Monday, April 4, 2016

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday - BLACKBIRD FLY

This realistic story about a girl struggling to fit in tugged at my heart. A great read!

Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to Louisiana from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show her how special she really is.

Blackbird Fly was written by Erin Entrada Kelly, illustrated by Betsy Peterschmidt, and published by Greenwillow Books in 2015.

My Take:

Love the realism and authenticity of this story! At times it was hard to read, because it reminded me a little of my own experiences with bullying. Apple was a likable character and I empathized with her, right from the beginning of the story. Through the story, I was rooting for her to begin to accept and love herself for who she is, and to find people who would accept her too. I especially liked all the details about the Filipino culture embedded in the story.

From a writer’s perspective, I thought the dialogue and behaviour of the middle school characters were quite believable. This novel had a strong and unique voice. It’s a good example of a contemporary middle grade novel for anyone wanting to include diversity, or to take on a theme of bullying and racism. Love the natural way the author included cultural details.

Opening Line:

“On the day we moved to America, it snowed in Chapel Spring, Louisiana, for the first time in twenty years.”


“I found out later that carrots were supposedly good for vision, not for color or shape, but who cares about that when you can get eyeglasses or contacts? Nothing fixes slanted eyes.”

“Right before you steal something, you feel it everywhere. Your mouth gets dry. Your insides rattle. You even feel it in your fingertips.”

“Everything rushed through my head, but then it all faded away into the back of my mind, and none of that stuff mattered because there was music.”

Other Info:

In Blackbird Fly, the main character, Apple, believes that every person has at least three interesting facts about themselves. Author Erin Estrada Kelly lists these three interesting facts about herself on her blog:   1. She’s Filipino-American.  2. She has chronic asthma. 3. She loves rare books.

Erin wrote her first book in second grade – a story about two orphans.

Check out the playlist of Beetles songs that Apple considers to be the soundtrack for her life.

Teaching Ideas:

Have students brainstorm and write Three Interesting Facts about themselves. Reflect on the kinds of Interesting Facts people are willing to share about themselves. Would your facts be different if they were not for anyone else to see?

Create a playlist of six or more songs that represent the soundtrack of your life. Why did you choose these songs? For each song, explain why you chose it and how it represents you.

Discuss or write about Apple’s struggle to belong to her culture as well as to fit in at school. Why is it so difficult for her?


  1. Aw, this sounds like such a sweet story! Reading (and writing) about some of these MG growing pains can be hard, can really conjure memories. I think on some level we all can relate. Thanks for sharing this one. Love your teaching suggestions!

  2. I almost ran my review today of Blackbird Fly. I'm so glad I didn't. I enjoyed your thoughts on the book. I really loved this book and thought it very believable! Loved the ending! I have such a hard time subscribing to your blog and reached it through an older post. Couldn't bring up your URL link. Tried to add it to my blogger reader.

    1. Thanks! I'll be watching for your thoughts now! I'm sorry you're having trouble finding & subscribing -- I've considered switching to another platform but haven't decided about that yet.

  3. This was one of my favorite MG reads last year! I was lucky enough to attend Erin's launch party and talk to her. She's a real sweetheart. And I love love love this book. Can't wait to read her new book, The Land of Forgotten Girls.

    1. I really liked this. It seemed so realistic!

  4. I've always thought this sounded like a great book. Glad you really liked it.

  5. Great idea to encourage readers to create a playlist of their own life! This has been one of my fave 2016 books. My hope is that it isn't mistaken for a "girl" book. Its a story with insight for tweens and teens, reminding them (regardless of gender) that life is bigger than themselves.

  6. One of my fave reads of last year. It was a worthy finalist for the Cybils Middle Grade fiction award.


I love to hear your responses and thoughts! Your comments will appear after moderation (I've decided to enable moderation due to excessive spam).