Middler Books and More

This blog contains Bruce DuBoff's book reviews, info on other media, and related topics. It is a collaboration between the librarian and both the students of Pennsauken Intermediate School and Phifer Middle School in Pennsauken, NJ, and the general middler book reading community. The books featured here are appropriate for grades 5-8, though not all books reviewed here are appropriate for all of those ages.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Rinaldi, Ann. The Ever-After Bird--3 out of 4 stars
Anyone who thinks ornithology is a quiet, solitary, placid hobby has never read The Ever-After Bird by New Jersey’s own Ann Rinaldi. This engaging and moving Underground Railroad tale plunges readers into an odd world of gentility and savagery as Ms. Rinaldi presents the pre-Civil War South in all of its fractured elegance and poorly-masked hypocrisy while portraying not only the commitment to freedom that saved the United States but also the transformative ideals and images that could sway almost anyone to the abolitionists’ side.
CeCe McGill is a lonely 13-year-old growing up in challenging times. Her widowed father seems more interested in helping runaway slaves than in raising CeCe, and she resents his choice of ragged strangers over his flesh and blood: “I couldn’t understand him risking his life for all those negroes who came to our door in the middle of the night looking like something the cat dragged in” (3). When Mr. McGill is killed in a dispute over some runaways under his protection, CeCe is sent to live with her Uncle Alex and Aunt Elise in Ripley, OH. Uncle Alex is a doctor and naturalist painter about to embark on a quest to find and paint the extremely rare scarlet ibis, also known as the ever-after bird, the bird that slaves believe will set them free if they see it. But Uncle Alex’s true passion, like his brother, is abolitionism. When he travels to spot and paint (and kill if necessary) birds on Southern plantations, he also assists slaves: “‘I offer them advice on how to escape. I map out their route north and tell them where the safe houses are . . . Sometimes I give the slaves small sums of money for the trip’” (49). Although CeCe thinks the abolitionists’ cause is too risky with too little reward, her greatest challenge may come from Earline, Uncle Alex’s African-American assistant. Earline resents CeCe’s presence because she fears the loss of Uncle Alex’s attention, and CeCe considers Earline “uppity” because she has never been close to free African-Americans and Earline’s independence is alien to CeCe. Uncle Alex advises CeCe to work with Earline because they may need each other more than they realize: “‘The day may come . . . when you have to defend each other’” (70). When Earline falls for their white driver and they are caught together on a Southern plantation, CeCe must decide her priorities and make the most important and potentially painful decision of her life.
Some novels depend on rich characterization and imagery for success; others simply present a solid plot, capably written. Ann Rinaldi’s latest effort belongs to the latter category. This is an important and moving story, and students will appreciate its brisk movement. Although the characters are not vividly presented, this does not detract from the power of the story; they still say and do what they need to in order to move the story forward. The Ever-After Bird is an effective novel that demonstrates the potential for goodness and positive change under duress, and it demonstrates how far race relations have come as it suggests how far we still need to go to make lasting peace with each other.


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