Parents, Children, Work, and Income Insecurity

Birdie’s Billions – written by Edith Cohn
Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2021

It’s Labor Day. Being a hardworking single parent is not easy, a fact of which Birdie Loggerman is well aware. Her father is in prison. Her mother works for a cleaning service, and Birdie often accompanies her on the job. When an ill-positioned skateboard knocks over a pricey glass figurine, Birdie’s carelessness costs her family their only source of income.  One of the best features of Edith Cohn’s upcoming middle-grade novel is honesty about the pressures children confront when they feel responsible for adult problems.  At the same time, Birdie’s life is not one of relentless deprivation. Her mother loves her. In spite of being unemployed, she remains optimistic and maintains a sense of stability, if somewhat precarious, in her daughter’s life.  Then Birdie finds some money in a wall.

The Loggermans have recently moved from a working-class neighborhood to toney Valley Lake, where Ms. Loggerman hopes to provide a better school and overall environment for her daughter.  But Birdie stands out in this community, where most parents seem to have an unending supply of money, giving their children all the advantages which the Loggermans will never know.  Of course, these hovering parents also specialize in handing out useless material clutter, and in devising lavish and pointless experiences for their fortunate kids.  Cohn is skilled at portraying these rich people not as complete villains, but they are pretty bad at offering the unconditional love which Ms. Loggerman intuitively understands.  Still, even the most supportive parent, when she can’t pay the rent, cannot prevent her child from wondering, “Why did some people have so much and some people so little?”

The novel’s plot twists are intricate.  There are many secondary characters, from their neighbor, Jesse, a security guard, to Hailey, Birdie’s on-and-off best friend.  Hailey’s mother is deeply suspicious of her daughter’s friendship with a girl from the wrong side of the tracks.  While Hailey’s home, from Birdie’s perspective, is just short of Downtown Abbey in luxury, the apartment complex from which the Loggermans face possible eviction is depressing:

Woodcroft had colorful chip bags…tumbling across the parking lot like confetti, the         occasional rolling soda can and wind-whipped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups wrappers. Nicer apartment complexes came with playgrounds or pools, but at Woodcroft kids played basketball in the parking lot using a trash can as a goal and dodging cars backing out as they ran.

Birdie’s elaborate plan to save her family from poverty seems as if it might work, from a child’s point of view. There is significant dramatic tension; Birdie hates the prejudiced view of herself and her family held by Hailey’s mom, but also acknowledges that some of her choices look dishonest, even criminal.  Is she doomed to become like her father, or can she resolve the painful conflicts that seem too much for a girl her age to handle?  While some events seem convenient for concluding the story in a satisfying way, they are all plausible.  Young readers will definitely identify with Birdie’s dilemma, and adults can appreciate Ms. Loggerman’s triumph.  It’s truly a relief to know that she is going to give the heartless Clean as a Whistle cleaning service a run for their money.

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