A Bird on Water Street

247p. Little Pickle. 2014. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9781939775054.
Gr 5–8—The men in Jack's family have always worked the mines. The 13-year-old has already lost his grandfather and his uncle to cave-ins and explosions, and he lives in fear of a similar accident taking the life of his father. In the mid-1980s, the Southern Appalachian Coppertown is a barren, desolate place, long stripped of trees and grass by a century of mining. Jack doesn't know how to tell his family that he has no desire to follow in his father's footsteps, and he dreams of green trees rather than the moonlike landscape of his Tennessee town. When many of the workers are laid off, the remaining miners organize a strike, thinking that the owners will remedy their unfair actions with better wages and safety conditions. The strike comes at the beginning of the holidays, resulting in a Christmas celebration that is sparser than usual but more meaningful as the community draws together. As the shutdown continues into the spring, Jack notices small signs of life returning to his toxically ravaged town—frog eggs in a shallow pool, a few weeds. He helps the growth along, starting a vegetable garden with his mom and planting a tree in his yard. The company eventually announces that it is closing the mine down for good. What could be a hopeless situation is made tolerable as the families come together to find other work opportunities and enjoy the strange sensation of seeing bugs and birds again. Historic photographs and an author's note round out a tender story of families and friendships against the backdrop of harsh economic conditions. Hand this quiet tale to fans of Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Barbara O'Connor.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

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