Giving In But Not Giving Out
A Child Called It is an engrossing story by Dave Pelzer. Focusing on his life from age four to twelve, he shares an almost unbelievable story of physical and mental abuse inflicted by his mother. His father rarely came to his aid. Matters were further complicated, because both parents were alcoholics. What he remembers during this span of time will dredge up myriad emotions from your students; shock, disbelief, and even anger.
Grade Level: 9 – 12
The students will be able to explain the meaning of inner strength.
The students will be able to evaluate events that affect a certain period in one's life and how that knowledge can be used negatively or positively.
Preliminary Discussion Before Reading the Book
A Child Called It is classified as a memoir. While the terms memoir and autobiography are often used interchangeably, it would probably be instructive to review with your students the subtle differences between the two genres.
Dave Pelzer was born December 29, 1960. This was a time when the United States was going through some important changes. Some of these changes were not positive. Terms that were pertinent to this period are:
- Women's Rights
- Psychoactive Drugs
To help your students visualize and get a feel for the time period, have them go to Lonestar College's cultural website and learn more about the Sixties.
Activities While Reading the Book
The author makes a distinction between "discipline" and "punishment." However, since the author does not address any specific misbehavior on his part, these two terms might be confusing. Have the students write a short informative paragraph about what they think the terms mean.
Next, to help the students get a sense of the atrocities that one human being can impose on another, instruct the students to keep a journal to monitor the mental and physical abuse inflicted by both parents for a later discussion.
On one page label it "Mother" at the top. Draw a line down the center of the page. On the left side of the page, write mental abuse and on the right side of the page write physical abuse. On a separate page label the top "Father" and repeat the process.
Record each act of abuse by the parents in the proper category.
Based on the definitions of discipline and punishment that the students wrote, have the students add a "D" or a "P" beside each incident of abuse as they record it.
After Reading the Book
1. Do a character study of Dave's mother and father.
2. Do a character study of Dave.
3. Based on the character studies, divide the class into small groups and have them answer the following questions in their journals. Have each group select a spokesperson to report the groups' answers.
a. How would you describe the author's parental relationship regarding disciplining the children? Why did Dave's mother act differently when Dave's father was home? Why did she lie about what happened to Dave's arm?
b. Why do you think Dave's mother was so upset when he had to repeat first grade? Why did she feel Dave had shamed the family?
c. Why do you think Dave's father acted so helpless when it came to getting food to Dave? Why do you think Dave's mother was so rigid about denying Dave food? Do you think as a parent he should have insisted?
d. Why did Dave's mother blame him for her problems with his father?
e. Why do you think Dave's father was so unresponsive when Dave told him he had been stabbed by his mother? Do you think Dave's father was afraid of his wife? Explain.
f. In lower elementary school, Dave was liked by his classmates. In upper elementary school, his classmates began to bully and torment him. What do you think is an explanation for the change? Do you think Dave brought the change on himself? Explain.
1. To further explore the students' values and beliefs, provide the students with the following writing prompts:
a. How was Dave's mother's behavior toward him similar to the behavior of a bully?
b. What two forms of punishment do your parents use when you misbehave that you don't like now, but five years from now you probably won't think was so bad? Is it a practice you might consider using when you marry and have children? (Note: Students should not criticize the thoughts and opinions of others.)
2. Review the definition of a memoir and have the students write a memoir.
Have the students copy and illustrate the poem, I Never Knew, by Cindy M. Adams for a poster.
While school officials are on record testifying to what they observed and effectively substantiate Dave's story, his younger brother, Stephen, denies any abuse took place. He stated that his brother was placed in foster care because he started a fire and was caught shoplifting. One can only take memoirs on faith, unless you were there. However, it is interesting to note that Dave's brother, Richard, has also written a book about being abused.
Pelzer, Dave, A Child Called It, Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield, Florida, 1995.