I taught TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee to 10th grade English classes for 35 years. I loved re-reading the book year after year, and I always found some little turn of phrase or nuance that made me smile. I must also profess that the dry humor in the book never failed to amuse me. I could fill pages of this post with my favorite quotes from the book; indeed, many of the lessons and themes of the novel helped to shape generations of readers and students. Released in July of 1960, according to Wikipedia, the book was subsequently translated into 40 languages, and sold over 30 million copies through the years. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, and the subsequent 1962 film was an Academy Award Winning blockbuster. The number of minds and hearts influenced by Harper Lee in the tumultuous 1960's during the quest for Civil Rights can never be counted, but I, along with many historians, feel that her novel had a profound effect on the entire movement.
With her straightforward manner of telling the story through the eyes of 6 year old Scout Finch, sprinkled with liberal doses of humor and childhood intrigue, even the most reluctant of my student readers enjoyed studying this novel in English class. I created fun projects and pair-shares, and even recorded a reading of the trial (done in many different voices) with my late husband, Scott. That recording made the trial "come alive" for the students, and the events in the novel prompted great discussions. What if . . . Tom Robinson had been white? What if . . . Sheriff Tate told the truth, and the town discovered that Boo Radley stabbed Bob Ewell? What if . . . this incident happened in 2000, instead of the Great Depression of the 1930's? The book presents endless possibilities for thoughtful reflection and discussion.
Every year when we studied the MOCKINGBIRD Unit, I told my students that they should read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD again- later in life- as adults. I promised that they would enjoy the book in an entirely different way than they were enjoying in in 10th grade. I saw a former student at a wedding a while back, and after a flamboyant greeting, she exclaimed, "Guess what! I just finished reading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD again! You always said we should read it again as adults, and I am getting so much out of this second read. So many things are apparent now that I am older, but the messages are still there." (I felt exhilarated- a mature adult in her 40's remembered that I said that she would enjoy reading the book again! And she was actively reading it! Oh, the power of a teacher!)
When I heard the news that Harper Lee had died, I went in search of my well-worn teaching copy of MOCKINGBIRD. The torn cover is a fraction of the page it once was, and the back cover disintegrated years ago; the pages are all loose; indeed, the entire book is held together by a rubber band. I can literally "take out chapter 3" or any other chapter, for that matter! Yet, as I perused the book, all of my underlined quotes and notes remain intact. Suddenly, I realized: that book was one of my closest friends for 35 years! I continue to miss teaching that novel since my retirement, and now, along with millions of others, I am feeling the loss of Harper Lee. Even though we never met, I felt like I knew her heart and her wit and her tomboy personality. I liked that she left the study of the Law to become a writer, because she had something important to say. I liked the way she presented her ideas ; her word choice and style are as much the book as the plot lines and the themes.
I am sad about the loss of Harper Lee, the friend I never knew.. From the thousands of Tweets and news stories about the impact of Harper Lee and her novel TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, I know I am not the only one who is grieving. I am thankful for her book, her life, her words, and for teaching the world about racism, courage, compassion, family, friendship, personal pain, truth, relationships, and so much more. Harper Lee made a difference is so many lives, and for the lessons she shared with my students and me and me, I am grateful.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Rittman Publishing, LLC ®
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I LOVE writing. And I love writing children's books- my newest passion. Although it will be a ton of work, I am looking forward to selling my books. Since I was a secondary teacher, I know that I have much to learn about elementary students, and I will have to follow my own advice and be my genuine self. However, I also know that I am passionate about helping kids who have to wear glasses, and that GRADY GETS GLASSES sends a positive message. I am willing to work hard and do all the things that also made me a successful teacher for 37 years. I remain inspired!
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