The best books about orphanages

11 authors have picked their favorite books about orphanages and why they recommend each book.

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Little Princes

By Conor Grennan,

Book cover of Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

While volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal, Conor Grennan stumbled across the dark truth that the children he had become close to were not orphans at all. In fact, they had families, and they had been trafficked into institutions that were making a profit from unsuspecting tourists and volunteers like himself...

Brutally honest and humorous at times, this book is a portrayal of the traps that international volunteers can unwittingly fall into. It uncovers a whole ecosystem of exploitation and tells the inspirational tale of the authors’ quest to end orphanage trafficking.

Who am I?

I first volunteered overseas as a teenager. Driven by an insatiable desire to change the world, I helped to found a rural development organisation, PHASE, but found myself confronted with and paralysed by the complexities of the aid world. So as not to become jaded, I since shifted my focus to tackle what I believe to be the root causes of injustice in the world through global education, including researching and writing Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad. I now mainly work as a consultant to improve the ethical practices of volunteer organisations.

I wrote...

Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad

By Claire Bennett, Joseph Collins, Zahara Heckscher, Daniela Papi-Thornton

Book cover of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad

What is my book about?

Noam Chomsky described this book as “An extraordinary contribution...a manifesto for doing good well.Every year, nearly 20 million people pack their bags to volunteer overseas—yet far too many are failing to make an impact, and some are even doing more harm than good. So how can we change the way we make positive change in the world? If you want to help you must first be willing to learn.

Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad offers a powerful and transformative new approach to international volunteering. The “learning service” model helps volunteers embrace the learning side of their adventures—and discover how cultivating openness, humility, and a willingness to reflect can enhance help them do good better. It’s not a lightweight 'how-to' handbook, but a thoughtful critique, a shocking exposé, and a detailed guide to responsibly serving communities in need.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

By TJ Klune,

Book cover of The House in the Cerulean Sea

This is an utterly magical book, and not just because it’s a fantasy. In addition to the fabulous world building and the engrossing plot, it’s a beautiful and thoughtful exploration of human nature and personal growth and is incredibly and gloriously hopeful about the people we could all become. I read it on the recommendation of my agent, Deidre Knight, who said something like, “I think it’s done so well because at its heart it’s a book about kindness.” And it is! It’s also about the transformative power of believing in people, of giving the best of yourself and expecting the same from others, of forgiveness, and of courage. It’s also funny and wise and quirky and utterly enthrallingand has a mystery that needs to be solved!

Who am I?

I grew up in the interior of British Columbia, hours from the water, but my father loved the ocean. Every summer we’d take a vacation on the coast and sometimes we’d take the ferry to Vancouver Island. Oh, how I loved those ferry rides! The wind, the smell of the sea, the waves, the smaller islands we passed. When the idea came to me to set Improbably Yours on my very own fictional island, I was over the moon! My resident Viking and I took a research trip to the San Juans to help me in my creation of Vinland, and I was utterly charmed and delighted by island life.

I wrote...

Improbably Yours

By Kerry Anne King,

Book cover of Improbably Yours

What is my book about?

An unusual inheritance leads to a life-changing journey in a novel of romance, secrets, and the treasure of found family.

Blythe Harmon is on the fast track to a life she never wanted. On her thirtieth birthday, just as she’s about to lock herself into a high-powered job and accept a marriage proposal to match, an unusual bequest from her beloved late grandmother, Nomi, offers an escape and an invitation to adventure on Vinland Island—a place Blythe never even knew existed. She sets out on the treasure hunt of a lifetime where she discovers, clue by clue, that the treasure she is really seeking is not something that can be buried in the ground.

Before We Were Yours

By Lisa Wingate,

Book cover of Before We Were Yours

It’s hard to write a book this riveting and wrenching and raw without resorting to baser language and situations, but Wingate does so beautifully as she takes readers back to a fictionalized version of a real-life adoption agency in the 1930s that kidnapped and sold children to wealthy families. This split-time book also has a compelling touch of mystery, which appealed to the suspense writer in me. But mostly, it’s about resilience, determination, and the strength of family ties even in adversity and across time and distance—which is why I found this book uplifting despite the hard subject matter.

Who am I?

Long before I earned a degree in psychology, I was fascinated by human relationships and motivations. Since reading novels is an excellent way to delve into the minds of a variety of people, the library became my second home. I well remember my first binge-read—Nancy Drew. I devoured the entire series sitting under a catalpa tree in my grandfather’s backyard. So it’s probably not surprising that I’m now the author of 60+ novels in the romantic suspense and contemporary romance genres—none of which include sex, swear words, or gratuitous violence. Because as suspense superstar Mary Higgins Clark once said, you don’t need any of those to tell a compelling story. 

I wrote...

Labyrinth of Lies

By Irene Hannon,

Book cover of Labyrinth of Lies

What is my book about?

When the daughter of a high-profile businessman disappears from an exclusive girls’ boarding school, police detective Cate Reilly is tapped for an undercover assignment. It doesn’t take her long to realize that beneath its veneer of polish and wealth, Ivy Hill Academy harbors dark and deadly secrets. But the biggest shock of all? The only man she ever loved is also working at the school. Zeke Sloan has never forgotten Cate, but now isn’t the best time for their paths to cross again. When their two seemingly disparate agendas begin to intertwine and startling connections emerge among the players, the danger escalates significantly. But who is the mastermind behind the elaborate ruse? And how far will they go to protect their house of cards?

The Cider House Rules

By John Irving,

Book cover of The Cider House Rules

The most loving father-son relationship I’ve ever read features Dr. Wilbur Larch and the orphan Homer Wells, who becomes the doctor’s apprentice before seeking a better life at an apple orchard in Maine.  Larch creates a fake heart ailment to keep Homer from World War 2, eventually conjuring an alternate identity to allow Homer to continue the doctor’s work caring for orphans and their mothers. But what if that life differs from what Homer wants? Irving’s novel shows how rifts between fathers and sons can exist without it diminishing the love and respect. Larch and Homer differ strongly in their beliefs on abortion, yet their bond is unbreakable. In a beautiful moment, both men gaze at their paired shadows on a hillside and wonder what their futures will bring.        

Who am I?

When I started writing my novel A Better Heart, the focus was not on fathers and sons, but from the moment the narrator’s estranged father walked through the door, I knew their relationship would drive the story. As a reader, I enjoy following characters as they navigate the potholes of their lives, and family often present the biggest holes. Our primary relationships are with our parents, and their influence is a big part of who we become as adults. Exploring that bond often makes great fiction. My father died of cancer ten years ago. In writing about fathers and sons, perhaps I’m trying to imagine a different ending.          

I wrote...

A Better Heart

By Chuck Augello,

Book cover of A Better Heart

What is my book about?

For aspiring indie filmmaker Kevin Stacey, it’s another day on the set of his first film, but when his estranged father, a failed Hollywood actor, arrives unexpectedly with a bundle of cash, a gun, and a stolen capuchin monkey, he’s propelled toward the journey that will change his life. A heartbreaking yet comic family drama, A Better Heart examines the human-animal bond and the bonds between fathers and sons, challenging readers to explore their beliefs about the treatment of non-human species.

“A promising new literary voice.” - Kirkus Reviews. “Augello has crafted a sweet, funny character study…madcap and accomplished, this comic novel boasts big surprises, heartfelt characters, and a passion for animal rights.” - Booklife

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

By Claire Legrand, Sarah Watts (illustrator),

Book cover of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls

When I read this book, I was thrown sideways and bowled over. It is just so unique! The creep factor is ridiculously high, and it goes places that are totally unexpected and unheard of in a middle-grade novel. This is not your standard spooky tale, but rather one that will eat into your soul and give you series willies.

Who am I?

I've been writing Spooky Middle Grade for a number of years, and before that, I wrote horror for Hollywood. Living in Sleepy Hollow, spooky is in my blood, and if I didn't write creepy stories, they'd kick me out. I'm also a professional storyteller and have scared the bejeebus out of kids and adults in places like Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Rockefeller State Park Preserve, and Washington Irving's Sunnyside. Halloween is my favorite time of year. It more or less becomes a month-long village-wide celebration in October. Being inundated with all this crazy rubs off on you, and I have been well-steeped.

I wrote...

Lillian Lovecraft and the Harmless Horrors

By David Neilsen,

Book cover of Lillian Lovecraft and the Harmless Horrors

What is my book about?

Lillian Lovecraft's world is forever changed when she is accidentally haunted by a horrific entity from beyond time and reality named Frank, who likes mustard, plays with people's toupees, and is more annoying than dangerous. Frank's arrival, however, is a harbinger of worse things to come as more and more horrors from Frank's dimension find their way into our world. If that weren't bad enough, a deranged madman is trying to open a portal into Frank's dimension that will allow a giant eyeball to enter our world and devour all of humanity.

It's up to Lillian, her friends, and Frank (if he feels like it) to stop the madman, deal with the horrors, and save the world.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

By Ransom Riggs,

Book cover of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Ransom Riggs has created quite the extraordinary book here. It also reads like a graphic novel of sorts as there are a lot of odd photos to accompany the text. It crosses genres rather seamlessly as well, between Urban YA to Fantasy to Horror to a Speculative fictional realm where Miss Peregrines' home resides. It is a rare read with well-developed characters and plot. The children are all quite odd, though strangely likable. If you want different, this is as different as it gets. Gave me chills of the good and ill-feeling variety. That’s what you want, yes? I do.   

Who am I?

I have been drawn toward tales and stories of the bizarre since childhood. As a reader, I look for works that will surprise me. The real world in general, I find very unsurprising (lord yes, I do!). When I read, when I enter the fictional world (my favorite!) I want to be inspired to read on. I have put down many a book through boredom. I am not a plough. If I am uninterested, I stop. These books have inspired me in my own craft. Currently writing my sixth novel of the unpredictable, I feel I have experienced enough to forward on some irregular reads of the pure and the awesome.  

I wrote...

Dave Bi-Plane Fights the Red Winged Death Command

By S.B. Norton,

Book cover of Dave Bi-Plane Fights the Red Winged Death Command

What is my book about?

An otherworldly tale ... of dreaming in the world of Sombre and of the mysterious Dave Bi-Plane.

Jasper Reeves is 15. He skates. Has music. Everything he needs. No clutter. There’s no room for clutter. Only room for Dave Bi-Plane. The airman's adventures in Sombre give Jasper a balance like nothing else can. He welcomes sleep. When he sleeps his troubles fall away. Dave Bi-Plane has his own trouble. Dave is being hunted. A squadron of Spitfires, known as The Red Winged Death Command, want something from Dave, something he is unwilling to give, something he can't give. They won't stop until they have it. An ultimate battle looms for Dave in the Nightmare world - a battle that seems impossible to win.


By Rosaria Munda,

Book cover of Fireborne

Although the dragons in Fireborne aren't technically “central characters,” they are certainly central to the plot. That, plus the fact that the human relationships were so wonderfully balanced and beautifully nuanced, ensured this book made it onto my list.

This is one of those classic dragon/rider stories. Our two protagonists, Lee and Annie, have both become dragon riders in a post-revolution society where they – and their draconic mounts – are sworn to protect the populace. I loved the depictions of dragons competing, flying, and bonding with their riders, but I enjoyed the politics and human drama just as much.

Who am I?

Dragons are my passion, I've lovingly been referred to as The World's Foremost Dragon Authority, and I've made it my mission to consume as much dragon media as I can. As someone who also loves science, I'm especially drawn to media that addresses draconic physiology, evolution, and culture. I can name every taxonomic family, genus, and species in the order Draconidae, and there's nothing I love more than sharing my dragon knowledge and stories with others!

I wrote...

Dragon Speaker

By Elana A. Mugdan,

Book cover of Dragon Speaker

What is my book about?

Though Keriya Nameless has no magical powers, which is considered a disability in her world, she's recruited to save the last living dragon. Keriya leaps at the chance to prove her worth, though failure could mean the destruction of everything she holds dear.

Dragon Speaker offers a fresh take on the classic dragon/rider trope. Where many stories treat their dragons as accessories or plot devices, The Shadow War Saga dragons are central characters with agency. They're intelligent, autonomous beings (as opposed to the cliché one-dimensional villains or simple-minded work beasts we often see). If you're a fantasy aficionado, this series offers you a vibrant world filled with magic, adventure, and – most important – dragons!

The Secret of Crickley Hall

By James Herbert,

Book cover of The Secret of Crickley Hall

What I love about this story is that it is set very firmly along the traditional lines of a ghostly tale rather than outright horror. It is set against the tragic backdrop of the history of Crickley Hall. 

The suspense is built up beautifully, initially by means of the children and the family dog, who are all nervous and uneasy in their temporary new home. Parents Eve and Gabe also experience strange happenings in the house, but are less willing to admit it, even to themselves. That rings true, for me.

These events are exacerbated by the fact that the entire family is living in the aftermath of a devastating loss. At first, they attribute much of what is happening to their grief, guilt, and sadness. A very normal thing to do, even in such strange circumstances. I love how this is acknowledged, even used as a line of reasoning,…

Who am I?

I grew up in South Wales, where ghost stories are cherished. As a child, I spent many a winter evening telling spooky tales with my mum and my sisters, sitting before the fire. We would record them on tape (I am that old) complete with homemade sound effects, then play them back to listen to. I loved the combined fear and excitement these stories instilled in me. My father also loved to read horror and scary fiction, which had some influence on what I chose to read as I grew older. For someone who always loved to write, I think publishing in this genre is simply a natural extension of all that.

I wrote...

Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales

By S.P. Oldham,

Book cover of Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales

What is my book about?

Wakeful Children: A Collection of Horror and Supernatural Tales is an extremely unusual, compelling, and refreshingly different read in the ghost/horror genre. Within its pages you will encounter the horror of a depraved mind, an ancient evil lurking underground, an elemental entity that will chill you to the bone, and more. This book will leave you thinking of it long after you have turned the last page.


By Pam Smy,

Book cover of Thornhill

Thornhill tells the story of two girls—Ella, recently moved into a new house, which has a perfect view of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door, and Mary, the mysteriously evasive girl who seems to live in the dilapidated building. Ella’s narrative is told in a graphic novel style with blackwork drawings, heavy and bold, while Mary’s narrative is told via diary entries. Each narrative informs the other until they eventually meet to reveal the truth on both sides. Thornhill was one of those rare gems that pull me firmly into the story by use of the unusual format—and keeps me there until the end. 

Who am I?

I was a late reader. I was, in fact, forcefully against reading. You’d have had to drag me by my ear to get me anywhere near a book. I was dyslexic, suffered with Irlen syndrome, and detested the embarrassing fact that I found reading too difficult. I thought my mother had invented some kind of cruel torture when she insisted I read to her every day. It never worked. And then… it did. I read my first book at the age of 12, and it was written in the form of letters. It was Animorphs Book 1 by KA Applegate, and the rest, as they say, is history.

I wrote...

The Dead House

By Dawn Kurtagich,

Book cover of The Dead House

What is my book about?

In the charred-out ruins of a once-illustrious high school, a diary is found written by a girl who doesn’t exist. Who was Kaitlyn and why did she only appear at night? Did she really exist or was she a figment of a disturbed mind? What were the illicit rituals taking place at the school? And just what did happen at Elmbridge High School in the events leading up to ‘the Johnson Incident’?

The Home for Unwanted Girls

By Joanna Goodman,

Book cover of The Home for Unwanted Girls

I think I’ll be recommending this book to people until the end of time. It’s just so, so good.

What I love most about it is it brings a forgotten part of history to life: a time when orphanages in 1950s Quebec misdiagnosed children as mentally ill to qualify for the better funding allocated to psychiatric hospitals. An obscure moment in history, generations of family scandals and secrets, and a forbidden love story? Yes, please.

Who am I?

I love book club. If I could make it a requirement for everyone in the universe to give it a try, I would. I was an English major in college, so that feeling of ending an amazing story and needing someone to discuss it with never fully went away. All book club books should be thought-provoking, but the best add that intricate and wholehearted understanding, I think, that only literature can. Why do the characters you least understood or felt a kinship with suddenly have your heart, what do they want, need, feel, think? I hope these novels help you better understand. The who and what are beside the point. 

I wrote...

Life As An Almost

By Vered Hazanchuk,

Book cover of Life As An Almost

What is my book about?

Evie Mission is a survivor. A fiery, young woman who grew up in the foster care system, she is just trying to figure out what living a “normal” life even means. When Evie finds out her cerebral palsy dates back to her biological mother’s back-alley abortion attempt, her orderly world is turned upside down and she embarks on a journey to find answers. But finding answers means the one thing she’s dreading more than anything: finding her mother. 

Told through alternating narration, Life As An Almost is a poignant, timely story about mothers, daughters, and what we expect from the people we call family.

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