To Kill a Mockingbird

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
To Kill a Mockingbird Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Classic novel examines American racism and justice.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 30 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 154 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Author Harper Lee offers a snapshot of small-town life in Alabama during the 1930s, including views about race and some information about events taking place in Europe leading up to world War II. Readers will also learn about 1930s gender roles, education, and divisions created by economic status. 

Positive Messages

Atticus Finch tells Scout, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."

Positive Role Models & Representations

Atticus Finch, Jem and Scout's father, courageously defends Tom Robinson in a town where racial prejudice is firmly entrenched. He risks not only public disapproval but also his own safety to make sure Tom receives as fair a trial as possible. He imparts many lessons to his children verbally, but his actions speak loudest, teaching them empathy, and to judge people by their actions rather than by the color of their skin.

Violence

A drunk breaks a kid's arm. A man is killed with a knife. Atticus and his children face down a lynch mob in the middle of the night. Town gossip includes a story about a man stabbing a family member with scissors. A rabid dog is shot in the street. The trial at the center of the story involves a man accused of raping and beating a woman. A prisoner is shot trying to escape.

Sex
Language

Frequent use of "damn," one "bastard," and one "son-of-a-bitch." The "N" word and "('N'-word)-lover" is used liberally by some residents of Maycomb as if it's perfectly commonplace, and by others as a weapon.

Consumerism

Mr. Raymond drinks Coke (though others think it's liquor) and gives some to Dill. Jem eats a Tootsie Roll.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Mrs. Dubose is secretly addicted to morphine. A man named Dolphus Raymond is believed to be the town drunk, because he drinks something hidden in a paper bag, but it turns out to be a bottle of Coca-Cola. Bob Ewell is said to spend his relief checks on green whiskey, letting his children go hungry. Scout smells stale whiskey on a man's breath. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Harper Lee's 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird addresses the terrible impact of racism in America through a little girl's point of view. The story takes place in Depression-era Alabama, in the fictional town of Maycomb, which Lee patterned after her own hometown of Monroeville. The narrator, 6-year-old Scout Finch, and her brother Jem and their friend Dill play children's games, but they also have a clear view of the adults in their world. Their youth and innocence contrasts with the prejudice, cruelty, and poverty they often observe. There's some threatened and real violence in this Pulitzer Prize winner: A man breaks a child's arm; a rabid dog is shot and killed; there is a stabbing death; the children and their father, Atticus Finch, confront a lynch mob; and the court case at the center of the novel involves a Black man who's been accused of raping and beating a white woman. Some of this violence is whiskey-fueled, as well. The children in the novel learn powerful lessons about the impact of poverty and prejudice, and the importance of empathy, and so will those who read this classic. The 1962 film version starring Gregory Peck is one of those rare films that truly does justice to the original book. The audiobook read by Sissy Spacek is also note-perfect.

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byontherun April 9, 2008

A great story about respect

I remember seeing the movie when I was a kid. I'm really glad that I read the book though it has so much more. I'm reading it to my 11 year old. It is... Continue reading
Adult Written bymoviemadness April 9, 2008

A must-read for 13+

This book is a wonderful look at the south and people's attitudes. Its amazing insights and powerful message is inspiring and genuine. It is not inapprop... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bysillysasha123 April 18, 2014

Exelent!

I read this book in English class last year and I absolutly loved it. it had very heart warming scenes and very very sad scenes and it truly teaches to never ju... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byveronicaprice July 15, 2010

good for all ages, don't be threatened

this book may seem violent to some but it isn't graphic and doesn't go into detail concerining violent events. but what is life without violence? this... Continue reading

What's the story?

Growing up in the small town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression, Scout Finch -- the narrator of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD -- and her brother, Jem, are being raised by their widowed father, Atticus. Some interesting characters live on their street, both seen and unseen. Dill Harris comes to stay with Scout and Jem's next-door neighbor Rachel Haverford every summer, and the three children develop a close friendship. Elderly Mrs. Dubose shouts insults at the neighbors from her porch. Miss Maudie offers the children friendly advice and baked goods. The young Finches are scared of the Radleys' house, as creepy stories are circulated about Mr. Radley and his sons, especially Arthur, also known as Boo. The children enjoy re-enacting make-believe versions of the stories they've heard about Boo. Scout goes through some growing pains in the story, as her first day of school goes poorly and Jem becomes less willing to play with his little sister. Atticus encourages his daughter to exhibit empathy and patience with others, and he warns both his children that tough times may be coming to their little family; they may hear things that upset them, and he wants them to keep cool. The children learn that Atticus, an attorney, has taken the case of a Black man who has been accused of raping and beating a White woman. The events that unfold surrounding the trial and its aftermath teach the children a lot about their father's inner strength and wisdom, and the effects of racism and poverty on their community.

 

 

Is it any good?

Told through the eyes of a child, Harper Lee's magnum opus may seem to take a simplistic point of view, but Scout's world is rich and complex, and the author doesn't stint when it comes to the realities Black people face in a racist society, and the pressures that poverty puts on the Maycomb community. All that said, Lee's story is about a White family and is told from a White perspective. The reader learns much about the history of the Finch family and very little about Tom Robinson's life other than what's revealed through Scout and her father. This is a beautifully written book, with important lessons to teach, but readers should also be encouraged to read great writing by Black Americans, such as Richard Wright and Toni Morrison.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the prejudice exhibited by some characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. Could this story take place today? How have American attitudes about race changed since the 1930s? How have they remained the same?

  • This story is told through the eyes of a little girl. What does the author achieve by making Scout the narrator? How does this affect the way the story unfolds?

  • What does Boo Radley represent in the story? Why do you think the children enjoy re-creating stories they've heard about him?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories of racism and social justice

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