I hope you are enjoying the last part of your week. Can you believe it’s almost March?! Crazy!
I’m here today with a review of Sounder by William H. Armstrong, winner of the 1970 Newbery Medal. This was a quick read for me. My first reaction was “great, another winner about a dog.” However, I appreciated the story told in this novel. It reminded me a bit of The Help. Perhaps because of the way the story is framed and introduced. Just one story out of thousands from people during this time that faced racism and prejudice at every turn. While it’s not a new favorite of mine, I did appreciate the unique storytelling and powerful message in this book.
According to Goodreads, “Set in the Deep South, this Newbery Medal-winning novel tells the story of the great coon dog, Sounder, and the poor sharecroppers who own him.
During the difficult years of the nineteenth century South, an African-American boy and his poor family rarely have enough to eat. Each night, the boy’s father takes their dog, Sounder, out to look for food and the man grows more desperate by the day.
When food suddenly appears on the table one morning, it seems like a blessing. But the sheriff and his deputies are not far behind. The ever-loyal Sounder remains determined to help the family he loves as hard times bear down on them.“
The narration of this book is unique and intriguing. We see the story through the eyes of the boy. He has an innocence about him as he learns about the world and the prejudice around him. We never learn the names of any character except Sounder the dog. The boy and his family are never named simply identified as father, mother, the boy, and his siblings. It makes it feel like this could be the story of many different people. Readers can imagine themselves as the boy or his mother or the helpful teacher. It seems to put the focus on Sounder and also the way he represents life for the family. His determination to live and wait for his master is amazing. I haven’t read a novel portrayed this way before, and it has stuck with me.
The action in the story is simple yet profound. The main plot follows the consequences of the boy’s father stealing a ham to feed his family. He is put in jail and sentenced to years working in a hard labor camp. His exact location is unknown to his family and they don’t have any means of contacting him. I couldn’t believe how long his father’s sentence was. And his horrible accident! Yet, the author doesn’t ever say his father is innocent. He just is determined to find him. So many intriguing questions came to mind as I read: why did the father steal the ham? did he think it was worth it? what did the boy’s mother think? why did the boy search for his father for so long? how can he change his future?
My main takeaway from this story is the importance of education and reading. I think my favorite parts of the book are when the boy talks about books. I love when he says something like “there couldn’t be enough books in the world to fill a whole room” I wonder if he ever saw a library! The old gentleman teacher is such a simple but important character. He gives the boy knowledge and allows him to get out of the difficult circumstances of his family. I suppose the boy also makes the journey to find knowledge. He is searching for his father all over the state but instead he finds this teacher and learns from him. It gives him hope and the potential to move forward out of the cycle of poverty which is a beautiful hope.
This is an intriguing Newbery winner that offers so much for readers to ponder. The unique narration and simple story gives readers a chance to think deeply about important questions. And it offers a glimpse into the importance of education in changing the future. It’s intense and violent at times. So I wouldn’t recommend it for the youngest of readers. Not my favorite, but glad to have read it.
What are your favorite Newbery winners?
Which books have given you the most to think about?
I read this Newbery Medal winner as a part of my Newbery Challenge.
My current goal is to read at least 1 Newbery Winner a month until I’ve read them all.