Jr. High & up
Published by HarperCollins
Copyright © 1960 by Harper Lee
Pulitzer Prize, 1961
Alabama Academy of Honor, 2001
Honorary Doctorate, University of Notre Dame, 2006
Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2007
WHY TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD IS A KEM GEM
It’s no wonder that Harper Lee’s, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, is an American classic. Her coming of age YA novel addresses the moral nature of human beings through the eyes of innocent children. Thanks to a stranger coming to town, Dill, who brings all the thrill, we see both the good and the evil in Maycomb County.
Harper Lee has put into prose a warning to the reader: Beware of false accusations. The morally good Atticus, reminds us of this when he has a heart to heart with Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” when discussing how Scout is teased about gender and cautions against using fists to solve problems. The novel weaves so many themes: small town, the south, social justice, community. But most of all, the true gems are the characters. And to use Atticus’ flattery, Lee’s spot-on dialogue is a marvelous moral compass for the reader to navigate our modern day cruelties, in a global world where the pull between good and evil still lurk in the night.
Reading this book for the first time as an adult left me wishing that more adults would read it. It’s often talked about as a children’s book, and for good reason. Lee masterfully exposes bigotry and hypocrisy for the ugly diseases they are among the hearts of mankind and young Scout Finch provides a safe vantage point for such heavy topics.
However, MOCKINGBIRD is by no means a book leveled only at young readers. The narrator is a thoughtful, observant child within the story, but her musings as a narrator contain maturity that only time and experience can produce. Its tragically timeless themes aren’t going away any time soon. I found Lee’s tremendous, solo work a compelling refresher on decency and compassion towards my neighbor, no matter our differences.
“But I never figured out how Atticus knew I was listening, and it was not until many years later that I realized he wanted me to hear every word he said.” ~ Scout Finch
Harper Lee stands out as a pioneer writing genius who broke every rule of the story-telling trade. She held a floodlight to the ugliest social dynamics of her time and blew the cover off America’s more subtle snobbery. She dared to educate generations of adults through the narrative voice of a child. Then she did something even more absurd. She created a young protagonist, Scout Finch, who was astonishingly independent, wise, articulate—and female.
Recommending this book as a KEM GEM may seem like a no-brainer. But we’d do a disservice if we didn’t. If you haven’t read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, slide it to the top of your bucket list. It’ll make you want to hug a defense lawyer, visit a shut-in, resolve a human rights violation, and become a better person—after you roll down the street in a tire.
“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” ~ Atticus Finch
One can see Lee’s influence in other written-for-adult, court room drama masterpieces; for instance, John Grisham’s A Time to Kill and Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men. In fact, I’m certain Matthew McConaughey studied Peck’s Atticus before playing Jake Tyler Brigance in A Time to Kill, the movie.
If you’ve read the book, I highly recommend watching To Kill A Mockingbird Movie (© 1962) the movie as well. You’ll see why Gregory Peck’s performance gained him the honor of the American Film Institute’s #1 hero in 100 years. And you’ll marvel that Mary Badham (Miss Jean Louise Finch) had no acting experience prior to her starring performance.
Random facts about To Kill a Mockingbird
- In a 2006 survey of librarians, To Kill a Mockingbird ranked first in their list of books you should read before you die.
- TKAM is loosely autobiographical. Nelle Harper Lee fashioned Atticus after her own attorney father.
- Mr. Lee unsuccessfully defended a black father and son accused of a murder; rendering him unable to save them from execution by hanging.
- The book character, Dill, (Charles Baker Harris), was inspired by Harper Lee’s neighbor and best friend, Truman Capote (Truman
- Harper Lee served as research assistant for Truman Capote’s best-selling novel In Cold Blood.
- Scout Finch continues to rank as one of America’s favorite movie tomboys.
- Lee received support to write TKAM through the generosity and encouragement of bene-
factors, Michael and Joy Brown.
- The 1960’s novel, translated in 40 different languages, has over 30 million copies in circulation.
- Harper Lee loved the TKAM screenplay–a testament to her humility.
- Miss Lee once threw her manuscript out a window–proof that she was, in fact, human.
- A classic movie line: “Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passing.” ~ Reverend Sykes.
- A fun surprise: the young Robert Duvall.
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