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Sounder ()

Newbery Award Winners (1970)

    You gotta walk that lonesome valley.
    You gotta walk it by yourself.
    AinĂ­t nobody else gonna walk it for you.
    You gotta walk it by yourself.
           -Jesus Walked this Lonesome Valley, (American Spiritual)

In the Author's Note to the copy of this book that I just read, William Armstrong, who was white, says that he first heard this story from an old black teacher who used to worship at his local church  :

    It is the black man's story, not mine.  It was not from Aesop, the Old Testament, or Homer.  It was
    history--his history.

I don't know whether it is, in fact, a true story, but as Armstrong's own assertion acknowledges, it is the stuff of myth.

Sounder is the loyal coon hunting dog of a family of black sharecroppers.  At the heart of the tale is the oldest son in this family, plagued by loneliness, helpless rage, and a burning desire to learn to read.  The owner of the land they live on has been careful to space families out, presumably so that they won't band together, so they basically have no neighbors and it is too far for the boy to walk to school.  The boy's parents are strong willed, and his mother is deeply religious, but they are very reserved.  The boy is very much alone, more so because he can't read, and Sounder is very nearly his best friend.  Even this rather isolated world is shattered though when the father is sent to prison for stealing a ham and the men who come to take him away shoot Sounder in the process.

The story of how first Sounder and then the family heal themselves and of how the boy eventually learns to read are really moving.  The fact that only Sounder is given a name in the story adds to the mythic quality and the mother's constant singing of "Lonesome Valley" imparts a Biblical touch.  It may be too powerful for younger kids, but teens and even adults will love it.


Grade: (A)


Book-related and General Links:
    -ARMSTRONG, WILLIAM H. September 14, 1914- (Educational Paperback Association)
    -Sounder by William H. Armstrong (Newbery 1970)
    -TEACHER'S GUIDE : to Sounder (San Diego County Office of Education)
    -REVIEWS : of Sounder (Share a Book)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : William H. Armstrong (II) (Imdb)
    -INFO : Sounder (1972) (Imdb)