Saturday, February 20, 2016

Harper Lee 1926-2016

I love To Kill A Mockingbird. I have been teaching it to sophomores for 34 years. And we were about 10 chapters into the book this year, when the news of Harper Lee's death reached me. I almost started crying. I'm sure my students thought I had lost it.

My initial reaction to the novel wasn't great. My dad put it on an assigned reading list when I was in 9th grade. (He was tired of me reading junk.) I checked the book out but was skeptical. I hate guns. I wasn't crazy about birds.

Three chapters into the book I was so confused. Scout sounds like a boy's name. Jem sounds like a girl's name. The kids called their dad Atticus, and calling a dad anything but dad was a foreign concept to me. I turned the book back into the library after those three chapters and didn't pick it up again for about 10 years.

This time, it was instant love. I love the fact that the story is told by a child, and those sordid events are seen through the innocent eyes of children.

I love the fact that the kids recapture childhood memories of making up games and having adventures. (It took me about 5 years of reading/teaching this book 6 hours a day to figure out that the kids even watched a neighbor pee off the porch. Duh!)

I love the parallel plot lines and the incredible way Lee pulled both of them together in the end.

Most of all I love that To Kill A Mockingbird was part of a great shift of thinking in the USA. We will never know how much of a role the book played in the Civil Rights movement and the changing views of our country, but never underestimate the influence a novel has had in the hands of students all across this country for the last 50 years.

Scout said, "There's just one kind of folks--folks."

And her brother Jem replied, "If there's just one kind of folks, why can't they get along with each other? If they're all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?"  

 A good question...and one we are still trying to answer today.

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