Overview

Bitty is a canary whose courage more than makes up for his diminutive size. Of course, as a bird who detects deadly gas leaks in a West Virginia coal mine during the Depression, he is used to facing danger. Tired of unsafe working conditions, he escapes and hops a coal train to the state capital to seek help in improving the plights of miners and their canaries. While there, Bitty manages to bring together two men: a state senator and the inventor of a machine that can replace canaries. But Bitty's return to ...
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Canary in the Coal Mine

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Overview

Bitty is a canary whose courage more than makes up for his diminutive size. Of course, as a bird who detects deadly gas leaks in a West Virginia coal mine during the Depression, he is used to facing danger. Tired of unsafe working conditions, he escapes and hops a coal train to the state capital to seek help in improving the plights of miners and their canaries. While there, Bitty manages to bring together two men: a state senator and the inventor of a machine that can replace canaries. But Bitty's return to Coalbank Hollow coincides with a shattering mining accident that affects humans and canaries alike. In the tradition of E.B. White and George Selden, Madelyn Rosenberg has written an extraordinary novel starring unforgettable animals in an incredibly imaginative society.
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Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Bitty, a canary, tells the story of life in a small coal-mining town in West Virginia during the Depression. Miners carried the birds into the mines to detect the presence of toxic gases long before mechanical devices were invented and made affordable. Bitty lives in the big house, a large aviary in the bedroom of Jamie, a boy who rents out the canaries to the miners each day. The story does a nice job of describing the dangers and safety issues involved in the early mining industry. Bitty takes it upon himself to escape the aviary and travel to the state capital to try and lobby for safer working conditions and freedom for the birds. He meets a variety of animals and people along the way and touches on some historical events such as the construction of the state capitol dome. But historical references are fleeting, and the abundance of extraneous characters bogs down the story line. The mere mention of activist Mother Jones, who died before this story took place, and real names of state legislators and inventors do little to advance the plot. A Depression-era tale with talking animals gives this story a touch of whimsy, though, and Bitty's persistence will eventually reward those who make it to the conclusion.—Cheryl Ashton, Amherst Public Library, OH
Kirkus Reviews
The challenges of the coal-mining life from a working canary's point of view. Brave little Bitty is an earnest and dedicated yellow finch slaving away in a West Virginia coal mine. But the increasingly dangerous conditions in the mine soon inspire him to finesse an escape from Coalbank Hollow, hoping to meet with legislators in Charleston to better the miners' lot in life. His ambition is nothing less than to change the entire dynamics of the mining world. Bitty's sense of social justice eventually collides head-on with the future, as mine owners contemplate replacing gas-identifying canaries with "new-fangled machinery" like the "Whatchamacallit." In her author's note to this debut novel, picture-book writer Rosenberg reveals that her father's grandfather was once the owner of a coal mine (of the real Coalbank Hollow), albeit a more compassionate one than those portrayed in the book. Illuminating this complex world through the eyes of the canaries that are employed to protect workers is a charming and inventive concept. Happily, Bitty and his mates are often sweet and funny, as their lives inevitably intertwine with the human miners. But the middle of the story gets a tad mired in didactic details, slow pacing and ho-hum dialogue. Endearing and original, if a bit long and drawn-out. (Historical fantasy. 8-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780823427710
  • Publisher: Holiday House, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/12/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 140
  • Sales rank: 1,198,570
  • Age range: 8 - 12 Years
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Madelyn Rosenberg is a journalist and picture book author. Kirkus Reviews called THE SCHMUTZY FAMILY "delightful and unpretentious." This is her first novel for children. She lives in Virginia.
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