cover image Bird in a Box

Bird in a Box

Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Sean Qualls. Little, Brown, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-07403-2

This rich historical novel offers an unsentimental and sometimes humorous glimpse into the Great Depression. Pinkney (Sit-In) alternates between the first-person perspectives of three resilient and tenacious protagonists—12-year-old minister’s daughter Hibernia, aka Bernie, who dreams of becoming a jazz singer like her absent mother; 13-year-old abused and abandoned Willie, who must relinquish his dreams of boxing after his father burns his hands; and orphaned 12-year-old Otis, who comforts himself with the riddles his parents loved. Both Willie and Otis live in the Mercy Orphanage, where kind, spunky manager Lila Weiss is both a child advocate and motherly figure. Famed African American boxer Joe Louis, whose matches Bernie, Willie, and Otis listen to on the radio, serves as both a powerful symbol and unifying thread in the story (“When Joe Louis fights, it’s more than just throwing punches,” Otis’s mother tells him. “That boy’s fighting for the pride of Negroes”). Pinkney enlivens potentially remote historical circumstances through her sympathetic characters who, despite the constraints of their era, struggle for dignity and human connection on their own terms. Ages 8–12. (Apr.)