The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA (Hardcover)

The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA By Brenda Woods Cover Image
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The Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author tells the moving story of the friendship between a young white boy and a Black WWII veteran who has recently returned to the unwelcoming Jim Crow South.

On Gabriel's twelfth birthday, he gets a new bike--and is so excited that he accidentally rides it right into the path of a car. Fortunately, a Black man named Meriwether pushes him out of the way just in time, and fixes his damaged bike. As a thank you, Gabriel gets him a job at his dad's auto shop. Gabriel's dad hires him with some hesitation, however, anticipating trouble with the other mechanic, who makes no secret of his racist opinions.  

Gabriel and Meriwether become friends, and Gabriel learns that Meriwether drove a tank in the Army's all-Black 761st Tank Battalion in WWII. Meriwether is proud of his service, but has to keep it a secret because talking about it could be dangerous. Sadly, danger finds Meriwether, anyway, when his family receives a frightening threat. The South being the way it is, there's no guarantee that the police will help--and Gabriel doesn't know what will happen if Meriwether feels forced to take the law into his own hands.

About the Author

Brenda Woods was born in Ohio, grew up in Southern California, and attended California State University, Northridge. Her award-winning books for young readers include The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond (a CCBC choice and a Kirkus Reviews Best Book); the Coretta Scott King Honor winner The Red Rose Box; the ALAN Pick Saint Louis Armstrong Beach; and VOYA Top Shelf Fiction selection Emako Blue. Woods’s numerous awards and honors include the Judy Lopez Memorial Book Award, the FOCAL International Award, and the ILA Children’s Choice Young Adult Fiction Award. She lives in the Los Angeles area. To learn more, visit

Praise For…

“Woods casts a much needed spotlight on the history of African-American troops in World War II.”—The New York Times Book Review
“The story encourages trying to consider situations from other people’s perspectives.”—The Washington Post

“If Opie Taylor from The Andy Griffith Show wrote a book about Mayberry’s racism, the voice would be that of Gabriel Haberlin, the 12-year-old white boy who is saved from near tragedy by Meriwether Hunter, a ‘colored’ man. . . . The author’s use of the word ‘colored’ isn’t gratuitous—the book’s setting is Birdsong, South Carolina, in 1946. The word also sets the tone of the town’s postwar racial references and bigotry. . . . An affecting—and realistic—story. Another stellar outing from the always-solid Woods.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"True friendships defy age, gender, race, and other obstacles. . . . Woods writes an important story of racism in small town, USA in the aftermath of WWII. Told through the eyes of a child, the reader witnesses the confusion and turmoil present within the country and its citizens when black soldiers, who fought for their country’s freedom, returned home and found that they weren’t celebrated as heroes and that their rights were still unequal. Brenda Woods’ characters are complex, yet relatable. Her plot beautifully told, yet heartbreaking. Her message long-standing, yet relevant even today. This is a must-have for all classroom and school libraries and would be an excellent companion book to US history studies of this time period."—School Library Connection, starred review

“Even readers who have been taught about segregation in the South are likely to deepen their knowledge of the nuanced history through the novel’s handling of how white and African-American veterans were treated differently after WWII. The characters of impressionable Gabriel and Meriwether, whose patience is tried by society’s unfair rules, ring true as the story shows that ‘the world, including Birdsong USA, isn’t always pretty.’”—Publishers Weekly

“There are many books that show segregation and its corrosive effects through the eyes of both white and black children, and in Gabriel's engaging first-person narrative, one can almost see the wheels turning as he realizes what life is like for Hunter and his family, especially after he learns the vet can't speak of his distinguished service due to white attitudes. . . . Gabriel's strong and questioning voice will have appeal for middle-graders, and the story will give them a history lesson as well.”Booklist

“Gabriel witnesses the fear, pain, anger, and sense of powerlessness faced by African Americans living under Jim Crow. This title presents the reality of racism in the mid-20th century, as seen through the perspective of a young white boy. Hand to readers looking for historical fiction or those who enjoy the works of Christopher Paul Curtis and Rita Williams Garcia.”—School Library Journal

Product Details
ISBN: 9781524737092
ISBN-10: 1524737097
Publisher: Nancy Paulsen Books
Publication Date: January 8th, 2019
Pages: 208
Language: English