“The tall man stood at the edge of the porch. The roof sagged from the two rough posts which held it, almost closing the gap between his head and the rafters. The dim light from the cabin window cast long equal shadows from man and posts. A boy stood nearby shivering in the cold October wind. He ran his fingers back and forth over the broad crown of the head of a coon dog named Sounder.”
Sounder follows a poor, black, share-copping family living in the Deep South. Despite the father’s hard work and constant hunting with his faithful hunting dog, the family is slowly starving. Tragedy strikes when the father is arrested for stealing a ham from his employer and Sounder is shot and seriously wounded in the process. The father is eventually convicted and sentenced to work on a chain gang for many years. The young son (no characters have names except the dog) becomes the man of the family and attempts to help his good mother care for his three younger siblings, and, against all odds, gain an education for himself.
Keep your tissues nearby.
The alert reader will look for ways Sounder symbolizes both the father and the racist society the family inhabits — you may find yourself having some deep discussions as a family.
Sounder won the Newbery Medal in 1970. A full-length feature film starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield came out in 1972 and was nominated for 4 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. In 2003 Disney released a new film version. Interestingly, Kevin Hooks who played the son in the original film is the director of the 2nd film and Paul Winfield who plays the father in the original film, plays the teacher in the later film.
I remember reading Sounder in my 7th Grade Reading Class in 1975. Many of the scenes are still vivid in my memory, including the father’s arrest and the incident with the cake. The Sour Land is a hard-to-find sequel.
Middle Grade Reading Level, 116 pages, Books for Boys, Animals, Education, Racism, Newbery Medal, Published 1969.