A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Newbery Award winner is not a heartwarming dog story, as the title and cover may indicate. Rather, it is the story of a boy's struggle to find his father, his dog, and his own identity in a racist world that is harsh, lonely, and violent at times. Written in the late '60s, some of the characterizations seem stereotypical, but the language is simple and strong -- almost poetic -- and the story is good. Several editions of the book have been reprinted, and it was made into a well-received 1972 movie starring Cicely Tyson and an updated 2003 Disney movie starring Paul Winfield.
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What's the story?
When the father of a poor African-American sharecropping family is hauled away and forced into hard labor for stealing a pig, and the family dog is shot, life only gets harder for the boy and his family. Besides trying to fill his father's shoes, the boy begins a long-lasting, desperate search for both the dad and Sounder. He also is desperate to read. His life is full of fear and loneliness, but the loving patience of his mother, the stories she tells, a book he finds in the trash, and finally the chance encounter with a teacher give him hope and the ability to face his world with courage and dignity.
Is it any good?
SOUNDER is a remarkable, moving story. It captures the ugliness of racism and poverty as well as the desperation and necessary strength of downtrodden people, in this case an African-American sharecropping family in the rural South. By presenting the story from the emotional viewpoint of the boy, the author makes the reader feel his loneliness and fear, as well as his amazing determination and courage. Terrible things happen, as they often do in an unjust, prejudiced world, but a hopeful optimism presides. Not only is the story moving and tender, but the language that tells it is also realistically detailed, with multiple layers of symbolism that are uncomplicated but powerful.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what sharecropping is, why the family in Sounder was so poor and hungry. What could they do to get out of their desperate situation? What did they do? How did they remain so hopeful in the face of such hopelessness?
The boy loved stories, wanted to learn to read, and yearned for education, but he had no books and had to walk eight miles to school and back. How did he learn stories? What did they bring to his life? What kinds of stories influenced him most? Do you think he changed when he found the book in the trash -- and a teacher? How will reading and education will help him escape the poverty of his life?
Sounder is the dog's name, and it is the only name used in the book. How did the dog get that name, and what did it say about him? Why do you think the author chose not to name the father, mother, boy, teacher, or any other character? What does not having a name say about a person? The author did not really name the place or time of the story either. Why? How does that affect the reader's experience?
Why did the boy feel so lonely? What about the other characters in the family? What things did they each do to help them during the lonely times?
- Author: William H. Armstrong
- Illustrator: James Barkley
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice, Great Boy Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Harper & Row
- Publication date: October 8, 1969
- Number of pages: 128
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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For kids who love stories of African-American experience
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