Poems Across the Pavement
because my sixth-grade students will be able to identify with the cultures represented in each.
Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes
The Hiding Place
were chosen because they represent cultures completely unfamiliar to them. All are strong literary pieces that clearly exemplify the beauty of the human spirit from culturally diverse perspectives.
is a moving story about a young, African-American boy who has a secret desire to learn how to read. Privately, he makes a vow to himself that someday he will read, although, no one in his family has ever learned.
His father is a share cropper for a white land owner. The family finds itself in the midst of winter with very little food and money. The boy and his father repeatedly attempt to hunt small game, but are unsuccessful. Finally, a morning comes when the boy wakes up to the smell of food that his family only eats at Christmas time. Three days of endless feasting pass; however, the boy notices that his mother hums frequently, something she does when she is worried. Although his stomach no longer aches with the pangs of hunger, he senses that something is wrong.
On the third day, Sounder, his father's dog is out hunting alone. He usually warns the family when someone is approaching. This day Sounder's master is taken by surprise when the sheriff and his deputies barge through the front door. The father is accused of stealing the food that is openly sitting in the kitchen. Hence, the sheriff makes his arrest. Meanwhile, Sounder has returned.
As the father is cuffed and taken to the wagon, Sounder strains to get at the men who are taking him. One man tells the boy that he had better hold the dog unless he wants something to happen to him. The father is placed in the back of the wagon, and shortly after he sits down he is hit across the face with a chain. The boy's arms begin to weaken as he tries to hold Sounder back. Sounder's determination and strength overpower the boy. As Sounder runs after the wagon, gun shots ring out in the wintry air. A yelp is heard; Sounder hobbles away from the house. The boy tries to look for him, but only finds a piece of his ear and blood on the ground.
The next day, the boy's mother makes a cake for the him to take to the jail. (At that time, women were not allowed to visit people in jail.) Before the cake reaches his father, it is destroyed by probes that ensure nothing is hidden. This is the last time the boy sees his father for many years. Sounder stays missing for two weeks. When he returns, he is crippled in one leg and has an eye missing. He is unable to bark. Even so, the family is happy to have him back.
The father is moved to a prison camp, but since the family is black they are not allowed to know where the father has been moved to. Amazingly, the boy sets out in search of his father. He travels to different prison camps he hears about, hoping to come across one that has his father in it. With every return, Sounder greets him with a whine of delight.
On one of his trips, he enters a small town and sees a school yard full of children like himself. The teacher comes over to him and notices that he is wounded. He offers to take the boy in and bandage his hands. As they talk, the teacher finds out how far a journey the boy has had. He invites him to stay the night at his house. During his stay there, the teacher talks to him about learning, books, reading and returning to attend school.
Through this teacher's help, the boy learns how to read a book he found in a trash can during one of his trips. Although the book has no cover, it is the greatest treasure to him because it is the first thing he owns outside of his clothes. The boy returns to his mother able to read. He discusses his invitation to stay with the teacher during the school months and says that he will continue to help with the farm in the summer months if she allows it. He explains that he is expected to earn his keep by hauling wood and doing other chores for the teacher. She agrees to the arrangement.
After six or seven harvests, a lone figure, small enough to be a child, comes down the road toward the boy's house. The whole family wonders about the figure walking in such incredible heat. As the figure comes closer Sounder gets up and runs. He is the only one who recognizes that his master is home. The deep baying of the great hunting dog rings out for the first time since he was shot. Sounder no longer looks like he is crippled. Instead, he has transformed into the dog of his youth. Gently, Sounder greets his master, aware that he could easily knock him down if he jumps on him. The boy and his family realize, through Sounder's actions, who the lone figure is; they also run to meet him.
The boy's father was hurt in a dynamite blast that left one side of his body disfigured and partially paralyzed. This has left the father hunched over, giving him the appearance of someone quite small. After a couple of months have passed, the father decides to take Sounder hunting again. That same night, Sounder returns alone. The boy sets out to search for his father and finds him leaning against a tree. Sounder attempts to arouse his master, but there is no response. The boy tells his father to rest. After the boy's father is buried, Sounder dies a short time later.
The Power of This Book
The boy's dream of reading is realized through a great tragedy. However, the boy's determination to find his father leads him to a place he would have not encountered otherwise. Also, if he had not had such a strong desire to learn, he would not have been willing to walk the long distance between his home and the teacher's in order to get an education. The book from the trash can would not have been held in such high regard. There are many thought provoking themes that run throughout this classic piece of literature. By exploring these themes, I hope to challenge my students to consider the privilege they have. Also, I would hope that my African-American students could find a sense of pride in their association with this amazing boy who accomplishes what very few in his era could.
By the same token, I would hope that the Hispanic students would be moved to feel a sense of indignation at the injustices suffered by this family, and come into a sense of awe for what the boy was able to accomplish. The boy is not only a role model for African-Americans, he is a role model for every culture.
Furthermore, the student population I work with, in general, does not have a sense of the importance of an education. Books from the library are often lost and never paid for. Class texts are written in. Gum is sometimes found inside and outside of books. There is an irreverence for the materials we are extremely fortunate to have. Also, many think that school is for socializing. I believe the book, Sounder, exemplifies the message educators desire for all students to understand--education is imperative and a right that was not easily available to everyone. This is something we never should forget and something we need to help our students remember and come to understand.