The challenges of the coal-mining life from a working canary’s point of view.
Brave little Bitty is an earnest and dedicated yellow finch slaving away in a West Virginia coal mine. But the increasingly dangerous conditions in the mine soon inspire him to finesse an escape from Coalbank Hollow, hoping to meet with legislators in Charleston to better the miners’ lot in life. His ambition is nothing less than to change the entire dynamics of the mining world. Bitty’s sense of social justice eventually collides head-on with the future, as mine owners contemplate replacing gas-identifying canaries with “new-fangled machinery” like the “Whatchamacallit.” In her author’s note to this debut novel, picture-book writer Rosenberg reveals that her father’s grandfather was once the owner of a coal mine (of the real Coalbank Hollow), albeit a more compassionate one than those portrayed in the book. Illuminating this complex world through the eyes of the canaries that are employed to protect workers is a charming and inventive concept. Happily, Bitty and his mates are often sweet and funny, as their lives inevitably intertwine with the human miners. But the middle of the story gets a tad mired in didactic details, slow pacing and ho-hum dialogue.
Endearing and original, if a bit long and drawn-out. (Historical fantasy. 8-12)