A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA, is, like author Brenda Woods' previous books, unafraid to deal with troublesome issues -- in this case, racial injustice in the Jim Crow South, 1946. And, like her other books, it does so with a light touch, thanks to seeing the world through the eyes of a carefree 12-year-old white boy who learns to see through other people's eyes after a life-changing experience and a friendship with the African American war veteran who rescues him. As strong, appealing characters deal with unjust situations, their feelings are relatable (sometimes tragically, sometimes hilariously) and their experiences leave the reader with lots to think about. The few moments of violence include when Gabriel narrowly escapes death when a car almost hits him; a racist leaves a rattlesnake in a gift box for a little black girl, who fortunately is not harmed; and a man who collapses of a heart attack and dies; adult characters tell of returning black veterans beaten, blinded, or killed for being publicly proud of their service.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
It's 1946 in Birdsong, South Carolina, and young Gabriel Haberlin, much-loved only child of the town's prosperous, white car dealer and gas station operator, gets a brand-new bike, runs a red light, and nearly ends up under the wheels of a neighbor's Buick. Fortunately, THE UNSUNG HERO OF BIRDSONG, USA, a black man named Meriwether Hunter -- a war hero from World War II who isn't getting the honor awarded his white counterparts. He's also a skilled mechanic and is soon working for Gabriel's father, who believes in treating everybody with respect and fairness. As the two families get to know each other, Gabriel starts to see, through the eyes of his new friends, some things he's never much noticed.
Is it any good?
This well-told, relatable story focuses on a well-off white boy beginning to see and understand racism in the Jim Crow South after World War II. Author Brenda Woods has a knack for telling engaging stories about young characters dealing with new challenges -- here, a 12-year-old white kid in 1946 South Carolina. As young Gabriel emerges from a near-death experience, he becomes friends with his African American rescuer and starts to notice a lot of racist behavior and discrimination that he'd never really noticed before. Woods raises a lot of thought-provoking issues, viewed through the eyes of a young character who's sometimes hilariously flawed (his convoluted explanation of why it was all his parents' fault that he disobeyed them and took the bike out for a forbidden ride is a work of art) but basically a good kid trying to do right. As in this post-escapade moment when The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA gives wise counsel and Gabriel takes heed:
"'Resistin' temptation builds strength. We fail when we give in to it.'
"'So, I failed?'
"'Yes, my young friend, you failed. But what's important now is whether you fail again.' He took another bite from his apple.
"...This was going to be hard, but I was determined not to fail again."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about stories that take place in the South during the segregation era. What issues and experiences do they address? How does The Unsung Hero of Birdsong County compare with other stories you've read about that time?
Segregation is illegal in most places these days, but racism is very much with us. Do people you know get treated differently because of their skin color? How do they handle it?
Have you ever done something you knew was wrong -- or maybe just thought about doing something you knew was wrong -- and come up with a really good argument about how it was the right thing to do all along? What happened?
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