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.
When this fourth grade teacher invited me to her class, I was distracted by the first part of the email where she told me that students don’t use the public library because of the internet. So I didn’t realize until shortly before the presentation what exactly she wanted, which was booktalks and not a presentation on libraries. Since it was a last second switch, I selected books I’d recently read and that sort of connected. The theme was children in the past, which lead into a presentation on slavery. Our county’s reading program has been slave narratives, and I was promoting a program I’d planned.
I book talked three books:
1. Knucklehead, a memoir of growing up in the 1960’s that is laugh out loud funny, and a crowd pleaser.
2. One Crazy Summer, a recent award winner, and the story of three girls in Oakland and the Black Panther movement. The kids were dying to know what was in the kitchen that Delphine’s mother wouldn’t let them see, but I wouldn’t tell them. I’m hoping some one picked the book up to find out. I’ll be back in a couple of weeks to find out!
3. Elijah of Buxton, an older title, but a surprising favorite. Even the teacher was amazed that four or five of her kids had read this. Several of the kids had already moved onto Bud, Not Buddy. It is always a mixed blessing to recommend books to people they’ve already read and loved, it means I’m on the right track, but that this one will not work.
The last title was a good transition to my presentation on slavery, as I had brought a picture of the school class at Buxton along with other pictures and documents on slavery. Even the kids who had read the book were interested in the pictures and finding out about the real place the book was based on.
Because the presentation is kind of a downer, especially because many of the children had no idea about slavery, I ended up reading Tadpole’s Promise, which the kids enjoyed. Though a couple told me it wasn’t the happy ending I’d promised them!