Joseph McCoy is a budding spy and the “best shoeshine in Elsinore, California.”
In 1935, Joseph shines shoes to earn money. During a shoeshine, the 11-year-old African American boy learns that a segregated company of the Civilian Conservation Corps will be setting up camp outside of town near his home, where he and older sister Maya, who has lost the use of her legs to polio, keep pigeons. When he’s one dime short for birdseed, he asks town oddball Mr. Healey, a poor white man, if he can shine his shoes to earn the money. An unlikely rapport develops between the two. Joseph finds an additional way to earn money when he meets George, a black CCC member who pays him to find some pigeons. When a white woman who protested the arrival of the corps is accidentally knocked down by George, a campaign ensues to have the CCC removed from the town, and racial tensions heighten. The story unfolds smoothly, with lots of action; faux newspaper articles and other “archival” material are interspersed between chapters. The author’s skillful blend of fact and fiction is backed up by fascinating backmatter that includes black-and-white photographs and easy-to-decipher infographics. Although racial hostility is on display in abundance, the text does not include racial slurs.
Historical facts are woven into the story with such finesse readers will be eager to learn more. (Historical fiction. 8-12)