Review Detail

Sounder Hot
Kids Fiction 3511
Historical Perspective is Important
Overall rating 
 
3.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
3.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
HarperCollins issued a revised edition of this on 30 Decemember 2019. This 1970 Newbery winner is set in the deep South at an undetermined point before 1950. It concerns a young boy whose family lives in a Negro (the outdated term used in the book) sharecropper shack, and struggle to survive. When the father is arrested for stealing a pig in order to feed his family, the family suffers even more. During the arrest, the boy's dog is shot, but the mother orders the boy to let the dog go off to die. He finds part of the dog's ear and keeps it with him. The father is not treated well, and the family is not alerted when he is moved from one situation to another, each one involving more forced labor and more horrible conditions. At one point, the boy tries to bring him a cake, but it is destroyed with malice by the warden. The boy spends a lot of time combing the countryside, looking for his father. At one point, he is injured, and a teacher helps him bandage his hand and helps him learn to read, something he has long wanted to do. The father eventually comes home, gravely injured, and Sounder (who was badly wounded but survived) feels that it is time that he can die.
Good Points
I have my concerns about this one. It was a Newbery winner 40 years ago, and while it is an important historical document, I would give it to young readers with great caution and a lot of discussion. It's not #OwnVoices, the African-American characters are not even given names, the n-word (as well as the outdated Negro) is used, and the mistreatment of the African-Americans is just accepted as normal. There's also a lot of description about letting Sounder go die where he wants, and the boy keeps part of the dog's ear that was shot off in his pocket.

There are so many other good books for young readers today that put even historical racial injustice in better perspective. Writing styles also change, and Sounder is very slow paced and lyrical. Jackson's Midnight without a Moon, Woods's The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA, Wright's Crow, Burg's A Thousand Never Evers, Draper's Stella By Starlight, and Cline's Finding Langston, all offer historical perspectives filtered through modern sensibilities, and are better choices for young readers who may not have adults to help them process the racial injustices of the past.
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