South Carolina, 1946. Most white families have many opportunities and lead prosperous lives, but black communities are struggling due to the Jim Crow laws.
In “The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA” by Brenda Woods, the reader is sent back in time to the middle of the Civil Rights movement and learns to understand the effects of racism from both sides.
Gabriel Haberlin is celebrating his twelfth birthday riding his brand-new bicycle around Birdsong, the small town where he lives. What starts out as a normal day almost turns into disaster when he accidentally rides his new bike into the path of a car driven by Betty Babcock, who Gabriel thinks of as the worst driver to ever sit behind a wheel.
Fortunately, a black man named Meriwether Hunter is able to push him out of the way in time and even repair his damaged bicycle. To repay him for saving both his bike and his life, Gabriel gives Meriwether a job at his father’s auto shop.
Because his bicycle has been confiscated for two weeks, Gabriel also decides to work at his father’s shop so that he can get some experience working and spend more time with Meriwether.
Meriwether is shown to have a knack for engineering and is soon the best engineer at the shop; He starts to develop a good reputation among many people in Birdsong…except for Lucas Shaw, the only other engineer at the shop.
Lucas looks down upon all “colored” people in Birdsong, and there are rumors that he might be associated with the Ku Klux Klan. Luckily, nothing too serious happens between him and Meriwether, and they are able to avoid each other most of the time.
One day, Meriwether decides to let a secret slip to Gabriel. At first, Gabriel doesn’t quite understand why it’s so important to keep private, but he still vows not to tell anyone. However, he quickly learns that if anyone finds out about it, it could result in an event even more tragic than the day he was almost run over on his bike.
“The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA” is a great piece of historical fiction. The book is only about 195 pages, but is still perfect for anyone ages 9 and up.