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%E2%80%9412-year-old minister%E2%80%99s 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 (%E2%80%9CWhen Joe Louis fights, it%E2%80%99s more than just throwing punches,%E2%80%9D Otis%E2%80%99s mother tells him. %E2%80%9CThat boy%E2%80%99s fighting for the pride of Negroes%E2%80%9D). 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%E2%80%9312. (Apr.)