I like to try a real mix of books when I’m reading and reviewing for children. It would be so easy to go down the safe route of picking out the latest David Walliams or Jacqueline Wilson to read and review. I know millions of children want these books and millions of parents will buy them.
But that’s one of the reasons why I don’t always review the hot new releases. There are lots and lots of reviews out there if you want to know what the latest must read for children is going to offer you. There are far less reviews of more obscure offerings, and yet children’s literature and publishing is a boom industry. New authors are being published all the time, old authors are being rediscovered. Authors who are well established in other countries are being translated into English. These are the books I want to know about. These are the books I want to share with you.
What happens when your child has exhausted the supply of Jacqueline Wilson books or Michael Morpurgo books and wants something different to fill in the gaps between publication dates?
Well, you need to look further afield.
You could, for example, try Andrea Davis Pinkney’s ‘Bird In A Box.’
Pinkney, it seems, is a well established American author, who specialises in writing fictionalised versions of American history.
In this book she tells the story of the rise of the black boxer, Joe Louis as seen through the eyes of three children who are living through the great depression, and who each have their own story to tell.
We meet Hibernia, whose greatest ambition is to be a singer on stage. Her father, a preacher, is afraid to let her follow her dream, because Hibernia’s mother ran off to pursue a life on the stage when Hibernia was just a baby, leaving him heartbroken and with a young girl to raise alone.
We meet Otis, whose father and mother were the greatest joy of his life, and who gave his life hope, and meaning. When they are killed in a car accident in which Otis is the only survivor, Otis ends up in an orphanage, suffering with night terrors and not knowing how to cope with his grief.
We meet Willie, a young boy with a great boxing career ahead of him, but whose life seems to have been ruined by a drunken, violent father and a mother who is too afraid to run away.
Their stories entwine with the story of Louis and his amazing career, and their friendship grows alongside his path to becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.
The story is rich in historical detail, and beautifully observed nuances which really bring the book to life. My synopsis has made the book sound miserable, but I honestly didn’t find it to be a sad read at all. It is full of vivid moments and the sad parts are always underpinned by a sense of hope and joy. It is a proper, feel good read.
I would recommend the book for both boys and girls aged 8-14. There are a couple of episodes of violence in the book, which younger readers might find upsetting. I thought they were absolutely necessary to the plot and were balanced by the practical way in which the author describes the scenes but frames them in the bigger picture, giving them meaning and purpose.
The font is nice and clear. There is lots of white space on the page, and there are some wonderful silhouette style illustrations by Sean Qualls which make the book a good read for a transitional reader, not yet ready for the full novel style.