The Someday Birds

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
The Someday Birds Book Poster Image
Unlikely hero of family adventure delivers hopeful message.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

Lots of information about birds and their habitats. Cultural and historical information is gathered in different locations throughout the story. The war in Sarajevo is touched upon, as is the purpose of war correspondents. The narrator is on the autism spectrum, so the reader sees life through his lens, giving insights into living with a disability.

Positive messages

Family is the most important thing, even when life is difficult. People with developmental challenges are human too. Even when situations seem bleak, miracles can happen.

Positive role models & representations

Charlie loves routines, but when his routine is completely upended, he finds ways to cope with change. Ludmilla, the babysitter with the funny accent, lets the kids get to know her story. She has survived the Bosnian war, has seen her family perish, and is still interested in being a positive influence in the world. Charlie's dad is a single dad who really cares about his kids. 


Descriptions of war include family members having died, tales of a former dog park that was turned into a killing field, the kids' father being critically injured in Afghanistan while his driver dies in the explosion. These are not graphic descriptions, but they pack an emotional punch. Themes of death and grieving include the fact that Charlie's mother died when he was young, and his father has suffered a severe brain injury.


Charlie observes his 15-year-old sister Davis flirting with many different boys after she has broken up with her boyfriend. He sees the boyfriend put his hand on her knee, and it's implied that they might spend the night together.


"Damn," "Jesus." Grandma is the one who swears in the book, not the kids.


Sparse mention of every day brands like Doritos, Mountain Dew, Walmart.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

A soldier smokes a cigarette in an important scene in the story.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sally J. Pla's debut novel The Someday Birds is narrated by a 12-year-old boy named Charlie, whose father has returned from the conflict in Afghanistan with a critical head injury. Charlie, who lost his mother when he was very young, is on the autism spectrum. The story is narrated through his point of view, giving readers insights into what facial cues mean to someone who can't recognize expressions, for example. Emotionally charged with references to war, injury, and loss, this book is also upbeat and hopeful. And -- bonus-- as the story unfolds, kids will pick up lots of information about birds and their habitats, as well as cultural and historical information.

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What's the story?

In THE SOMEDAY BIRDS, Charlie likes his hands really clean, he likes watching and cataloging birds, he likes chicken nuggets, and he does not like change. If he could wear clean socks, sleep under his own sheets, have a routine, then things would be fine. However, life has thrown Charlie's family some serious curve balls, and for the duration of a summer, Charlie's routine is completely upended. His father and grandmother have to go to another state for some treatment, and Charlie's siblings decide to take matters into their own hands. Much to his dismay, Charlie is forced to make a lot of changes. But with the help of his bird book and his siblings, he learns that no matter what, he's going to be OK.

Is it any good?

This colorful adventure with a lot of heart gives voice to a couple of unlikely heroes. In The Someday Birds, author Sally J. Pla creates a memorable narrator who has more quirks than even he can catalog. And Charlie is a cataloguer of many things -- birds being his main preoccupation. Clean bathrooms, chicken nuggets, names he has been called, and strange smells also make the list. The lovely thing about Pla's writing is that Charlie's abnormality is perfectly normal to him. He struggles to maintain acceptable behavior, knowing that he will be ridiculed for any outbursts. But he grows, and readers are privy to that growth without getting hit over the head by it. When Charlie's dad is transferred from San Diego to a hospital in Virginia, Charlie finds himself on the ride of his life. His siblings are on their own rides as well, growing in their own ways.

It's a colorful story with plot twists that are incredible, yet believable. What surprises the most is that at its heart, The Someday Birds is very much about the effects of war. All of the characters in the book have been touched by it. Though war happens somewhere else, or in a different time, its reach is felt. Survival is a theme here, and beyond that thriving as a unique member of a group provides a thrumming message of hope. Like a harbinger of spring flitting through a gray sky, The Someday Birds is a welcome arrival.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how disability is portrayed in The Someday Birds. Everyone in Charlie's family seems to get frustrated with his behavior. How do their perceptions of Charlie change as the story progresses?

  • What kinds of conversations are you having with your family about war and terrorism we hear about in the news? How do you feel about it? Helpless? Afraid? How do the characters in this book cope with the effects of war?

  • Does seeing life through Charlie's eyes help you understand autism better? Does reading a book with a character who has challenges deepen your understanding of people like Charlie? Name three ways that books, movies, and TV help you have more sympathy for others.

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