63 pages 2 hours read

Jennings Michael Burch

They Cage the Animals at Night

Nonfiction | Autobiography / Memoir | Adult | Published in 1984

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Teacher Introduction

They Cage the Animals at Night

  • Genre: Nonfiction; autobiography
  • Originally Published: 1984
  • Reading Level/Interest: Lexile 450L; grades 9-12; college/adult
  • Structure/Length: 15 chapters, prologue, and epilogue; approximately 304 pages; 9 hours, 13 minutes on audio
  • Central Concern: This is an autobiographical account of Jennings Michael Burch’s tumultuous childhood spent in and out of foster homes and institutions in New York. The title draws from an episode in which young Burch, having bonded with a stuffed animal for comfort, wonders why animals at a shelter are caged at night. The poignant narrative shines a light on the US foster care system of the 1950s and the resilience of a child’s spirit amidst adversity and abandonment.
  • Potential Sensitivity Issues: Child abandonment; abuse; loneliness and neglect; depiction of institutional care and its flaws

Jennings Michael Burch, Author

  • Bio: Born 1941; died 2013; endured a challenging childhood in the foster care system; earned a BA at John Jay College in forensic psychology; worked as a policeman, theater manager, and cook among other jobs; turned to writing to share his experiences and shed light on the challenges faced by many children in institutional care

CENTRAL THEMES connected and noted throughout this Teaching Guide:

  • “Home” Is Relative
  • The Abandonment and Isolation of Children
  • The Ephemerality of Happiness and Comfort for Children in Foster Care