. I discovered it while I was reading about another pioneer named Bethenia Owens-Adair. (Bethenia’s life was featured in my book, Into a New Country: Eight Women of the West.) Bethenia’s mother, Sarah Damron, was one of six children who were orphaned in 1828 as the family traveled from southern Illinois to eastern Kentucky. Just as in my novel, the parents died of milk sickness, and the children continued the difficult journey on their own. In the original story, the oldest child was only twelve and the youngest just a baby.

There were only a few short pages about the Damron family in Bethenia’s autobiography, but I couldn’t forget what I’d read. I was inspired by the incredible courage, resourcefulness, and family loyalty of these children. When Breakfast Serials asked me to write a novel for the newspapers, I decided that the Damron’s story would lend itself to the serial format.

FAQ: What was the most exciting thing about writing for the newspapers?

It was wonderful to discover that readers of all ages were hooked on Jesse’s story, and to hear how many people enjoyed sharing the suspense of waiting together for the next installment. I thank all my readers for their enthusiasm! I also love the idea behind Breakfast Serials: that children have something just for them in the newspaper.
Writing a serial novel is surprising in another way. It gave me the rare opportunity to respond to feedback from readers. Usually, a book is printed and bound before I hear what readers think about the story, and it is too late to make changes. This time, I had the chance to include some of my readers’ suggestions as I expanded the story for publication as a book.

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