What You Need to Know:|
• Despite the gruesome topic, this story deals with important issues like bullying and ethics and would make a great
book club selection for anyone 4th grade and up.
• The book is based on the very real pigeon shoots that took place in Pennsylvania.
• The main character is a nine year old boy who faces pressure from a local group of boys.
• Wringer was a Newbery Honor Book in 1997.
• Jerry Spinelli is also the author of Maniac Magee, winner of the 1991 Newbery Medal.
• The story goes into detail about the shooting and mutilation of pigeons.
• There is also a bullying scene that includes the use of a dead and then "microwaved" muskrat.
This is a powerful story about the need to fit in and the inner strength that is needed to stand out in a crowd. It delivers a realistic portrayal of Palmer LaRue, a sensitive boy with few friends other than his neighbor, Dorothy. He longs to be accepted into a group, though. When a few local kids, Beans, Mutto and Henry, show up at his 9th birthday party, Palmer practically cries with joy. Finally, he will be part of the gang. Does it matter that their gifts include a cigar butt and an apple core or that they make fun of Dorothy? Does it matter that the nickname they give him is Snots or that they’re rude to his mom? Not to Palmer. He’s willing to accept their cruelty in order to fit in. He’s even proud of the nine punches that he receives on his birthday. It is a town tradition known as The Treatment, and even his father seems to condone it.
Palmer isn’t just alone because of his lack of friends. He’s also isolated in his feelings about the town’s annual Family Fest. The event culminates in a barbaric shooting contest to see who can kill the most pigeons, totaling about 5,000 in one day. The worst part is that when boys turn ten they are allowed to become “wringers” which means that they get to “put the pigeons out of their misery” by wringing their necks. Palmer hates the event, and even more so he hates the idea of being a wringer. A great deal of the book is devoted to the images of these pigeons being killed. During the pivotal year between his ninth and tenth birthdays, readers get to know Palmer. They experience the fear that burdens him each day as it brings him closer to becoming a wringer, the disappointment he feels in the gang he so desired, the confusion he confronts about his father’s involvement in the shootings, the surprising companionship he gets from the pigeon that befriends him, and the comfort he finds as he renews his friendship with Dorothy. Peer pressure and bullying run throughout the story, and each character seems to find their own way of dealing with them.
With brief chapters, compelling imagery and short but meaningful sentences, Spinelli captures and maintains the reader’s attention. The anticipation builds as Palmer gets closer to wringer age and as the gang begins to suspect his connection to the pigeon. Although I’ve seen this book used in a third grade book group, I would recommend it for fourth grade and up because of the content, and because I think those readers will get more of out of the discussion. It definitely has the potential to spark inspiring and important conversations.
1997, 256 pages
Animals, Award Winners, Books for Boys, Bullying, Compassion/Empathy, Ethics, Family Life, Friendship, Good Book Club Selection, Growing Up
• How important is it to you to fit in, to be “one of the guys”?
• How does someone’s appearance influence their popularity?
• What are some good strategies when dealing with a bully? Does ignoring them work?
• How do you know when you’re being bullied?
• What is Henry’s role in the gang?
• Is the need to fit in different for boys versus girls? In what way?
• How far would you go to protect a secret? Why?
• Why did Dorothy kiss Palmer?
• Could the adults have done anything differently? Should they have?
• In what ways was Dorothy a good friend to Palmer?
• Are the wringers putting the pigeons out of their misery and does that justify their actions?
• How do you handle peer pressure?
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