The Bonnet Book

Diary of an Orphan Train Hatmaker

Young Adult - Coming of Age
402 Pages
Reviewed on 07/30/2020
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by K.C. Finn for Readers' Favorite

The Bonnet Book: Diary of an Orphan Train Hatmaker is a work of fiction in the coming of age and historical sub-genres, and was penned by author Nancy Menees Hardesty. In a story written for young adult audiences, we are introduced to protagonist Blanche Spencer when she is sent away on an orphan train, aged fourteen. Thrown into a new life with many challenges, Blanche determines to rise above her lot in life by using creative skills and educating herself to make hats. So begins a wild adventure in the very early twentieth century, with real-life elements based on the life story of the author’s grandmother.

Author Nancy Menees Hardesty has crafted an engrossing and enlightening work that blends real history with a youthful sense of adventure, and a story of women’s emancipation from a lesser-known time. Young adult audiences and adult readers alike will certainly fall in love with this story and with its heroine, who was well developed and brought to life beautifully in the narration and dialogue. I felt that the plot was well-paced to deliver some great introductory information about Blanche and her status, and then as the novel builds it grows more and more into a really exciting come of age story, especially by the time she goes into the Wild West. Knowing that it was a true story at its base also gave it strong emotional impetus, and overall I would highly recommend The Bonnet Book: Diary of an Orphan Train Hatmaker for all ages of historical fiction fans.

Tiffany Ferrell

Blanche Spencer was just fourteen years old when her parents sent her on the orphan train to St. Louis in hopes of a better life and education. Loving books and learning, the girl is soon disappointed when she is taken in by the Robey family as a nanny to their two young daughters. With them having no intention of sending Blanche to school, she begins to teach herself to read and write. When she turns nineteen, the Robeys send her to Rosenthal-Sloan to a hatmaking workshop. Having developed a love for French hats during the St. Louis World's Fair, Blanche is eager to learn how to make such beautiful bonnets. Excelling in the art of hatmaking, it doesn’t take long for Blanche to be assigned as a professional hatmaker and sent on an eight-month assignment to Cobden, followed by a position in the new state of Oklahoma.

The Bonnet Book is a fun and insightful read. It is amazing how Nancy Menees Hardesty was able to write such a fascinating novel about her grandmother. The details and descriptions were wonderfully done and kept the attention of the reader with its fast-paced wording. The characters were also well written and thought out, which was to be expected since Blanche was a real woman. I also really enjoyed how the author added old photos from what I’m assuming was her grandmother's albums. The images gave the reader a nice visual as they read Bonnie’s story. The Bonnet Book is overall a fantastic novel for those who love historical fiction. I can’t wait to read more of Hardesty’s work.

Heather Osborne

The Bonnet Book: Diary of an Orphan Train Hatmaker by Nancy Menees Hardesty is the historical account of the author’s grandmother’s experiences in becoming a bonnet maker in the early 20th century. Blanche Spencer’s father wants nothing but the best for his clever daughter. With promises of a better life, he tells her he is sending her to St. Louis so she can gain higher education. Little does she know he’s actually placed her on an orphan train, in the hopes that a family will take her in and do just that. Confused but determined, Blanche finds herself in the care of the Robey family as nursemaid to their two young daughters. All hopes of education seem lost until, by some chance, Blanche is enrolled in an apprentice program at Rosenthal-Sloan, a prominent hatmaker. She thrives and embarks on a journey that takes her across the United States to new adventures and love.

An immensely enjoyable story of what could be called achieving the American Dream, The Bonnet Book by Nancy Menees Hardesty is a refreshing look at a great part of U.S. history. It was fascinating to read about Blanche’s experiences at the World’s Fair, and how she developed into a skilled hatmaker. I could definitely feel her mixed emotions at being placed on an orphan train by her father, a man she respected and trusted, and it was lovely to see how she comes to terms with all that happened to her. The author exhibits a strong connection to her grandmother, and I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone curious about a realistic experience of early 1900s America.