Hi! Welcome to this week’s Newbery Pie. Today, we’ll be discussing Sounder by William H. Armstrong. As usual, we’ll start things off with Sara’s review.
Sounder appears to be almost the complete opposite of our last book, The High King. It is short, barely over one hundred pages. Where The High King has a long cast list of character names to remember, the character list ofSounder is quite short, with the dog being the only named character in the story. We have a family of sharecroppers enjoying food that is an obvious luxury to them, a luxury because the food is not theirs. A police officer comes and arrests the father and their dog, Sounder, gets shot trying to chase after the vehicle who takes away his master. I do not want to give away the entire story, but I didn’t enjoy this one. I know that some people think that there is never an excuse for stealing, but I think the brutality the father receives as punishment for his crime was just too much. There is also a gruesome part about the boy putting Sounder’s severed ear under his pillow. I guess the one glimmer of hope in the story is the boy gets taken in by a teacher and taught how to read. As a teacher and a librarian, of course this saved the book for me. In terms of dogs, Sounder is about a loyal as they come. The most important thing to him is seeing his master again, and nothing, even death, interferes with that. In terms of painful Newbery books, this one was nowhere near as difficult as I, Juan de Pareja, but it wasn’t my favorite. I’m going to give it 2.5 Newbery pies. Benji didn’t tell me I could give half pies, but he didn’t tell I couldn’t. 😉
I seem to have enjoyed this one much more than Sara. It was a really dark story, but the late 19th century was a really dark time for African American sharecroppers. Despite the darkness, though,There was a LOT of hope in the book. The boy hoped that they would somehow manage to get food to eat. After his dad was arrested, the boy hoped that he would be able to come home soon. He hoped against all of his mom’s advice that Sounder wasn’t dead. He hoped that he could get his hands on a book so he could teach himself to read. He may have been really naive, but in the end, his relentless hoping does pay off, and he finds himself in a better situation. I felt like hope was a recurring theme in the book.
The book did something that I really didn’t like in Where the Red Fern Grows, but I didn’t mind it so much in Sounder because I felt like it was done for different reasons. I’m talking about the narrator giving us the name of the dog, but not naming any of the other characters. I felt like Rawls did it in Red Fern because she was trying to manipulate our emotions. As a reader, we felt closer to the two dogs than any of the human characters because we didn’t even know their names, so when the dogs are finally killed, we’re supposed to feel it more intensely. It didn’t work for me. I felt like Armstrong didn’t give us the boys name, because he was basically every black boy during that time. They were all struggling to eat, a lot of them were all missing fathers who had been abused by the system and were arrested for minor things like stealing a ham. He didn’t need a name because he could have been anyone from that community.
Now, the ending for the boy was by no means, the case for every African American living at that time. The opportunity that the boy gets at the end wasn’t available to all, and I kind of felt like Armstrong was saying, “If you just keep on hoping and keep working for it, your dreams will come true!” Which is kind of a high handed tone for a white author in the 70’s to take, but that’s really the only thing about the book I didn’t like. It was well-written and concise, and I appreciate that.
I give it four out of five Newbery Pies.
Next up: The Summer of the Swans by Betsy Byars