Canary in the Coal Mine
Working in a Virginia coal mine is a tough job at any time. But when it’s the Depression era and you’re a canary, options for a better life seem nonexistent – unless you are Bitty, the small feathered hero of this middle-grade novel. Bitty has plans – not just to escape, but to make his way to Charleston to petition the legislature for better working conditions for men and birds. Along the way he meets a bevy of birds and animals who offer him friendship and teach him the skills needed to survive in the city and complete his mission. Of course, every hero worth his salt has to have a nemesis, and Bitty’s is Cipher, a hawk insulted by one of Bitty’s cage mates, who follows him to Charleston bent on revenge.
This is an engaging book with both an unusual topic and perspective. Through the eyes of Bitty and his caregiver, the teenage Jamie, the legal, political, and social issues surrounding the mining industry are presented in a way that makes sense to the younger reader. The narrative is also well-written; Rosenberg’s descriptions of scenes and characters are economical but vivid. I have no criticism of the book as it stands, but at only 140 pages, strong middle-grade readers will find it a swift read; both I and my ten-year-old daughter would have liked more of Bitty’s world and adventures.
What I liked about Canary in the Coal Mine was the constant surprises. It would keep you on the edge of your seat thinking, “What will they do now?” My favorite character was Clarence. He was a pigeon, a little overweight, but he had a good heart. He helped Bitty out of trouble again and again, feeding him, giving him shelter, even introducing him to the government official who helped him make things better for the miners. I recommend this book for ages 8 to 12.
Beatrice Dobson, age 10