They Cage the Animals at Night

by Jennings Michael Burch

Publisher: Signet.
Originally published 1984

One misty evening, Jennings Michael Burch’s mother, too sick to care for him, left her eight-year-old son at an orphanage with the words, “I’ll be right back.” But she did not.

The book is a true story about a child that suddenly finds himself in and out of orphanages, institutions, and foster homes over for four years. He did not know his alcoholic father who had no part in his life. His mother was in and out of hospitals battling physical and mental illness. Jennings deals with abandonment, loneliness, and abuse, from some who were supposed to be caring for him.

This takes place during the early 1950’s. Things are much different today. We do not put bars on the windows or barbed wire around the top of the fence to keep children in. We do not let one person supervise 30 kids, assign them numbers like prisoners, or make them live in dormitories with 30 or 40 other kids.

This book does show the kinds of people that work as house parents and foster parents. Some were gruff, rough, abusive and did not like their work or children. Others were compassionate and concerned with a child’s emotional and physical wellbeing.

The strong points of the books are:

  1. Realizing the resilience and strength Jennings had and how just a few key people made a difference in his life.
  2. Reading this book helps all realize what an influence we have on others. Even if we do not work directly with children, the book shows that some of the greatest and most positive influences for Jennings were people he did not live with, (teachers, a bus driver, and a night watchman).
  3. Seeing the foster system from a child’s point of view. Even though the book is dated, children in care today can have the same feelings of loneliness, fear, pain, shame abandonment, and depression.

You will experience all kinds of emotions as you read this book. They Cage the Animals at Night might be especially helpful to house parents and those fostering or thinking about fostering. Anybody reading the book will grow in their understanding of others, both children and adults.