Josephine's Reviews > The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA

The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA by Brenda Woods
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it was amazing
bookshelves: newbery-2020, 2020-bob

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 “colored” isn’t derogatory yet it is fitting to the setting. The word also sets the tone of the town’s postwar racial references and bigotry. The Negro Motorist Green Book, is mentioned in the story where traveling Black families could find friendly bathrooms, gas stations, restaurants and lodging. You will notice Mrs. Betty Babcock, the white woman who nearly kills Gabriel, addresses Meriwether as “boy.” This part contains much humor as Mrs. Betty drives Gabriel home. She must be the worst driver in town but she thinks she is the best. Gabriel doesn’t like the way the Blacks are treated, says his parents “taught me differently”—and seeks out Meriwether to offer him a job at his father’s garage out of gratitude. Daddy is reluctant, but his best mechanic has just left town leaving him with just Lucas. But after meeting Gabriel’s grateful parents, Meriwether is offered the job and accepts the offer. Great care is taken to keep Meriwesther’s and Lucas Shaw’s paths from crossing. Lucas is white and rumored to have friends in the Ku Klux Klan.

Despite being a master mechanic, the town’s multitudinous racism keeps Meriwether from admitting where he honed his mechanical skills. If the fact is revealed, it could bring harm to him and his family: One day Meriwether can stand it no longer and reveals to his friend Gabriel that he was in the Army, where he was a member of the 761st Tank Battalion, also called the Black Panthers. The story takes a sudden turn as Lucas finds out who Meriwether‘ sprout past and turns his hated on Meriwether’s innocent family. How that fact affects Gabriel and Meriwether’s friendship and Birdsong itself makes for an affecting—and realistic—story.
Realistic characters and a good view of the south in 1946 for young readers.
(afterword, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

The author ends her acknowledgements with a simple and profound statement: “Good humans come in all Colors.”

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Reading Progress

January 16, 2019 – Shelved
January 16, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
January 16, 2019 – Shelved as: newbery-2020
March 4, 2019 – Started Reading
March 6, 2019 – Shelved as: 2020-bob
March 6, 2019 – Finished Reading

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