A Child Called It: Novel Summary: Chapter 1

Chapter 1: The Rescue


A Child Called “It”: One Child’s Courage to Survive is based on the real-life story of the author, Dave Pelzer, from the age of four to twelve. The story begins in March, 1973, at the family home in Daly City, California. It is early morning, and fifth-grader  Dave is trying to deal with his angry mother, who hits him in the face because he has taken too long washing the dishes. She hits him again and then storms out of the kitchen. 


Dave finishes the dishes and is allowed a tiny amount of breakfast—some leftover bits of cereal. It is clear that he rarely gets enough to eat. Suffering from a hangover, his mother drives him and his older brother to school. She tells him to tell the school administrators that he ran into a door (to explain the bruise on his face). 


At school, a nurse examines Dave, not for the first time, noting the bruises on his face and arms. When he says he ran into a door, the nurse points out that he said that the previous Monday. Dave changes his story, saying he was playing baseball and accidentally got hit with a bat. 


Dave takes off his old, torn clothes and the nurse examines him further. His teeth are chipped from having had his head slammed down on the kitchen counter top. He has a scar on his stomach from where his mother stabbed him. 


The nurse leaves the room and returns with Mr. Hansen, the principal, and two of his teachers, Miss Woods and Mr. Ziegler. Mr. Hansen indicates he has seen enough of this abuse. Dave fears the principal will call his mother and he will receive a beating because of it. This has happened before following a call from the principal.  


Mr. Hansen says he will not call Dave’s mother and sends Dave to his English class with Mrs. Woodworth. When he arrives the other students hiss at him and remind him that he smells. 


He is summoned back to the principal’s office and led to the teachers’ lounge where Mr. Ziegler; Miss Moss, his math teacher; the nurse; Mr. Hansen; and a police officer are waiting from him.  The police officer wants Dave to tell him about his mother. Reluctantly, he does so. He says he is punished because he is bad. 


Dave is sent out of the room and then called in again. Miss Moss hugs him and Mr. Hansen gives him lunch. Dave gives more information to the policeman. He has no idea what is going on. They all say goodbye to him, and he thinks he is being sent to jail. 


The police officer drives him to the police station, where he does some paperwork and then calls Dave’s mother and tells her that Dave is to be taken into the custody of the San Mateo Juvenile Department.  Then they drive down the highway, and the officer tells Dave he is free, his mother will never hurt him again. 




The first chapter is set off from the main narrative. It is printed in all italics and told in the present rather than the past tense.  The author chooses to start not at the beginning but almost at the end of his story. The purpose is to get the reader immediately intrigued—and appalled—by the story that is to follow. 


This chapter provides many glimpses of the horrifying facts about Dave’s life. He is regularly beaten by his mother who drinks too much. He is often starved of food. He is told to say his bruises were the result of an accident, and he does so, obediently. He is neglected in other ways; his clothes are old and torn, and he is not kept clean. The school authorities are well aware of the abuse, and he has been examined many times by the nurse. Up until now they have taken no action, and it is not made clear why they have finally decided to take Dave from his mother. The story is told from the viewpoint of the powerless child who is not privy to the reasons that adults act as they do. 


Dave Pelzer also strikes in this chapter, just once, one of the main themes of his narrative: his will to survive. He writes, “Mother can beat me all she wants, but I haven’t let her take away my will to somehow survive” (p. 4). This theme will be developed in the chapters that follow, as a counterpoint to the horrific story of child abuse.