A Child Called ‘It’ Book Critique


The book “A Child Called It” has been based on a true story. The author Dave Pelzer gives an account of his childhood and the struggles he was forced to endure. He was constantly beaten and starved by his mother who had emotional problems and was also an alcoholic. His mother considered him a slave, an object that belonged to her. Even though this young boy suffered for many years, the outside world knew nothing about it. His teacher was among the first to suspect that things were not okay as Dave would constantly come to school with bruises and no reasonable explanation for their existence. This paper features a critique of this book by Dave Pelzer. It does so by considering the impacts it has on an individual and further identifies ways through which such situations can be avoided in today’s society.

Emotional and Cognitive Impacts of the Book

After going through the chapters of the book, I cannot help but feel sorry for the young Dave. It is evident that he felt so unworthy considering the treatment he got from his own mother. To worsen the situation, he had siblings who were not undergoing the same problems as he was. This is one of the most common signs of child abuse, whereby the abuser has a goal of making the child feel useless to a point where they will have low self-esteem. The first chapter of the book shows how Dave had no confidence in himself. This is because if he had any, he would have fought for his rights against abuse. Dave’s mother would constantly criticize him so that he would not feel worthy of opposing anything he says. This gave her power over young Dave, regardless of how Dave had no physical strength to even fight her.

The more I read through the chapters, the more heartbroken I felt. I can imagine how it would feel if a child’s birth mother did this to him or her. Unfortunately for Dave, his situation only grew worse as the abuse became more violent to a point where he almost lost his life from being stabbed (Pelzer, 1995). It is shocking and unbelievable that a mother can actually take a knife and stab a child, then not take him to a hospital. This is not only uncaring but inhuman too. Although this situation was worsening, I was amazed by Dave’s strength to withstand all these treatment from the mother and still not say a word to anyone on the outside world. He struggled both mentally and emotionally to maintain his sanity and to survive the difficulties he was put through.

It makes me angry to think that Dave’s mother knew exactly what she was doing, despite the fact that she was also an alcoholic. This can be proved by how she broke Dave’s arm then lies that he fell from the top bunk (Pelzer, 1995). She was scared of being held accountable for mistreating her own child, and even being reported to the authorities. This shows that she knew what she was doing was wrong and punishable under the law. She is not only an evil human being but a coward too.

Although the father did not actively abuse Dave, he played a role indirectly when he did not come to his rescue. There are times when Dave would run to him for help only to be sent back to finish chores or do what the mother had ordered. It is sad to imagine a father watching his only child being mistreated and not doing anything to solve the situation. He was selfish as he avoided being on the wrong side of his wife because of her mouth! He watched Dave bleeding on the carpet without being bothered or feeling pain (Pelzer, 1995). I cannot comprehend how a parent can even withstand such a sight. Basically both his parents did not treat him as a human being with rights. The siblings also started mistreating him for no reason at all. I cannot imagine the pain and anguish Dave must have felt. It is sad, and traumatizing considering the fact that his self-esteem was also ruined in the process.

The Instances in This Story Where People Could Have Stopped the Maltreatment But Did Not

There are different instances where the maltreatment could have been stopped. For instance, when Dave ran to his father for help he could have been assisted (Pelzer, 1995). The father should have confronted the mother and showed his stand against her actions. The father was the only adult who was witnessing what the child was being put through. If he actually feared his wife, he had an option of seeking help from authorities. However, he should have stopped the abuse right when it began, before things got out of control. He did not stop Dave’s maltreatment as he did not want to argue with his wife anymore. I cannot envision myself in such a circumstance as my kids will always come first before my selfish pleasures.

Similarly, Dave’s nurse should have noticed and stopped the abuse earlier on. It is better to be safe than sorry, as the saying goes. When she noticed that Dave always had excuses for his injuries that did not add up, she should have immediately noticed something was amiss (Pelzer, 1995). It is fortunate that she soon noticed the same and took the necessary action to save the child from his cruel family. I think that the nurse was reluctant to report as she was scared of being wrong hence ruining her reputation. However, I was still impressed by the fact that she simply didn’t forget all the instances where Dave showed up. I can envision myself in such a circumstance as I would also not want to jump into conclusions. I would first research and have proof before making accusations.

What Prevented Help from Being Given To This Child at Different Points in Time

Initially, as Catherine began drinking, the mistreatment was minimal and unnoticeable even to the rest of the family members. However, even as things got worse, it was still impossible to tell as there were no witnesses. In the book, Dave states that his mother never subjected him to the negative treatment when people were around. She would wait for a time when they were alone in the house, or when the siblings were asleep (Pelzer, 1995). For instance, when she was trying to feed Dave the dirty diapers, his father and brothers returned to the cabin, which made her stop in her tracks. If at all they would have witnessed what was going on, they would have been able to salvage the situation before it got worse. Dave would have received help as a result.

Another factor that prevented Dave from receiving help was when the nurse would constantly question his wounds, and he would lie just as he was trained by the mother (Pelzer, 1995). The fact that Dave did not speak up to others once he noted that he could not depend on his father for safety made it more difficult for people to tell that there was a problem with the mother. It is very difficult for a child to accept that his mother had changed into someone evil. This is probably why Dave did not want to speak out as he knew the authorities who take drastic measures. However, when he lied, the nurse could not take any step as she remained unsure about her suspicions.

Lastly, when the brothers and father noted what was going on, they encouraged the activity even more by simply watching and even contributing in the mistreatment. They were all afraid of getting on the wrong side of Catherine, hence they were all silent about the situation, hence denying Dave the help he deserved (Pelzer, 1995).

All these reasons given above are not sufficient enough for failure to protect Dave. This is because it is expected that a child being abused has low self-esteem and is scared. Therefore, the nurse and the teachers should have immediately sensed trouble and followed up to find out why Dave was suddenly smelling, losing weight and coming to school with different severe injuries all the time. He should have been offered counselling so that he would feel relaxed enough to share what was happening to him before any accusations was made. Similarly, the brothers and father should have spoken up, even if they were scared of Catherine. This is because it was clear that she was suffering from a mental condition as no parent suddenly changes and becomes that cruel to her child.

How This Society Is Doing In Terms Of Protecting Children

Although quite a number of years have passed from the time Dave experienced this mistreatment, it is still evident that the society today is not yet capable of offering complete protection to children. This is not to imply that there has not been any improvements. The society today has strengths and weaknesses relating to child protection. For instance, strength can be seen in how there is laws and regulations put in place to protect a child from any type of abuse and maltreatment. For example, it is completely wrong for a child to be beaten even by the parents. Similarly, they are not allowed to work before they reach eighteen years of age, whereby they will be considered adults. Such policies have played an important role in improving the situation of child abuse as it has shut down several possibilities through which a child may have been abused (McCarroll et al., 2017). An increased advocacy for the rights of the child, such as a right to education, have also contributed to the strength of the system.

Another strength can be witnessed in how the children today have a right of being listened to whenever there is an issue that affects them. This gives most children the confidence to speak up as they know that the system is not against them, and that their complaints will be taken seriously. Previously, if a child faced an abuse situation, the result would be embarrassment and even criticism from his peers as the problem was not being handled discreetly (McCarroll et al., 2017). Today, whenever complaints are made, the situation is handled swiftly and discreetly so as to protect the child from experiencing more problems.

Previously, child protection only featured the separation of a child from parents who did not take care of him properly, and who abused him. Today, the society not only offers protection but prevention too. Whenever there is something suspicious, the social workers will visit a child’s home so as to check whether or not the child is being taken care of appropriately. If something is out of place, the child will be approached and asked questions to see whether or not they can speak out about their situation. Parents who are deemed a risk to their children’s safety will lose their children and be offered ways of recovering before they can be reunited (McCarroll et al., 2017). As such, the activities or situations which prompt child abuse are controlled before they can start affecting the child directly.

There are a few weaknesses in how the society offers children protection. First of all, individuals working within the public service can cause great conflict and even steer hatred between a parent and a child that was once not present. This is because of how they approach a house and even threaten parents who are facing challenges such as alcoholism (McCarroll et al., 2017). The parent may end up thinking that it is the child who has reported the problem to the authorities. Second, even though a parent may be facing different challenges in life, it does not guarantee that a child will be abused. Unfortunately, the first action is usually to separate the parent and child, leaving the child to suffer the loss of a parent at a tender age. When they reunite, the two become strangers who must first learn about each other and bond all over again.

Although steps have also been put in place to prevent child abuse, public service professionals may not be adequately trained on identifying problems or the telltale signs. Therefore, in most cases, a child is rescued when it’s already too late and nothing much can be done to salvage the relationship. Therefore, the child will never go back home and is forced to live in foster care until adulthood.

Things We Might Do Individually and Collectively To Prevent Child Abuse from Happening to other Children

The choices people make every day can result in a positive change on the issue of child abuse. Collectively and individually, healthy and supportive communities can be developed through efforts of advocacy, developing specific programs, collaborations, inclusion and even education (McCarroll et al., 2017). As an individual, one needs to be able to look out for another person’s child. A supportive spirit needs to be encouraged in the society. Whenever a parent seems to be struggling with different life’s challenges, he needs to know that he has neighbors and friends to count on for support, hence preventing the problem from getting out of hand. Parents need to be mentored and offered support all through to a point where the new born becomes an adult. Unfortunately, for most people, the only support they get is when the child is a new born baby. Parents need to know that they have someone to count on whenever raising a child proves difficult. This will prevent them from lashing out on the child who they blame for their problems.

Every neighborhood needs to have a constant supply of materials which educate them about parenting and the possible challenges they may face. Here, healthy discipline to offer the children may also be listed so that parents can get ideas on how to punish a child who refuses to follow the right path (McCarroll et al., 2017).  Through this, abuse is minimized.

How Might This Story Impact Your Future Responses in Your Roles

I have found it scary and sad that Dave came so close to dying at the hands of his mother. As such, this story has definitely changed my perspective regarding the issue of child abuse and child protection. I now feel like prevention is better than cure, and in case I ever witness a situation where I doubt the safety of a child, I will act promptly to inform the authorities so that investigations may be done silently. Similarly, if I ever come across such a child, I will try as much as possible to bring them close to me so that they feel safe and able to open up about any problem they may be witnessing. When investigating, however, I will try as much as possible not to cause further conflict by not accusing anyone without sufficient proof. In addition, instead of making it seem like a punishment, the parent needs to know that the action is being taken so that he or she can first focus on getting better before being reunited with the child.

How Articles Relate To This Story

            The two articles are “Physical Child Abuse and Teacher Harassment and Their Effects on Mental Health Problems Amongst Adolescent Bully-Victims in Taiwan” and “Roles of Childcare Teachers toward Child Abuse Prevention”. In the first article by Yen, Ko, Liu & Hu (2015), child abuse is being linked to mental health problems of the victim. For a child, it is important to consider both physical abuse and harassment as both are considered important factors in the resulting health of the child. In the second article by Eun-Ju (2016), it is evident that teachers consider the issue of child abuse and neglect as very serious. This is why they must never ignore any possible sign of child abuse, and instead they must report to the authorities.

These articles relate to the story as they both address the factors which were critical in “A Child Called ‘It’”. Child abuse is bound to have an effect on the victim, which is exactly what Dave went through as it even reached a point he wished to be killed. He could not be his best self when growing up as his mother affected his self-esteem. The same is also the issue that is being discussed by Yen, Ko, Liu & Hu (2015), when it is noted that the mental health of a child is compromised in light of abuse. Similarly, the teachers and the nurse played an important role in saving Dave from his mother’s abuse. The article by Eun-Ju (2016) is relative as it discussed the important mandatory role of teachers in reporting such cases.


By reading this book, I have learnt that most children endure abuse from parents and guardians in silence. Not many have the courage to openly accept and share what goes on behind closed doors. I have also learnt that abuse, in most cases, starts slowly and in private. At first, the abuser is unsure of what reactions people around them will have. However, if it is noted that nothing is being done to stop the actions, things get worse even in the presence of specific people.




Eun-Ju, L. (2016). Roles of Childcare Teachers toward Child Abuse Prevention. Journal Of Digital Convergence14(8), 81-91. doi:10.14400/JDC.2016.14.8.81

McCarroll, J. E., Fisher, J. E., Cozza, S. J., Robichaux, R. J., & Fullerton, C. S. (2017). Characteristics, Classification, and Prevention of Child Maltreatment Fatalities. Military Medicine182(1), e1551-e1557. doi:10.7205/MILMED-D-16-00039

Pelzer, D. (1995). A Child Called It: One Child’s Courage to Survive. Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications.

Yen, C., Ko, C., Liu, T., & Hu, H. (2015). Physical Child Abuse and Teacher Harassment and Their Effects on Mental Health Problems Amongst Adolescent Bully-Victims in Taiwan. Child Psychiatry & Human Development46(5), 683-692. doi:10.1007/s10578-