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Book Review

This historical fiction novel by Shelley Pearsall is published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc., and is written for kids ages 9 to 12 years. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

It's 1945. Thirteen-year-old Levi has lived in Chicago with his Aunt Odella for the three years his father has been in the Army. According to Daddy's letters, he parachutes out of planes. No one seems convinced this is true, however, because black men don't perform tasks like that in the military. Now that the war is nearly over, Odella decides Levi should be with his father at his Army base in North Carolina. She abruptly puts him on a train and sends him there. Levi is used to losing important people in his life. His jazz singer mother abandoned him at a few months old. Then his beloved grandmother died. His father left first as a traveling salesman and then again because of the war. Now Aunt Odella is telling him to move on.

Levi is anxious about the changes ahead. He hasn't seen his father since Daddy went into the Army, and he's pretty sure his father doesn't know he's coming. The further south the train takes him, the more he sees that racism is alive and well. One porter sends him to sit in a smoky luggage car behind the coal car with a crazy man who calls himself Jim Crow. When he arrives in Fayetteville, N.C., it gets worse. Levi isn't used to the segregation or the white and colored signs everywhere. When he enters a drugstore to get a Coke, the owner holds him at gunpoint and makes him drink an ancient grape soda before threatening his life if he ever returns.

Shaken, Levi catches a ride to the base where his father is stationed. He finds empty barracks and learns that his father's company has shipped out. A man named Cal is the only one left behind due to an injury. He and his pregnant wife, Peaches, take in Levi. Cal confirms that Daddy and the other men in their company, the 555th, are the U.S. Army's first black paratroopers. A short time later, Peaches has her baby. Levi also meets an old woman named MawMaw Sands who weaves baskets and shares wisdom in riddles. Cal's injury heals, and he gets orders to rejoin his company in Pendleton, Ore. Levi prepares himself to be left behind once more. He's surprised when Peaches and Cal invite him to join them.

The group makes a six-day train trek to Pendleton, where Levi is finally reunited with his surprised father. In the following months, Peaches, Levi and the baby stay with a family in town while Daddy and Cal visit regularly. Levi's father explains their mission there is to protect the United States from Japanese balloon bombs dropped from above and from forest fires. Neither Levi's father nor his men are sure they believe these balloon bombs exist. They sometimes grow frustrated that the Army seems to ship them all over the country without ever using their training and talents. The soldiers successfully fight many fires. One day, Daddy returns with an injured Cal. They report that one of the men in their company was killed. Since Cal is too injured for duty, he and Peaches agree to return the man's body to his family.

The war ends just days later with great celebration. Levi expects to be sent away again, since his father intends to stay in the military. To his surprise, Daddy asks him to come along. It will mean returning to North Carolina, a horrible place in Levi's memory. But he decides he will stick it out to be with his father. Daddy learns with great joy that the balloon bombs were real, so his missions had not been in vain. The bond between father and son continues to grow as they begin a new adventure together.

Christian Beliefs

Aunt Odella cooks for a lot of funerals at Shiloh First Baptist Church. Levi says she's a firm believer in prayer. When Aunt Odella threatens to make Levi join the choir, he sends up a quick prayer that she won't do it. Aunt Odella tells Levi she's prayed about his dad and that's why she's decided to send Levi to his father. After a scary incident, Levi prays to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Moses, Aunt Odella and all the other righteous people he can think of. Peaches insists on going to church one Sunday, even though she's extremely pregnant and feeling bad. Levi thinks she's afraid the Lord won't watch over Cal in war if she doesn't show up to pray. Levi quotes Aunt Odella saying they got themselves all shined up for Jesus.

Peaches and Cal attend a Catholic church called Our Lady of Victory. Levi is perplexed by the statue of a lady holding a baby, the candles and all the kneeling. In the middle of the Lord's Prayer, Peaches cries out and begins to have her baby. Levi hopes God won't strike him dead for lying to Cal on the church steps and saying the baby is beautiful. Peaches prays aloud to Jesus that her husband will return safely from his mission. The woman with whom Peaches and Levi stay in Pendleton faithfully reads her Bible each night. She's particularly enamored with the book of Revelation and is convinced the end of the world is near.

Other Belief Systems

Levi says Aunt Odella believes in signs and sixth senses. Levi's mother left him when he was a baby. Now he believes other people leave him because he lives under her curse.

Authority Roles

Aunt Odella cares for Levi for three years and then suddenly sends him back to his father. She has made many sacrifices to be his guardian, and she makes sure he knows it every day. Levi's mother was a jazz singer who left him in a car when he was a few months old with a note that said: “I am levin.” No one saw her again. Cal and Peaches treat Levi like family and care for him until he finds his father. Daddy lets Levi know how much he's missed him. He proves his desire to rebuild their bond by inviting Levi to join him in North Carolina.


Heck, d--n, h--- and the Lord's name taken in vain appear a few times. The Japanese are referred to as Japs.


Levi kisses a girl on the cheek.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • What does MawMaw Sands mean when she talks about sweetness and pain being woven together in life?
  • In what situations have you seen both pain and sweetness?

  • Why does Levi's father give up selling encyclopedias?

  • What answer is he seeking that he can't find in a book?
  • How do you explain why there is death or war or people being cruel to each other?

  • How is the South different from Chicago for Levi?

  • How would you feel and respond if you were treated the way he is treated by someone of another race?

Additional Comments/Notes

While the story of Levi Battle is fictional, many of the details in Pearsall's book are real. She includes a brief author's note about her research on the 555th and their groundbreaking efforts as African-Americans in World War II.

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

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