Bird in a Box

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Overview

Otis, Willie, and Hibernia are three children with a lot in common: they've all lost a loved one, they each have secret dreams, and they won't stop fighting for what they want. And they're also a lot like their hero, famed boxer Joe Louis. Throughout this moving novel, their lives gradually converge to form friendship, family, and love. Their trials and triumphs echo those of Joe Louis, as he fights to become the heavyweight boxing champion.

Andrea Pinkney masterfully weaves in ...

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Overview

Otis, Willie, and Hibernia are three children with a lot in common: they've all lost a loved one, they each have secret dreams, and they won't stop fighting for what they want. And they're also a lot like their hero, famed boxer Joe Louis. Throughout this moving novel, their lives gradually converge to form friendship, family, and love. Their trials and triumphs echo those of Joe Louis, as he fights to become the heavyweight boxing champion.

Andrea Pinkney masterfully weaves in factual information about Joe Louis and actual radio commentary from his fights, enriching the narrative of this uniquely rendered and beautifully written novel.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—It is 1936, and the country is struggling in the midst of the Great Depression. As Joe Louis inches closer to becoming the American heavyweight boxing champion, his victories spark hope in a nation starved for good news. Against this backdrop, Pinkney introduces three narrators whose lives are about to intersect. Hibernia chafes at her father's overprotectiveness: since her mother left them with dreams of singing at the Savoy, the reverend limits Hibernia's singing to the church choir. Otis misses his parents terribly: the three of them never had much, but they had laughter, which came to an end in a fiery car crash. Willie tries to ignore his alcoholic father until the night that the abusive man disfigures Willie's hands and his mother convinces him to flee for safety. The two boys meet at the Mercy Home for Negro Orphans and slowly learn to trust one another. When Hibernia's youth choir performs a Christmas concert there, Otis is smitten. With the help of a caring orphanage worker, the three youngsters are able to navigate the complex waters of adolescence, learning that using one's wits can be more powerful than beating against the walls of a box. Pinkney weaves quite a bit of 1930s history into her story and succeeds admirably in showing how Louis came to represent so much more than his sport. Her detailed notes make this an accessible and inspiring piece of historical fiction that belongs in most collections.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
David Margolick
…a powerful middle-grade novel…with tenderness and verve, it tells the stories of three 12-year-old black children, Hibernia, Otis and Willie, in Depression-era Elmira, N.Y.
—The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316074032
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 4/12/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Age range: 9 - 12 Years
  • Lexile: 670L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrea Pinkney is the author of many award-winning books for children. Many were collaborations with her husband, illustrator Brian Pinkney. She is also an editor at Scholastic. They live in Brooklyn with their two children.

Sean Qualls is the illustrator of a number of celebrated books for children, including Before John Was a Jazz Giant by Carole Boston Weatherford, for which he received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, and Dizzy by Jonah Winter, an ALA Notable Book, a Kirkus Best Book, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. He has also illustrated Little Cloud and Lady Wind by Toni Morrison and her son Slade and Giant Steps to Change The World by Spike and Tonya Lee, which will be published in January 2011. Sean lives with his wife, illustrator Selina Alko, and their two children in Brooklyn, NY.

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Read an Excerpt

Bird in a Box


By Pinkney, Andrea

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2011 Pinkney, Andrea
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316074032

ONE

SPEAKY

June 21, 1937

HiBERNiA

FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! SKIP GIBSON, YOU have done it again. You have turned Happy Hibernia into Not-Happy Hibernia.

How dare you interrupt Swing Time at the Savoy to announce the fight. Jeepers!

I’m as eager as anybody to see if Joe Louis wins, but that’s a whole day away. It’s bad enough that for months I’ve had to sneak-listen to the reverend’s radio. And now that he’s finally letting me enjoy my favorite program on the CBS Radio Network, you, Skip Gibson, have squashed it.

The truth is, if the reverend knew I was still thinking about singing—or swinging— at the Savoy, he’d lock me in the parish broom closet for a month. But that’s Speaky’s power. Speaky brings the Savoy to me and lets me dream. Even from the broom closet, I can escape to center stage, thanks to Speaky.

This all began early last summer when the parishioners at our church bought my daddy, the reverend, his brand-new Zenith radio. A gift to celebrate the church’s fifth anniversary.

The reverend wasted no time getting to know his newfangled present. That’s how Speaky got to be a member of our little family. My daddy even named his radio. Speaky, he calls it.

Daddy loves Speaky so much that he makes me dust the radio as part of my cleaning chores. Sometimes he watches to make sure I’m doing it right. “Bernie,” he says, “give Speaky a rub with the polish, will you?” And there I am, pleasing Daddy, putting a shine to the top of Speaky, as if the radio were a bald prince getting a head wax.

Speaky is perched right next to the writing table the reverend keeps in the closed-off corner of the vestry, the private place where he writes his sermons. That cramped little space is no bigger than a bread bin, though the reverend makes it sound like it’s some official office. He calls it his sermon sanctuary.

For the longest time, I was not allowed to listen to the reverend’s radio. He said he was trying to protect my virtue. But I am no gullible piece of peanut brittle. I know it was more than that. The reverend was right in thinking the radio would get me to missing my mother, Pauline. When my mama left for New York City right after I was born, she hit the road with a heavy suitcase packed full with her big dream—to sing at the Savoy Ballroom, one of the swankiest nightspots in Harlem.

Some days I wish my mother had taken me with her. I guess there just wasn’t enough room for me in her overstuffed luggage. But, oh, would I love something else to remember her by. All I know now of my mother is her name, Pauline—and, well, the music on the radio.

That’s not much. Especially since I’m left here growing up with the reverend, who, most days, is as starched as the rice water I use to iron his shirt collars.

Sometimes it is no slice of pie being the daughter of the Reverend C. Elias Tyson, minister of the True Vine Baptist Church congregation.

Everybody adores the reverend. To his parishioners, he can do no wrong. But in the eyes of my daddy, there are some things that can never be right.

For instance, he knows I can outsing most folks, but my desire to be a big-city performer is bad news to the reverend. It riles him.

Hibernia Lee Tyson is not giving up, though. I’m going to take the dream my mother had for herself and make it come true for me.

Along with Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, and Duke Ellington, someday I will call the Savoy my own. I may have to wait till I’m grown. But if the chance comes any sooner, I will jump on that chance faster than I land on a hopscotch square.

Don’t let me admit any of this around the reverend. He has other notions for me. “Bernie Lee,” he declares, “places like the Savoy are a hotbed of sinful activity. I believe you’ve been called to a more fruitful occupation. I feel strongly that you’re meant to someday take over as the director of the True Vine Baptist choir.”

I don’t see anything sinful about singing in a ballroom. Time and time again, I have tried to tell the reverend that to deny me the opportunity to present my vocal abilities to a dance-floor crowd is to trap my God-given gifts under a butterfly net. To me, that is a sin.

Everyone in town knows that Hibernia Lee Tyson is going straight to the top. And you can bet your bottom dollar that I have the talent to take me there.

Other than the reverend, there are only two things holding me back. One is my age. I’ve just turned twelve, which is way too young for the Savoy. But I’m taller than most boys my age, and strong, too. And when I color my cheeks with face powder and use NuNile pomade to smooth my hair, I can pass for being a grown-up lady with real singing experience.

The other thing getting in my way to fame is my stubby fingernails, which I have bitten to the quick. You can’t be a big star without nice nails. People love to get singers to sign their cocktail napkins after each show. But who wants an autograph by somebody with fingertips that look like half-eaten pig’s knuckles?

The nail biting is a bad habit. No matter what, I can’t stop. What makes it worse is all I try that doesn’t work. I soak my fingers in pickle vinegar. I sit on my hands. I pretend my nails are covered with ants. None of this helps. For the life of me, I can’t find a way to quit.

But there’s one thing I know for certain. If I were out front at the Savoy Ballroom, I would show everybody that Hibernia Lee Tyson can roll out a tune sweet enough to bake. The world would have to wait for news about tomorrow’s Joe Louis fight while Hibernia Lee lit up the airwaves with her song.

The truth is, though, I am no closer to Harlem or the CBS Radio Network than I am to the moon. I am stuck here in slowpoke Elmira, New York, living upstairs from the True Vine Baptist Church with the Reverend C. Elias Tyson and Speaky, his radio.

Now Skip, don’t get me wrong—I’m truly rooting for Joe. So is everybody I know. But Not-Happy Hibernia will turn back into Happy Hibernia by listening to Swing Time at the Savoy. Without interruptions.

But, all right. Seeing as tomorrow is Joe’s big night, I guess all I can do is wait. And hope on Joe. And meanwhile, curse you, Skip Gibson, for stomping on my Savoy!



Continues...

Excerpted from Bird in a Box by Pinkney, Andrea Copyright © 2011 by Pinkney, Andrea. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 3, 2011

    Great Historical Fiction

    This is a wonderful story set in 1936. The story and characters draw you in from the start. This book should easily be considered for a Coretta Scott King award.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 8, 2013

    Hi

    This ricks click yes if u agree

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 21, 2011

    I love this book!!!!!!!!

    Hi

    0 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted September 13, 2012

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