They Cage the Animals at Night Critical Context - Essay

Jennings Michael Burch

Critical Context

Although originally written for adults and featured as an alternate by the Literary Guild and the Doubleday Book Club, They Cage the Animals at Night was selected by the young adult services division of the American Library Association as one of the best books in 1984 for young adults. While there are some realistic fiction books for young adults that are set in foster homes and orphanages, Burch’s book is one of the few biographies or autobiographies to deal exclusively with the subject of the custodial care of children.

With its vivid, authentic portrayal of institutional life, Burch’s autobiography has been compared to a novel by Charles Dickens. As Dickens sought to arouse his readers about the plight of orphans in Victorian England with Oliver Twist (18371839), Burch attempts to jolt a modern audience from its complacency and to point out the suffering of many forgotten children. Although the author writes of his experiences of the early 1950’s, little had changed within the institutionalized child-care system by 1984, and this book has come to be recognized as more than a single, isolated case study. Burch’s powerful, gripping autobiography will appeal to teenage readers and keep their interest while it presents an honest account of the realities of life in foster homes and orphanages.