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The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  773 ratings  ·  171 reviews
The Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author tells the moving story of the friendship between a young white boy and a Black WWII veteran who has recently returned to the unwelcoming Jim Crow South.

On Gabriel's twelfth birthday, he gets a new bike--and is so excited that he accidentally rides it right into the path of a car. Fortunately, a Black man named Meriwether pushes h
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published January 8th 2019 by Nancy Paulsen Books
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Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
A very good middle school read about life in the Jim Crow South, following WWII. A young white boy growing up in a progressive, educated home (with parents educated at Oberlin College) turns 12, and is almost killed riding his new bicycle, but is saved by the quick action of a black handyman named Meriwether. The two strike us a friendship, resulting in Meriwether getting hired at the boy's father's gas station when a mechanic leaves for a woman. The other mechanic is most displeased, and may be ...more
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Such a strong and beautiful story between a boy and a soldier with a past bursting to be shared.
Kate Willis
I love it when I stumble across a book that opens my eyes to another piece of history, another part of the world, another person’s experience. Especially if it’s middle-grade fiction because somehow those are always more poignant while they are gentle.

I didn’t know much about the Black Panthers, and now I want to know more. *opens Wikipedia tab* I didn’t know about the disrespect and violence against black veterans returning from World War II. And I didn’t know about some of the more subtle ways
Oct 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
​Interest Level: 5-8

Have you ever made a big mistake but luckily someone was there to save you? Gabriel turns twelve and is so excited to get a brand new bike. He is so busy showing off and watching people watching him that he was not paying attention to the traffic light that had just turned red. He is just about to be hit by Mrs. Babcock and her big ole car when someone rushes in and pushes him out of the way. It was a black man named Meriwether who was sitting on the corner looking for a job.
Alex  Baugh
It's the summer of 1946 and in Birdsong, South Carolina, Gabriel Haberlin has just tuned 12 and received a brand new Schwinn Autocycle Deluxe for his birthday. Excited to test it out and show his friend Patrick, Gabe sets off not paying too much attention to a stoplight ahead of him that has just turned red, and it's too late for him to swerve out of the way of an oncoming car. Lucky for Gabe, someone pushes him out of way just in time.

That someone is Meriwether Hunter, a black man looking for w
Feb 03, 2019 rated it it was ok
This book was overly simplistic even for a middle grade audience. The biggest issue is that it falls under the “magical negro” trope which I am not a fan of. A young white boy, in the south, rides his new bike, and is saved by an older black man. They become friends and the boy gets the man a job at his dad’s garage. Man teaches boy lessons including that African Americans served with honor and distinction in WW2 and were then ‘punished’ when the returned home. While it’s important for kids to k ...more
This was a wonderful, MG book about life in the South after WWII. As with all historical fiction, it brought to light a hard truth in our past and it showcased it in a completely relatable way for kids to read about and understand. I had very little knowledge of this issue (the hardships black soldiers faced coming home from serving in WWII) and this book brought it to my attention. While the subject matter is important and deep, this book is a great example of how you can introduce those topics ...more
"Whenever possible, you gotta try to see the goings-on of life through more eyes than just your own, because that can help you see things more clearly. Sometimes it'll even let you see things the way they really are and give you peace of mind." Meriweather Hunter (quoted from uncorrected Advance Reader Copy)

Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crowe South, this historical fiction novel couldn't be more timely for middle grade readers. The unexpected friendship that develops between Gabriel and Me
This had the potential to be great, but the best language in the book was found in the first two pages, and it went downhill from there. Very simplistic writing with characters who over-explained everything in cheesy overly-Southern dialogue. "You can't just make your characters say how they feel! That makes me feel angry!" And it did make me feel angry, or exasperated on behalf of middle-years readers who don't need to be talked down to. "Wolf Hollow" is a shining example of a book that deals i ...more
Aug 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gabriel gets a new bike for his 12th birthday. He takes it out for a ride and is almost hit by a car. He is pushed to saftey by Meriwether Hunter, a back man who can fix anything! Gabriel is so grateful to Meriwether for saving his life and fixing his bicycle that he is able to get him a job at his father's garage. This does not sit well with Lucas Shaw, the other mechanic at the garage. Lucas is racist and a suspected member of the KKK.

Gabriel and Meriwether become friends. Gabriel soon learns
Richie Partington
Feb 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Richie’s Picks: THE UNSUNG HERO OF BIRDSONG, USA by Brenda Woods, Nancy Paulsen Books, January 2019, 208p., ISBN: 978-1-5247-3709-2

“You also had some very fine people on both sides.”
--Donald Trump, August 15, 2017

“Makes me wanna holler
The way they do my life”
-- Marvin Gaye “Inner City Blues” (1967)

“Ahead, the railroad tracks and small grocery store right beside them let me know that we were about to cross into what most folks around Birdsong refer to as The Other Side.
I come here now and then wi
✨ livia ✨
I usually don't read middle-grade books, but this was definitely a good one.

It covered topics such as the Second World War, the KKK, Jim Crow laws, and racism as a whole. It's a good book to give to children to teach them that people shouldn't be treated differently based on the colour of their skin. It's what's on the inside that counts.

The plot felt a little rushed, but it's a book for middle schoolers, so of course, it can't be that long.

I rated this four stars because middle-grade books a
Dee Dee G
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great book for young people to see what African Americans went through during segregation and also how they were treated when they came home from the war. Young Gabriel learns a lot from the black man that saved his life and ended up becoming his friend.
Michele Knott
Just read the first paragraph of this book, you won’t want to stop until every last word is written.
A book that shows change can begin with our young readers. It’s not too early to start asking questions.
And friendship. This book is about a really great friendship.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful book about race relations in post-WWII in Birdsong, SC. Loved every page! Great middle grade book.
May 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: meh
I did not Like the ending, But overall it was ok. It had a good story to it.
Sandy Brehl
FIrst, this is an exciting, heartwarming, and powerful story that will engage readers of many ages. It is a wonder how the post-WWII Jim Crow South was anchored as an integral force within this story, including details that "were not meant for someone so young", and yet unfolded naturally and credibly within the friendship of just-turned-twelve Gabriel and Black WWII veteran Merriweather. The nuance with which these two and each of the supporting characters rose from the story with individuality ...more
Jul 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020-reads
“Whenever possible, you gotta try to see the goings-on of life through more eyes than your own, because it can help you see things more clearly. Sometimes, it’ll even let you see things the way they really are and give you peace of mind.” This is just one of many highlighter worthy lines in The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA a middle grade novel set in the Jim Crow South. Told through the eyes of Gabriel, a young boy saved from an accident on his 12th birthday by a Black man who happens to be near ...more
Peggy Dynek
Aug 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A unique friendship develops between 12 year old Gabriel and adult Meriwether, an African-American man in the South. Gabriel's family is very progressive for the 1950's, and will make it an easier read for today's young people. Love this.
Dec 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a lovely story about a young boy and his quest to be a kind, decent human being. This felt like a To Kill a Mockingbird for middle grades. Highly recommend.
Max Yeshnowski
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much! It was so amazing and a definitely a must read! I cried at the end of this spectacular book because it was such a happy but sad ending. 10000000000/5 ⭐️
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
I adored this book, although some of my fourth graders found it to be slow. It was the perfect fit as a read aloud for our unit on Civil Rights. Woods conveyed the fear, danger, and maltreatment of being an African-American person in the south without being overly scary for my fourth graders. The friendship between Meri and Gabriel was so heart touching. I enjoyed some of the subtler references, emotions that were at play even though some was lost of my class.
Mary Lou
Feb 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“ The first time you meet someone, it’s the beginning of a brand-new unmapped trail, so there’s no way of knowing if that path is going to be a short one, a long one, or somewhere in between, or maybe one that takes you in a circle and therefore never ends.”

With such beautiful prose and realistic characters, this gem will surely be a winner with teachers and students.
Mr. Steve
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Yes, I loved it! Stories like this always make my blood boil, but it was written in a way which makes the story accessible to 8-10 year olds - a credit to the author. And I love how the title could refer to several different people. Well done!
May 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“...looking at things with more eyes than just your own lets you see things more clearly — maybe even see things the way they really are, not just the way you want them to be.”
Brenda Kahn
The voice in this little (I mean this in the best possible way) book is instantly engaging. So much so, I stayed up late to swallow it whole. Brenda Woods is the unsung hero of middle grade fiction. Seriously, every one of her novels clock in at under 200 pages and feature fascinating characters in unique situations. I can't think of a better way to introduce tween readers to the injustice and horror of Jim Crow south and the contributions of African American troops during WWII. Look for it on s ...more
Josephine Sorrell
Mar 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Suggestion for EBOB
The story is set in the 40’s in the Jim Crow era. We are in Birdsong which is just outside of Charleston, SC. Main character Gabriel has just received a bike for his birthday and is out for a test drive. As Gabriel pedals by, he sees Meriwether, who’s begging for a job on Main Street wearing a cardboard sign around his neck. He notices Gabriel pedal through a red light and pushes him out of the way of an oncoming car. Meriwether is a colored man. The author’s use of the word “
Ms. Yingling
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

For his twelfth birthday, Gabriel gets a brand new Schwinn bicycle, but almost comes to grief after running a red light. Luckily, a man pushes him out of the way of the oncoming car and saves him. Meriwether Hunter also helps fix the bike, and since he does such a good job and Gabriel's father is in need of a mechanic at his auto repair shop, Gabriel offers to talk to his father. The one snag? It's 1946 in South Carolina, and Mr. Hunter is black. Both of Gabriel's parent
Katie Reilley
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So grateful to Nancy Paulsen and Penguin Kids for sharing an ARC of this historical fiction MG novel with our #bookexpedition group!

This story features Gabriel, a 12 year old growing up in Birdsong, South Carolina post WWII, who develops a friendship with a man named Meriwether Hunter. Mr. Hunter saves Gabriel from being struck by a car while he’s out for a spin on his new bike.

There’s so much to love about this middle grade novel. The chapter beginnings will serve as a model for writing intro
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Brenda Woods was born in Ohio, grew up in Southern California, and attended California State University, Northridge. Her award-winning books for young readers include The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond (a CCBC choice and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book); the Coretta Scott King Honor winner The Red Rose Box; the ALAN Pick Saint Louis Armstrong Beach; and VOYA Top Shelf Fiction selection Emako Blu ...more

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