Monday, July 14, 2014

All Things Mockingbird

“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy . . . but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” 
-- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

For my 47th birthday, my now husband/then boyfriend gave me the perfect gift -- a first edition copy of my favorite novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. On that day, I knew he was a special man because he took so much time to find a gift that I would value for many reasons. Yes, his search and purchase of the book are special. Also, it's a first edition so it has monetary value, but mostly, I love this gift because of the timeless story inside the book.

One of the many awesome gifts from my husband, a first-edition copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.

What makes this book such a classic? As an Alabamian, I take pride that Nelle Harper Lee is also from my state. She is revered by Alabama school children -- right up there with George Washington Carver (peanut/soybean genius), Booker T. Washington ("Set your buckets down in the South"), Helen Keller (dare I say "Water"
?) and Lionel Richie ("She's a Brick House"). The book is great because of the plot -- wise, white, widower (check out that alliteration) lawyer defends doomed, black man accused of raping low-class white woman. From the beginning, the lawyer knows he will lose, but he continues to fight for what's right and set an example for his children, Jem and Scout.

Jem and Scout from the movie
To Kill a Mockingbird
Lee delivers several themes/messages in this novel. Good vs. evil is a big one as is racial injustice; however, to me, the greatest message is about the loss of innocence. Jem and Scout are young and innocent, and it's through Scout's eyes that we see everything unfold. She learns about acceptance of people who are different from her because of their race or mental illness. As her father Atticus teaches her, she can’t “understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

From the movie To Kill a Mockingbird -- Atticus in a discussion with Dill, Jem and Scout.

Even though I could write on and on about To Kill a Mockingbird, that book is not the main focus of my post. It is another coming-of-age novel titled Mockingbird that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and wanted to share.

Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird is about a 10-year-old girl named Caitlin who has Asperger's syndrome. Without telling too much of the plot, Caitlin, like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, experiences a loss of innocence. Caitlin's experience, however, is about a terror we face in our society today -- school violence. Caitlin's older brother is killed by another student in a shooting at his middle school. 

There are many similarities between To Kill a Mockingbird and Mockingbird -- the narrators are 10-year-old girls whose mothers have died, a terrible event happens to draw the community together, and the girls are trying to understand why such events happen. Caitlin, a very smart and artisitic girl, searches for emotional "closure" even though she does not understand the emotional meaning of the term. She struggles with looking people in the eye, making friends, and controlling her outbursts when she feels overwhelmed.

I enjoyed this book because I was able to learn how a child/person with Aspergers must feel sometimes -- isolated, misunderstood, unable to make people understand how he/she sees things. If you know a person like Caitlin, I recommend this novel. 

On another note, To Kill a Mockingbird was first published in July 1960. To mark the anniversary, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was released in ebook version. In keeping up with the times, the publishers have allowed more young people to enjoy and learn from this book in a format they are accustomed to. Even though I have read and taught the book many times and own a hardback copy, I still had to download it in digital format.

Also, on July 15, 2014, a new book, The Mockingbird Next Door, will be released. The author, Marja Mills, is a journalist who was allowed into the life/home of the very private Nelle Harper Lee in order to tell the story of the Lee family, of why there was no second novel, of Southern ways, and of how To Kill a Mockingbird affected Lee's life. 

Mills actually lived next door to Nelle and her sister Alice for eighteen months. According to the book’s description on, during that time, “Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their story, Nelle helped make sure she was getting the story—and the South—right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family.

I know I have overloaded you about all things Mockingbird, but as an English teacher and avid reader, it’s my job to spread the word about literature. If you somehow missed out on To Kill a Mockingbird, you really should invest the time to read it. Although the racial prejudice may shock us today, the lessons are timeless.