MIDDLE GRADE BOOK REVIEW: Canary in the Coal Mine by Madelyn Rosenberg


Tired of his twelve-hour shifts and facing danger daily, Bitty, a canary whose courage more than makes up for his small size, treks to the state capital to try to improve working conditions in coal mines.


Bitty is a mine canary.  He spends his days deep inside a mine waiting to be hit with unseen gas, which warns the miners that they need to get out. Unfortunately, many canaries die in the process. Bitty wants to change this so he comes up with a plan to escape the cage where he has spent his entire life and fly off in hopes of convincing someone to bring improvements to the mine. But the world has some surprises in store for him. Hawks, trains, inventors, and lazy pigeons teach Bitty a lot about the world and he realizes just how big a task he has set for himself.  But he is determined to get the legislature to listen to him, he just has to figure out a way to do it. And with the help of his canary friends and new friends he makes along the way, he just might do it.

What struck me the most about this book is how authentic it felt, despite the talking animals.  Many talking animal books have a strong feel of magic or make-belief connected to them.  This book felt real.  While the animals do talk to each other, the author does it in such a way that each species of animal is speaking its own language.  Other than the talking the animals behave in animal-like ways, flying, walking, drinking, etc.  The other thing that really struck me about this book was the optimism that Bitty exhibited.  No matter how bad things got or how impossible his mission seemed, he never gave up and this inspired those around him.  I think this message is so important, so many books contain such darkness that hope feels smothered.  Bitty is one of those heroes that you really cheer for and want to encourage.

In a book as short as this one, especially with such an important historical feel to it, it can be hard to create an appropriately detailed image of what life was like.  But the author does a great job with this, creating a heart-breakingly real picture of mining and the dangers associated with it, not just for the miners themselves but for their families as well. The historical aspects of this story are rather eye-opening. The book provides not only an entertaining and surprisingly believable story, but an important and informative one. Highly recommended. 



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