Wringer (Summer Reading Edition)

Despite the fact that it rarely shows up on humane-education lists, if I could suggest only one book promoting humane values, it would be Wringer.

Obviously inspired by the infamous Hegins Pigeon Shoot, Spinelli weaves the story of a young boy who faces an incredible dilemma: will he follow the path of his peers and become a “wringer” of the necks of injured birds at his town’s annual pigeon shoot, or will he stay true to his values and the wayward pigeon he’s adopted as a pet?

The book is told from the perspective of Palmer, a boy who has just turned ten—a milestone he has been dreading. That’s the age when all boys in his town are expected to begin participating in the pigeon shooting event by dispatching wounded birds. The neighborhood crew of adolescent boys—who can best be described as Palmer’s “frenemies,” make things even more difficult for him. And then add into the mix Palmer’s mental struggle over befriending an unpopular, picked-on girl and his desire to protect Nipper, his pet pigeon.

From a humane standpoint, there’s so much to like about this book: major themes addressed include bullying, peer pressure, cruelty to animals, staying true to one’s self, and societal expectations. The characters are realistically depicted; both adults and juvenile readers will find something to take away from Wringer. It is an excellent starting point for discussion, especially in a classroom setting.

The fact is, Palmer’s dilemma is repeated every fall by countless children in rural America. Hunting is typically introduced to children at an early age; and it’s a safe bet to say that a certain percentage of those children are not thrilled at the thought of taking animals’ lives. The introduction into the hunting culture often comes with “traditional” practices like shooting squirrels—or it may come with a contest pigeon shoot like that featured in “Wringer.” (The aforementioned Hegins shoot was held annually for 64 years before ending in 1998; pigeon shoots still occur at private gun clubs throughout Pennsylvania. to this day .) I had to laugh at the angry reviewers on Amazon who were aghast at the book’s violent references and found the entire idea of a pigeon shoot unbelievable. As someone born and raised in the heart of hunting country, I knew the book as something else—honest, and above all, realistic.

And after a tidal wave of books in which children upend the systems of adults, I was pleased and relived to finally see a down-to-earth ending. Call me a cynical adult, but I’ve come to the conclusion that media that put all the burdens of heroism on children’s shoulders simply make for dispirited kids. Without giving away too much, the ending is uplifting, but believable.

This would be a wonderful book to share in an upper-elementary or middle-school classroom, especially those in rural areas. All students—whether avid or reluctant hunters, or dedicated nonhunters—will find something to relate to in Wringer. It just might encourage some debate, thought, and questioning as well—something humane educators always like to see.

(review originally appeared at

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