The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

The Someday Birds

Sally J. Pla, Author

Harper Collins, Fiction, Jan. 24, 2017

Suitable for Age: 8-12

Themes: Birding, Family Relationships, Road Trip, Injured Father, Autism Spectrum, Different Abilities, Hope

Opening: “My hands aren’t really clean until I’ve washed them twelve times, one for each year of my life. I soap-rinse-one-soap-rinse-two, open my palms to scalding water, and repeat.  I do it quick, so no one notices…”

Book Jacket Synopsis:  Charlie wishes his life could be as predictable and simple as chicken nuggets. And it usually is. He has his clean room, his carefully organized sketchbooks and colored pencils, his safe and comfortable routines.

But his perfectly ordinary life has unraveled ever since his war-journalist father was injured in Afghanistan. Now his life consists of living with Gram, trips to the hospital, and wishing things were back to normal.

When his father heads from California to Virginia for further medical treatment, Charlie reluctantly travels cross-country with his boy-crazy sister, unruly twin brothers, and a mysterious new family friend, Ludmila. Charlie loves birding. Along the way he decides that if he can spot all the birds that he and his father have hoped to see someday, then maybe just maybe, everything might turn out okay.

Why I like this book:

This is a heartwarming, compelling and hopeful debut novel by Sally J. Pla.  It is convincingly written  with skill and compassion. The family is in crisis mode. Charlie’s father has suffered a traumatic brain injury and is not responsive. It’s difficult for the siblings to deal with the unknown, especially since they’ve already lost their mother. Fortunately they have Gram to ground them.

The characters are rich, messy and real. Charlie narrates and guides readers through the trials of a 12-year-old who is trying to navigate a world that he doesn’t understand. His views are brutally honest and sometimes hilarious. Charlie’s voice makes this story sing. Kudos to the author for not labeling Charlie as being on the autism spectrum. His siblings treat him as their annoying brother with quirky behaviors and different abilities, like birding. Readers will cheer for Charlie as he steps outside his comfort zone, takes some risks and has a little fun. Gram is stern and loving, but amuses her grandkids with her sideways swearing with phrases like bee-hind, flipping heck and gosh-dang. Ludmila has an Eastern European accent and a painful story to share.

The setting is vivid and realistic with an adventurous cross-country road trip for the siblings with Ludmila behind the wheel of a camper, Old Bessie. They visit observatories, national parks, museums along their way. The plot is multi-layered with many themes. It is fast-moving with suspense, surprises and endearing moments. It is a story that celebrates family, heart, connection, love, humor and hope. Their  journey is one of healing and acceptance for everyone.

Even though this book is targeted towards middle grade readers, it is a book that would appeal to older teens and adults. This novel is a treasure! You may want to visit Sally J. Pla’s website.

Resources: April is World and National Autism Month. You may want to check out the following links for more information: Autism Society, Autism Speaks, Autism Acceptance Month, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

43 thoughts on “The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla

  1. Thanks Patricia. It does sound like a very engaging, if sad, story. These words “celebrates family, heart, connection, love, humor and hope. Their journey is one of healing and acceptance for everyone.” reassure me that it does more to warm the heart than make it sad though.

    • Norah, this is by no means a sad story. Yes the father has a brain injury, but the focus is on the journey each of the kids make on their trip to visit him. Charlie is an avid birder and actually gives a sense of calm to the story as he finds his way. Remarkable story. Loved reading this book!

  2. This sounds like a terrific book. Have been in a middle-grade reading mode lately (just finished Best Man and currently reading The Warden’s Daughter). Will add it to my list. Great review, Pat!

    • I adore middle grade books and love the selections. I feel like I’m reading books I missed out on as a teen — there is so much more available. I’m so glad you are reading the Warden’s Daughter, I loved it. The Someday Birds is a real gem and I own a copy — I will read it again. The author starts each chapter with a quote about birds that relates to life and helps Charlie figure out his world. Such a beautiful story!

    • It is a well-crafted story. And, I loved the theme of birding running throughout the story. Charlie has a unique voice and really comes into his own. This is a book about growth and is not a sad story. And it is just plain wacky at times! Fun read!

  3. I enjoyed this story, too. Travel type stories seem to be getting more popular and this one had quite a few interesting locations. Thanks for keeping this one out there.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed The Someday Birds! Yes, it is a travel story. But, I’ve also noticed more MG novels that including bird watching. Am glad to share this gem with people.

    • Me too. I struggled with putting a label in the tags, but decided that it was important to see a regular kid with different abilities who just happens to have autism.
      I have not figured out how to leave a comment on your blogspot. I read your reviews and tweet them.

  4. Hello ! Love this book, BIRDS & the main Character Charlie 🙂 Excellent choice my friend.

  5. I’d heard this title but didn’t know what the book was about. Thank you for sharing. I’m intrigued that the author doesn’t mention the autism spectrum (although the obsessive hand-washing seems to me to signal OCD).

    • Yes, the opening is a signal. It really is a coming of age book and Charlie is really trying hard to step outside of his comfort zone. Loved that he was a birder as it adds so much to the entire story. Great read!

  6. While I don’t read many middle grade books, this one sounds too good to miss. Thanks for sharing; I just love the idea of trying to make sense of life’s changes by focusing on birding.

    • This is the second MG novel I’ve reviewed this year that involves birding. Charlie is a fan of a well-known birder Tiberius Shaw. find’s Shaw’s journal in a used book store and it becomes a guide of sorts for Charlie. The author uses quotes from Shaw at the beginning of each chapter that helps Charlie understand bird and human behavior. In my review I didn’t go into detail about Shaw, but he plays an important role in the story, especially after Charlie. This book is so well-written. I hope you read it!

  7. I’m glad you featured this for Autism Awareness month. I was intrigued when I read about this elsewhere, but your in-depth review really sold me. This sounds fantastic! I love books about kids who are different, and it sounds like this is handled very well.

    • I really struggled with do I link it to Autism Awareness Month, since the author doesn’t label Charlie. It is such a beautiful story about a differently abled boy and I wanted those who search for MG novels on autism to see the book.

    • It’s interesting how a book impacts each of us so differently. Thank you for sharing. I fell in love with Charlie’s journey and his interest in birding as a way of understanding his world.

  8. That the author didn’t name his diagnosis brings up an interesting point to ponder for me: sometimes when we’re trying to describe a condition without saying what it is, agents/editors (or even people in the critique group) don’t seem to understand. I suppose that means that the writer didn’t handle it skillfully enough and needs to revise to insert more descriptions of the habits and quirks that would be telltale enough.

    Thanks for sharing this book with us, Pat!

    • Teresa, I understand your thoughts. Charlie’s is so well-written that you know that he’s on the autism spectrum or is OCD. He talks about all his issues in his own way. I really like that the author doesn’t label him in the story because it allows him so much room to grow and shine in his own way.

      • Oh, I wasn’t saying this one isn’t well done, I was just thinking aloud about feedback that I’ve given others or others have given me about mss that weren’t as as well written. 🙂 In fact, I should read this book to see how to do it properly.

  9. Another great review. I like reading your comments to your followers too. 🙂 I agree with you about the ‘labeling.’ I prefer it to be open-ended so a reader can decide herself where the character fits in. And everyone reacts/acts differently in each ‘labeled’ disorder.

      • Yes. I worked in special ed (high school) for 10 years tutoring those with physical and emotional/learning disorders. Yet, ‘special’ each individual was despite (or because of?) their challenges.

  10. I’m adding this book to my TBR. I’m always looking for middle grade books that will appeal to my twin 9-year-olds as well as to me. Thanks!

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