A Child Called ‘It’ Characters: Siblings and More

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Child Called 'It'" by Dave Pelzer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Who are the characters in A Child Called “It”? How do A Child Called “It” characters each play a role in Dave Pelzer’s experiences?

A Child Called “It” characters include family members, people at school, and other characters. His family was the source of the abuse while there were glimmers of hope outside of the home.

Keep reading for the roles of various A Child Called “It” characters.

A Child Called “It” Characters in the Family: Mother Leads Abuse

Mother became more tyrannical and Father was increasingly absent, their marriage gradually disintegrated. 

Mother yells at Father and calls him names constantly. She not only berates him when he’s home, but she also calls the fire station when he’s at work. As a result, Father comes home drunk most of the time and spends his time home working outside. 

Mother briefly tries to make an effort to restore the relationship. On one occasion, she prepares an elaborate surprise dinner for Father. But Father shows up hours late and drunker than David has ever seen him. Father is in and out of the house just long enough to pack a bag, and then he leaves for the night. 

A few days after Christmas, Father finally moves out of the house. Mother, David, and his brothers deliver Father’s belongings to him at a run-down motel. As they drive away, a few thoughts run through David’s mind: 

  • He resents Father for leaving the family. 
  • He’s jealous that Father got out of the madhouse, while David is still stuck. 
  • He’s afraid that now nothing will hold Mother back, despite how little influence Father had on her actions already.

As if reading David’s mind, Mother says to him that now he has no one to protect him. David is sure Mother will kill him soon, and he merely hopes she’ll do it quickly. 

Although David supposedly wrote off God the year prior, he prays. 

(Shortform note: David’s parents faced no charges after he was removed from their custody. His father died in 1980 and his mother in 1992. Mother’s funeral was the first time David and his brothers were all together since social services removed David from the family home.)

David hates his brothers—except his baby brother Kevin—who have been so brainwashed by their Mother that they go along with treating David as the family slave. In one instance, his brothers even take turns physically attacking David. 

(Shortform note: David’s younger brother Richard released a book, A Brother’s Journey, after this book was published. In it, Richard describes how he went from harassing David to becoming the new target of Mother’s abuse after David was taken out of Mother’s custody.)

Characters at School

At school, the characters in A Child Called “It” are classmates that don’t help and teachers that are sometimes a spot of hope.

Two bullies are especially persistent: Clifford, who often beats David up on his way home from school, and Aggie, who teases David relentlessly. On a field trip to the historic Clipper Ships in San Francisco, Aggie tells David that his life is so bad that he should jump off the ship.

Mr. Ziegler Encourages David

One bright spot in fifth grade is David’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Ziegler. Once the nurse tells Mr. Ziegler that David’s abuse is the reason for his behavior issues, Mr. Ziegler makes a point of treating David like the other students and not writing him off as a problem student. 

Mr. Ziegler chooses David to be on a committee to name the school newspaper. David’s suggestion is ultimately selected, and Mr. Ziegler tells David that he’s proud of him; this is the first positive feedback David has heard in years. Mr. Ziegler also sends David home with a letter to Mother, telling her she should be proud of David’s achievement. 

During the first couple weeks of David’s fourth-grade year, he has a substitute teacher who intuits that there are problems in David’s home life. 

The substitute teacher informs the school nurse. The following month, the nurse calls David to see her, and she asks him about his bruises and tattered clothes. 

David initially repeats the lies Mother has taught him to tell. After some talking, David begins to trust the nurse enough to tell the truth, and the nurse invites David to come back and talk to her anytime. 

Other Characters in A Child Called ‘It’

While Mother is gone, Father lets David play with his brothers, who let him join in without hesitation, showing the apparent power of Mother’s influence on everyone in the family. 

David and his brothers also spend some time playing at the house of a neighbor, named Shirley, who has a young son. When Mother returns home, she and Shirley become friends—until Shirley begins asking why David faces so much punishment and is forbidden from playing with his brothers. Mother makes some excuses at first, but after a while, she flat-out says that David is bad and deserves punishment. 

Soon after, Mother stops speaking to Shirley. Although Shirley hadn’t gotten directly involved, she had been someone kind who had noticed David, and the broken friendship makes him feel more isolated and vulnerable. Shirley was another one of the characters in A Child Called “It” that offered David some hope.

A Child Called ‘It’ Characters: Siblings and More

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dave Pelzer's "A Child Called 'It'" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full A Child Called 'It' summary :

  • How David Pelzer survived horrific abuse at the hands of his mother
  • How victims and survivors of abuse can find support and overcome their painful past
  • Why child abuse may go unnoticed by other adults

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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