Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Share: Sounder

I'm linking up with Sunny Days in Second Grade to share one of my FAVORITE books, Sounder by William H. Armstrong. 


If you've never read it, its the story of a young African American boy and his family living in a post slavery South.  The family, a mother, father, older boy, younger children and a dog named Sounder, is very poor and has difficulty making ends meet.  During the winter, the father takes Sounder out for hunting.  The author pours love into his description of the dog's voice and ability to hunt.  One evening, while the dog is in the hills hunting, the police come to the cabin to arrest the father.  The father is accused of stealing food and is arrested in a brutal, difficult to read scene.  While being taken away, one of the sheriff's men shoots Sounder, who has returned and is attempting to protect his master.  The mother ushers her oldest son back into the house even though he is desperate to tend to his wounded dog.  The reader is left to worry about Sounder and the father for many chapters.  The remainder of the story follows the older boy's life as he must grow up rather quickly.

I have a love/sorrow relationship with Sounder.  One the one hand, it's exquisitely crafted.; a perfect piece of literature to use for author's craft. The story is developed through rich description, has a great deal of foreshadowing and contains many biblical allegories.  On the other hand, the scene in which Sounder is shot and the subsequent description of his wounds just hurts my heart.  I always warn my students about the contents of the book before we begin our guided reading.

Another word of warning, while the sheriff and his men are arresting the father, they call him the most deplorable, degrading word possible.  Before we read, I tell the students they are going to read a word that is very unusual in books for young people and that they will know the word when they find it.  I ask the students to pause and write their response to the scene and the man who used the word on a sticky note.  We've had excellent discussions about this portion of the book.  Anticipating a long conversation about the father's arrest, I always plan for a very short reading time and and a very LOOOOOONG discussion.

If I had one difficulty with teaching this book, it's that the chapters are quite long and there are few clean breaks, especially when the students are only reading 10-15 minutes of text at a time.  The minimal dialogue makes the reader really have to work to build the story.  Although Fountas and Pinell call this book a level T, I've had more success and better conversation reading this book with higher level readers.

If you enjoy this book, you might want to check out this very thorough {and FREE} literature guide published by McGraw Hill: Sounder Literature Guide

Have you taught this book?  What is your favorite book to teach?


  1. I'm so glad I found your new blog through your post on TPT. Sounder is one of the books my husband uses with his middle schoolers, and they love it.

    1. Thanks for the comment :-) Sounder is definitely more appropriate for an upper grade audience!

  2. Hello! I found your blog through Fifth in the Middle! I am your newest follower :)