Dear FCC: I received an Advance Review Copy of this book from ALA Midwinter in January. That's right, I'm still working through my pile of ARCs. Don't make fun of me. I'm savoring them.
Reader Gut Reaction: I have to say right off that I don't necessarily gravitate toward Great Depression stories (or historical fiction in general), and I'm not a fan of boxing as a sport, but although Bird in a Box does include these elements, I ended up really enjoying the story. It doesn't pull punches about how difficult life could be at the time, but it is still a heartwarming and ultimately optimistic story of friendship that would be great for middle grade readers.
Concerning Character: The three main characters, Otis, Willie, and Hibernia (or Bernie), are very distinctly drawn but all three are equally relatable. They're all growing up a little too fast, not simply because times are hard, but also because they've all experienced personal loss and family troubles. Fortunately, they find each other—and a cat named Bird—at the exact right time. The adult characters, though not the focus of the story, are integral to the children's lives, and I particularly enjoyed Bernie's relationship to her father as well as the kindheartedness of the orphanage caretaker Lila Weiss. Even Joe Louis feels very real thanks to the well-researched historical details (e.g. actual radio transcripts that have been incorporated into the text).
Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories about kids growing up during the depression, like Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis or Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. Historical stories about coming of age as an African American, like our own Tanita Davis's Mare's War.
Themes & Things: The characters in this story learn how to cross various social divides thanks to the bonds of friendship, shared loss, and shared joy. They also learn the importance of determination and aspiration—the fact that having a life goal you truly believe in can keep you going during difficult times.
You can find Bird in a Box at an independent bookstore near you!