Boxing has never been a topic of great interest to me personally. When I was growing up I mostly knew boxing from The Happiest Millionaire and from my dad telling me stories of how he and his dad followed boxers in the late 1950s and 1960s. Even now, my exposure to boxing comes primarily from reading children’s books about Cassius Clay and other famous boxers.
In Bird in a Box, Andrea Pinkney successfully captures not only the drama and excitement of a boxing match, leaving me on the edge of my seat as I followed play by play recounting of boxing matches along with the adults and children who were listening. But she also captures the way that boxing, and especially the boxer Joe Louis, was a focus of depression era African American culture.
The story focuses on three children: Otis, Willie, and Hibernia. Otis and Willie live in an orphanage, though Willie is there escaping an abusive father. Hibernia lives with her father, though her mother is also absent, having left to pursue dreams of fame. Their lives intersect through their love of Joe Louis, but more over through the work of Lilly Wiess, a white woman who works in the orphanage and attends Hibernia’s father’s church. Lilly is an odd character, almost out of place, with ideas that bring her in conflict with those around her. While I like Lily, I wish her character had been explained more fully.
This slim volume would be a nice choice for sports fans and reluctant readers who need a historical fiction recommendation for school. Not a perfect book, but a good choice for public libraries.