by William H. Armstrong

Age: 12+

Interests: American history, racism, poverty, violence, dogs, family

Other books about racism and American history: Amos Fortune, Free Man, One Crazy Summer, Smoky Night; The Watsons go to Birmingham — 1963

Harper & Row: 1969

116 pages

A poor black family struggles to survive when the father is arrested for stealing food for his family. As he is taken away the family dog runs after him and is shot by the sheriff, leaving the hound horribly maimed. The son – who is never named – tries to help his mother as best as he can, and when his father is sent to work on a chain gang he walks miles and miles to find him. Encountering racism and violence everywhere he goes, he is shocked when a schoolteacher befriends him and offers to teach him to read. Slowly pulling himself out of ignorance, the boy only barely restrains his own violent impulses in the face of injustice. When his father finally returns home, disfigured from a mining explosion, his old dog still recognizes him. It’s only a matter of time before the father dies, and the dog soon after.

This is a movingly written, perceptive look at entrenched racism and the effect it can have on a young mind. The unnamed main character really has no choice but to keep going. Cowed and fearful of white people, he quietly pursues his goals of learning and being able to support his family.

Undoubtedly a powerful and important novel, but oh, so depressing. This is not the heartwarming boy-and-his-dog book you may be expecting. Because it is so raw and disturbing, this one is probably better for older kids, though the reading level is not at all difficult.



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