Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins, 1960.
Hardcover Trim Size: 1.11 x 8.38 x 5.68
Hardcover Pages: 336
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Little, 1988.
Paperback Trim Size: 0.78 x 6.76 x 4.17
Paperback Pages: 288
Awards: Pulitzer Prize 1961
Summary: A young tomboy is exposed to the ugly side of the adult world during the summer that her father defends a black man accused of rape.
Personal Response: This book is probably my favorite book of all time. It has a haunting sentimentality that is difficult to describe. It is beautiful, emotional, appalling, and innocent all at the same time. The ignorance of those who wish to keep it out of the classroom horrifies me.
Quality: 5Q – The writing and story have a voice that sets this book apart from other books written from a similar point of view.
Popularity: 4P – Extremely high sales rank at barnesandnoble.com. Also quite popular with censors.
Audience: 13+ will be able to fully appreciate the book and get more out of it. Girls might enjoy it more than boys.
Rationale for Using in the Classroom: This book has both historical and literary value above and beyond other books of its type. Leaving it out of a young reader’s literary experience would leave quite a void. Often, this book is a young adult’s first exposure to adult writing. Because the story deals with more mature subject matter from the point of view of a child, it is an important transitory book, both educationally and personally. It reveals a young protagonist’s development of an understanding of the complications of the adult world and the importance of a good moral education. It is a beautifully crafted personal narrative that will heighten a reader’s appreciation of effective storytelling, and it is an early exposure to symbolism. The book approaches the existence of social inequality with innocence and wonderment about how man can be so inhumane to man. This point of view creates a unique exposure to history for the reader. Though racial slurs are used in the book, the characters that use them are not presented in a positive light. Moreover, the sexual context of the trial that becomes integral to the story is muted, and is never the focus of the story.
Introducing to Young Readers: An introduction to this book should absolutely include a lesson in the historical context of the book. Educate readers on the social climate and attitudes during the Depression. Then, introduce the book by discussing some of the controversy surrounding it. If parental objections have arisen to the reading, invite these parents to the classroom on the day that the book is introduced.
Booktalk: In, Chapter 20, Atticus Finch delivers his closing arguments to the jury in the trial of Tom Robinson. It is an emotional moment in the book, and a confirmation of Atticus as the most consistently morally educated character in the book, and solidifies his children’s respect for him. This speech should be read aloud for the proper impact. Even better, in the 1962 Academy Award-winning film version of the novel, Gregory Peck’s delivery of this segment is truly moving.
1. Divide the classroom into two groups, Pro and Con. Have them debate the issue of the book’s censorship:
This novel has been challenged quite a lot due to its racial themes. Challenged – and temporarily banned – in Eden Valley, Minn.(1977); Challenged at the Warren, Ind. Township schools (1981), because the book “represents institutionalized racism under the guise of ‘good literature’.” After unsuccessfully banning the novel, three black parents resigned from the township human relations advisory council. Banned from the Lindale, Tex. advanced placement English reading list (1996) because the book “conflicted with the values of the community.” (from www.forbiddenlibrary.com)
2. Discussion: Are the black characters in the novel realistic or idealized? Is there more than one “hero” in this book? Identify “good” and “bad” characters. How is Atticus like/unlike a typical father? Compare and contrast Scout and Jem? What is Boo Radley’s role beyond the plot of the book (what does he show the other characters)? What characters from other reading can be considered “mockingbirds” (symbols of innocence)?
3. Writing: Record passages that show Scout’s growth throughout the book. Find each passage where mockingbirds are mentioned. Find outside poetry about mockingbirds and compare it to how they are used as symbols in the book. Research and write about true historical events similar to those in the book.
1. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye – This book is a good alternative for boys who cannot relate to a female protagonist. It has caused similar controversy to To Kill a Mockingbird, and although it is not a historical novel, it contains the same theme of coming to terms with the ugliness in the world.
2. Lois Lowry, Number the Stars – A historical novel about the Holocaust, this book can be used as an alternative if parents absolutely will not allow their children to read about racial prejudice. Its approach to the unpleasant past is more sensitive and detached than that of To Kill a Mockingbird.
3. Karen Hesse, Out of the Dust – Also set during the Depression, this historical novel is another alternative for objecting parents, as well as for readers who have trouble with the length of To Kill a Mockingbird. Race issues are not directly addressed in this book, but it is still a good introduction to the lifestyle and attitudes of families during this era.