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To Kill a Mockingbird
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird examines racism through the eyes of children Jem and Scout Finch in Great Depression-era Alabama, when a black man goes on trial for the rape of a white woman. There's some intense material in this Pulitzer Prize winner, first published in 1960: A drunk breaks a kid's arm and is killed with a knife; the children are stalked; and Atticus and his children face down a lynch mob in the middle of the night. But this is a true American classic and one of our most eloquent appeals for tolerance and justice. Lee accurately portrays both sides of this divided Southern society, and readers may be inspired to read more about the history of the time. Families may want to check out the 1962 film version.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Growing up in a small Southern town, Jem and Scout Finch think they know their family and neighbors: There's Boo Radley, the neighborhood recluse, whom the children attempt to lure out of hiding; cranky old Mrs. Dubose is secretly addicted to morphine; their odd playmate, Dill Harris, comes to stay with his aunt next door each summer; and then there's Atticus, their father, and their hero. At first barely penetrating their world of treehouses and elaborate reenactments of pulp novels are rumors of a black man accused of raping a white woman. In 1930s Alabama, her accusation all but proves his guilt. Yet lawyer Atticus questions the charge and defends the accused man in a town steeped in prejudice. Through the eyes of the children, as they try to understand the reactions of the townspeople and make sense of the crumbling world around them, the irrationality of racism is laid bare.
Is it any good?
This richly textured novel, woven from the strands of small-town life, lets readers walk in the shoes of one fully realized character after another. Jem and Scout see the heart of their town laid bare -- divided not just between black and white, but also between the prevailing racism and "the handful of people in this town who say that fair play is not marked White Only." They get to know the "Negroes in the Quarters," too, where they are welcomed because their father is a hero, willing to stand up against an entire town on behalf of justice.
They see the evil born of ignorance and squalor. And they see their father, under whose quiet righteousness and gentle civility lives an undemonstrative love that will always be there. With unmatched power of loving wisdom about the human heart, this book is one that no one should miss.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the longtime appeal of To Kill a Mockingbird. First published in 1960, it is often assigned in school. Why do you think that is? Do you think it's still as relevant as it was when it was first published?
What makes a book a classic? What would you put on your list of books that everyone should read? Would this book be on it?
Do you think racism is as present in the United States today as it was during the 1930s? How have things changed? Can a book like To Kill a Mockingbird help readers undersatnd racisim and its effects and promote empathy?
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