A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba


A Bird on Water Street by Elizabeth O. Dulemba

Thirteen-year-old Jack Hicks loves everything about Coppertown-his family and friends, barbecues and Friday music nights, and his best friend's beautiful sister, Hannah. Everything, that is, except for what keeps the community thriving and drove out nature long ago-mining. Living in a treeless landscape that looks like the moon, he yearns to see bugs and birds and frogs outside of books. Jack hates the mine where so many of his relatives have died, but how can he tell that to his dad, who wants him to follow in the family trade? When the miners strike, Jack is thrilled that green and growing things at last have a chance to return to the red hills. But when that same strike threatens to close the mine and force people to leave Coppertown for new homes and jobs, Jack finds himself struggling to hold on to everything he loves most.


Appropriate for children in grades 4 -8, A Bird on Water Street is a coming-of-age story about growing up in an East Tennessee mining community during the 1980s. Although Jack lives in an area that has been ravaged by poor mining practices, he is a typical boy who likes baseball and hanging out with his best friend. His dad has a good job in the copper mine and life is good for the most part. But then things change. Jack s uncle is killed in a mining accident, the mining company implements a massive layoff, and the remaining overworked men (including Jack s dad) go on strike. The strike has expected consequences: stores close, people move away, Jack s family has to survive on a shoestring budget, and the company eventually closes the mine. In the midst of the suffering, however, the environment begins to heal. Jack s garden begins to grow, tadpoles develop in tailings ponds, and a bird is seen on Water Street. I m not going to give away the ending, but I will say that it is satisfying. Dulemba s book is not a celebration of mining, but it does celebrate the spirit of the men who work in mines. Jack comes from a long line of miners, and his father wants Jack to be a miner too. Jack, however, wants to work above ground at 13 he has been to too many funerals for people who have either died in mining accidents or as the result of mining related illnesses. On the other hand, his friend Piran, whose father is the town s postmaster, would like to grow up to be a miner because the miners are the royalty of Coppertown in his eyes, and he finds the underground environment appealing. The author even pays homage to the Harmon and Hicks families of Beech Mountain, North Carolina in a scene where Jack s mother entertains her husband and son with Jack Tales while they are stranded during an ice storm. In fact, Jack s father is named Ray Hicks (the real Ray Hicks was a National Heritage Fellow and noted teller of Jack Tales). The author breathes life into her characters. Readers can relate to Jack s agony when he sees the girl he likes with an unsuitable boyfriend or his sense of wonder with the sounds and colors of the natural world outside of his barren community. Dulemba s description of parents who are trying to act normal when the world they know is falling apart is right on target. Even the lunar-like landscape of Coppertown feels like a well-developed character changing from a barren wasteland into an environment that can begin to support plants, trees, and animals. Although the story is fiction, Coppertown is modeled after Copperhill, Tennessee. In an Author s Note, Dulemba gives a brief history of the Copper Basin region as well as information on Appalachian culture. She also includes several photographs of the Copper Basin that readers should find fascinating. Elizabeth Dulemba is an award-winning author/illustrator of children s books. She is a Visiting Associate Professor at Hollins University in the MFA program in Children s Book Writing and Illustration. A Bird on Water Street, her first novel, is well written and engaging, and is heartily recommended for public and school libraries, as well as academic libraries with juvenile collections.--Kathy Campbell Tennessee Libraries

About the Author

Elizabeth O. Dulemba has written or illustrated over two dozen books for children, including her historical fiction debut A Bird on Water Street, winner of more than a dozen literary awards. She received a BFA from the University of Georgia, served as Illustrator Coordinator for the southern region of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and served as a Board Member for the Georgia Center for the Book. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Illustration from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. During the summers, she hops across the pond to teach Picture Book Design in the MFA in Writing and Illustrating Children's Books program at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. She enjoys traveling and seeing new sights with her husband, Stan. Visit Elizabeth online at dulemba.com.

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Book Info


270 pages
Interest Age: From 9


Elizabeth O. Dulemba
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Publication date

7th May 2014



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