Newbery Challenge update: Sounder

I am not a lover of dogs, but give me a good dog story and I’m all over it.  I cannot remember if I read William Armstrong’s Sounder as a kid, but somehow over time I’ve had the notion that this is a book worth reading so perhaps I did.

This is a story of loyalty–of a dog to his master, a boy to his father, the  boy to the dog.  In a desperate attempt to feed his family, the father steals a ham and life for these sharecroppers only gets bleaker.  Sounder, the coon dog who never disappoints,  is gravely wounded by the sheriff as the father is hauled away for his crime.

The boy (it’s interesting that Armstrong doesn’t name the human characters;  they are simply “the boy” or “the man”)  spends the next few years following the chain gangs hoping to get a glimpse of his father.  The voice of the coon dog is reduced to a whine and all life seems to have left him.

My heart ached for these characters, and that has a lot to do with Armstrong’s writing.  There is a lot that is worthy of discussion in this book, and lots of opportunities to teach the writer’s craft.  Kids today might need some context of the Jim Crow south and of sharecropping, but in the end this is a story of the bond that exists between dog and man, and students can certainly appreciate that.

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