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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: To Kill a Mockingbird, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Louisiana Book Relief: Help Restock Flooded Libraries

All of us at First Book have been heartbroken to learn ways recent floods in Louisiana have destroyed public libraries, school libraries, and home libraries across Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas.

Flooded Baton Rouge 20160815-OC-DOD-0009.jpg

An aerial view of Baton Rouge, LA after 2016 flooding. Picture by U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Even before the flood waters started to recede in Baton Rouge, we knew what residents needed most urgently: clean water, a roof overhead, and the peace of mind that comes from knowing your next meal is not a gamble. But what comes afterwards? Where do we start to rebuild the foundation of a community?

“We lost everything in our library,” said Claire Clickingbeard, a teacher at Tanglewood Elementary in Baton Rouge. “As well as all teachers’ personal collections.”


Teachers from Baton Rouge and across the country wrote and told us where they needed to start.

“Our school lost its entire library, including all the books in individual classrooms, “said Sarah Batty, a teacher at Denham Springs High School in Livingston Parish. “As I was sorting through the books, I opened a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. This particular book had been handed down through three teaching generations. I saw the ink from the handwritten notes running down the pages…and I lost what little bit of composure I still had left. It was my favorite teacher possession, and there it was dripping in the remains of the river that ran through my school.”

First Book is raising funds to help restock school libraries across the region for Claire, Sarah and many other educators and their students. Funds raised will help us cover the shipping and handling costs of donated books, as well as the purchase of additional books from the First Book Marketplace.

We invite anyone passionate about the power of books, education, and the importance of community to make a donation. If you are an individual that would like to help, please visit our fundraising page to make a donation. Each $1 donated will be MATCHED with a new book from our publishing partners, up to $30,000.

We are working with our friends at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and other publishers who have generously donated a range of new books to this effort. If you are a publisher interested in contributing books to schools and programs affected by the floods, please email First Book at fbnbb@firstbook.org.

If your school or program was affected by the recent floods and would like to request new books to restock shelves or to share with the children you serve, please enter your contact information here. Please note that completing this form will not guarantee that you will receive books, but it will be the first step in the process.  First Book will share books and resources with as many schools and programs as we are able.

Please join us in restoring the basic resources needed for a school.

The post Louisiana Book Relief: Help Restock Flooded Libraries appeared first on First Book Blog.

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2. Review: Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

The book everyone is talking about. The book no one thought they would ever see. Fifty Five years after To Kill A Mockingbird we have a sequel…. Firstly I think it is really important to remember the context of this book while reading it. This book was written before To Kill A Mockingbird. Before all […]

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3. Harper Lee to Publish Second Book

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Harper Lee has revealed plans to publish a second book.

The To Kill a Mockingbird author revealed today that Harper would publish Go Set a Watchman this year. The book will be available on July 14th and is currently available for presale on Amazon.

The book is a kind of sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, however it was finished earlier. “In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called ‘Go Set a Watchman,'” stated Lee. “It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout’s childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became `To Kill a Mockingbird’) from the point of view of the young Scout.  I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told.”

Will You Read Harper Lee’s New Book?

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4. Go Set a Watchman is HarperCollins’ Bestselling Pre-Order Book

gosetawatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, is the bestselling pre-order book that HarperCollins has ever seen.

Robert Thomson, chief executive of Harper Collins parent company News Corp., revealed this news to The Guardian. He would not reveal sales figures but did say that the book won’t have a ton of marketing. Here is an excerpt:

Thomson said: \"I’m not going to make a sales forecast, it’s inappropriate, but it’s going to be a big book. It won’t need a huge amount of marketing, it will have a certain amount of marketing. Most people in America have read To Kill a Mockingbird.

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5. Mary Badham to Read New Harper Lee Novel at the 92Y

gosetawatchmanMary Badham, the actress who portrayed young Scout Finch in the 1962 film adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, will celebrate the release of Go Set a Watchman at a reading event. She plans to read from both the first Harper Lee novel and the highly anticipated sequel.

This event is scheduled to take place on July 14 at the 92Y in New York. For those who can’t make it in-person, it will also be broadcast live on the organization’s website.

Badham gave this statement in the press release: “Of course at age 10 I wasn’t aware of the impact Mockingbird had at the time, or the impact the film would have later, but it has been a special part of my life ever since. Now I am really excited about Watchman and being able to share it with Miss Nelle’s loyal and passionate fans.”

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6. Re-Reading To Kill A Mockingbird

In anticipation of the new Harper Lee novel, Go Set A Watchman, (out July 14) I decided it was the perfect time for a re-read of To Kill A Mockingbird. I don’t think I’ve read the book since high school and the movie is still so dominant in my mind so it was a great […]

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7. Fan Mail Wednesday #125 (further thoughts on bullying)

As part of a late summer assignment, I received a terrific letter from Zander in Brooklyn, including his answer to the question, “What will happen to the characters in Bystander after the story?

Here’s an excerpt from that letter . . .

Thanks so much for answering my questions. I really loved your book! I did a little writing about what I thought might happen to some of the characters in the future. I was wondering if you have ever thought about this? Do you think Griffin will continue to be a bully? What about the other characters? I also have to ask the obvious question — were you a bully or where you bullied in school? If not, why did you want to write this book? I’m really looking forward to your answers.


What I think will happen to the characters after the story:

I think Griffin will still be the bully, but he will be a lone bully with no clique by his side. About twenty pages before the book ended, Griffin’s gang separated from him; they were fed up with Griffin and his ways and felt bad for the people they hurt and picked on. Griffin may form a new clique, but I think the same thing will happen that happened to the original click, they will get fed up with Griffin’s ways. Eventually, Griffin will probably find out that this whole bully thing isn’t working out for him and turn over a new leaf, but I’m not so sure about that either; it’s not exactly Griffin’s way. The other problem is the relationship between Griffin and Griffin’s father. If the way Griffin’s father acts changes, Griffin will change with him. You see, Griffin mimics his father’s actions, and if those actions change, I have a good feeling that a new Griffin will be born. If they would go into therapy, this could be achieved. But since that didn’t happen in the story, it’s unlikely that it will happen now. Thus having Griffin stay the same.

I also think that Mary and Eric will still hang out a lot, they might be considered boyfriend and girlfriend, but I’m not sure. I also think that Griffin’s original clique will turn into Eric’s clique, or Griffin’s original clique will accept Eric as a member; either way, Mary will no longer be Eric’s only friend. Before I finished the story, I thought to myself that it would not be a “…and they all lived happily ever after” ending, and I was right. If the story continued on, I still think this would be true

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8. Read a Banned Book This Week

First Book Salutes Banned Books WeekThis week is Banned Books Week, an annual event celebrating our freedom to read whatever we like. It’s not that we want to celebrate the banning of books, of course. What we celebrate is the power of books to convey ideas, even ideas that are shocking, controversial or unpopular.

Sponsored by the American Library Association and many others, Banned Books Week is an important way to shine a light on these books. Many of the books highlighted during Banned Books Week were only the target of attempted bans; a powerful reminder of the importance of staying vigilant about protecting our First Amendment right to read any books we like.

At First Book, we like to walk the walk, so we make a special effort to ensure that the schools and programs in our network have access to high-quality books – including many that have been banned, or the target of attempted bannings.

Check out these books (and more) on the First Book Marketplace, and make sure the kids you serve have the chance to read them all, and make up their own minds.

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9. James Preller Interview: “Along Came Spider,” The Writing Process, Asperger’s, Atticus Finch, and More

The facts are fuzzy. A while back I answered ten questions by somebody who was writing a piece to be published . . . somewhere. Hey, it seemed legit at the time.

I do know that my book, ALONG CAME SPIDER, was featured in Michigan — some 1,600 copies were distributed to 4th-graders in 34 public schools — and there was a contest to “win an author,” that prize being me. Which is why, oh wild wonders, I’m winging where I’m winging next week. Grand Rapids, better batten the hatches.

What follows are my answers to the aforementioned ten questions.

1. Where did you grow up? What college did you attend?

The youngest of seven children, I was born in a blizzard in 1961, and grew up in Wantagh, on the south shore of Long Island, NY. I was an indifferent, distracted student in high school. For college, I stayed within the SUNY system and went to Oneonta –- which I loved. That’s where I became a serious, committed student.

2. What/Who motivated you to become a writer?

Look, I wanted to pitch for the New York Mets. When that didn’t work out –- and it became clear very early on –- I had to move on to Plan B. As a teenager, I kept a journal, wrote poems, scribbled lyrics to imaginary songs. Maybe it was a product of being the youngest, but even though I was intensely social, I was always able to be alone. For writers, that’s essential. You have to be okay with solitude.

3. How many books have you written?

I first published in 1986, and my career has been a long journey of trying different things, making tons of compromises along the way. Let’s say that I didn’t hit my first one out of the park. I wrote for food, I wrote to pay the bills. I’ve done more than 80 books overall, I’ve lost count. There are 40 in the Jigsaw Jones series. I’ve learned something from each and every one. But instant success? That was not my path. And I’m okay with it. Really. No, really!

4. In your opinion, what is the major theme in “Along Came Spider?”

It’s a book about the struggle to find your place, about fitting in, and some of the roots and tender shoots of bullying. It’s about being a friend, hopefully a good one, and what those responsibilities might be, which is not always so easy or so clear.

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10. Web of Words: To Kill a Mockingbird

50 Book Pledge | Book #29: Sacré Bleu by Christopher Moore

I present a passage from HarperCollinsTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

“This case, Tom Robinson’s case, is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience—Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.”

“Atticus, you must be wrong. . . .”

“How’s that?”

“Well, most folks seem to think they’re right and you’re wrong. . . .”

“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions,” said Atticus, “but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

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11. REPOST: Thoughts On Bullying, Bystanders, and Middle Schoolers

Note: This was first posted over at The Nerdy Book Club, a great sight for fans of children’s books. Recommended.


“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

After I wrote the book BYSTANDER (Macmillan, 2009), I began to receive invitations to speak at middle schools. I was wary at first of being perceived as anybody’s “anti-bullying program.”

I wrote a book. Not a pamphlet, not a list of discussion questions, not a nonfiction guide to bullying. I could not offer a handy list of ten ways to make your school a bully-proof zone. I didn’t even believe in it.

I wrote a story –- that was the tool at my disposal.

Stories are essential to our lives. How could we live without them? We watch television, go to movies, tell tales to our friends and neighbors, conjure dreams at night, play complex video games, read books. Humans are storytelling creatures. We seem to need stories. Something inside us craves stories, we hunger for them, ravenous.

Why is that?

Stories function differently than nonfiction. The characters have a way of worming inside our souls. Robert McKee, in his book, STORY, claims that “Stories are equipment for living.”

Equipment for living.

Our lives race past us, a frantic blur, and we move from the next thing, to the next, to the next, with barely a moment’s reflection.

Stories give us pause. They give our lives form and shape. And time. We turn a page. We consider. We piece together the meaning of our days through the stories we hear.

And we ask of these stories the same question, over and over again: What is a good life? How are we to conduct ourselves here on this earth?

Well-told stories, as Harper Lee so beautifully demonstrated in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, allow us to walk in someone’s else’s shoes. Remember that remarkable scene at the end of the book? When Scout walks Boo Radley home, climbs up to his porch, and for a moment turns and looks at the world from his perspective?

Scout concluded: “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them. Just standing on the Radley porch was enough.”

That’s story.

It’s also called empathy, understanding, compassion.

Here’s McKee again: “A culture cannot evolve without honest, powerful storytelling.”

Story isn’t an escape from reality. It is a light that shines upon the dark corners of our world, the secret places, the hidden fears and hopes and dreams.

It is why books matter, and why, I now know, some teachers have embraced BYSTANDER –- among other novels — as a way to explore this complex topic.

I’ve stood on a stage in auditoriums in front of 500, 600, 700 middle school-age children. Or as they refer to them in Ireland, “young people.” I like that. Young people. So much more intrinsically respectful than kids, little lambs eat ivy.

Despite my experience visiting places like Oklahoma and South Carolina, Illinois and Connecticut, Florida and Michigan, I’m still in the process of learning how to talk about bullying. Still growing into my own shoes. Still learning to speak above a whisper.

One of the central ideas embedded in the book – an idea I came to understand only through the passage of time – also happens to be one that’s incredibly difficult for me to directly convey to middle school students. So I don’t try to tell it, per say, so much as hope it leaks out over everything, like sunlight through the edges of a drawn blind. But I think it’s worth saying to you, here.

Research shows that bullying peaks in middle school. Why is that?

Let’s recall Emerson’s quote from up top, and agree that one of the greatest achievements in life is to become, simply, one’s true self. It sounds easy enough, but as we know, it is not. I’m a father, I have three children, including a 7th-grader and a 9th-grader. I watch their awkwardness and insecurities and struggles.

To be content in your own skin.

To not look to others for your cues.

To accept and trust who you are, to follow your own inner compass.

These are not easy things.

At no time in life is it tougher than in middle school, when peers begin to replace parents as prime influencers. How to dress, what to talk about, what to watch on television, how to act, where to sit, whom to befriend, whom to avoid. This is how we forge identity, hammering out our awareness of self (which is a created thing after all, the “self” we decide to become). At middle school, many of these daily details are powerfully influenced by the pack.

Yet a primary aspect to becoming a true individual is the casting off of those concerns. It’s a challenge for anybody to stand up against the crowd. For a middle schooler, it’s close to impossible. On a deep level, in terms of self-identity, they see themselves as the group. The group is them, the individual swallowed by the great whale. And we are all Pinocchio, trapped inside the dark belly, fumbling for a light, yearning to become a real boy.

This dynamic is how young people find their place in the world. We watch others to learn about ourselves. We tell stories. We listen. And then when it comes to bullying, the adults in their lives tell these young people to not worry what anybody else thinks.

“Who cares what anyone thinks!”

Well, they care. They care so much.

In my heart, I believe the lasting answer to bullying is to become a genuine, authentic, free-thinking, responsible individual. The best definition of responsibility I’ve heard is “the ability to respond,” to act according to the courage of your convictions.

People are good, I absolutely believe that. And the closer people hone into to their true selves, the better and more moral they become.

Be yourself. In doing so, we all become far more likely to allow others the freedom to be their selves.

Shakespeare: “This above all: To thine own self be true!”

Or, if you prefer, Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”

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12. What I Learned From My 8th Graders About Discrimination

There will always be discrimination everywhere about everything because pointing out others’ differences masks people’s own insecurities.” -8th grade girl

The intensity of the themes in To Kill a Mockingbird can get pretty tough to handle when you’re reading it for the first time at 13 or 14 years old. This is why teaching the historical context is so important in order for our young adult readers to gain a better understanding of the novel. I was surprised, though, that I was the one who got a lesson about discrimination from an 8th grader’s perspective. These kids have such strong voices that need to be heard. This is why I’m sharing this teaching/learning experience with all of you.

One of the corresponding lessons in TKAM is learning about Black Tuesday, the Great Depression, the Dust Storm, and Jim Crow laws. We read a selection in our textbook about a list of segregation laws and how they were enforced. After reading, we discussed some issues that could help us connect how different characters in the novel may have felt during this time period. I thought some of their responses were insightful. It made me think of looking at the world through their eyes, so I asked a few critical thinking questions about their own views on discrimination. A couple of questions brought some very interesting responses.

1.       Do you feel there is discrimination at our school? In what ways?
2.       What has your experience with discrimination been? How has it made you feel?

  • ·          “I’m an athlete and in GT (Gifted and Talented – advanced level) classes. People think I suck at sports since they assume I’m a nerd.”
  • ·         “Just because I’m white, people automatically assume I’m wealthy.”
  • ·         “Some people think that all Muslims are terrorists. It upsets me because I wear the hijab, and some people judge us from that one thing.”
  • ·         “My personal experience with discrimination has to do with my race. I am Mexican, but have light skin, freckles, and I don’t speak Spanish. Many of the Hispanic students (and adults, too) say that I’m not a ‘true Mexican.’”
  • ·         “Some students think I’m the smartest person in class because I’m Asian, but I’m really not that smart.”
  • ·          “I have been discriminated against based on my sexual identity, musical choices, intelligence level, and favorite hobbies.”
  • ·         “I have been discriminated against when I went through a voice change in 6th grade. People made fun of my high voice. Now I’m the choir manager for my Advanced Choir group.”

·        This one is a personal favorite of mine:
“There will always be discrimination everywhere about everything because pointing out others’ differences masks people’s own insecurities.”

This girl is so right! Discrimination exists because people believe they are superior to others. Not only that, but it’s obvious to this young teen that narrow mindedness prevents any progress to the development of positive social change.  

What this girl said about discrimination really embraces one of the major themes in the novel. It even sounds like what Scout would say reflecting on how her father would pass on his moral values to her:
 “Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” ~To Kill a Mockingbird

Thank you, my dear GT 8th graders in English I, for teaching me what it truly means to "stand in borrowed shoes."

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13. Where Angels Fear to Tread by Keren David

I took O Level English Literature at a girls' grammar school in 1979. We studied three texts: Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford; E M Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Midsummer's

Night's Dream.  A play by the ultimate English writer, and two texts connected only by their utter Englishness.
I found the detailed social history contained in Flora Thompson's memoir of life in rural England completely tedious. Forster's examination of Edwardian snobbery and xenophobia in Forster's novel was somewhat baffling, sixteen-year-old girls not being best placed to appreciate a story about a middle-aged woman's lust for a younger man (Eeeuw, yuck, disgusting). Re-reading it, 35 years later I was surprised to find it laugh-out-loud funny.
 I didn't enjoy English Literature O level, but I was good at it, and that was why I continued on to A level, which I found much more rewarding, with its wider (but still 100% English...not even British) texts.
Around the same time my husband received a reading list from his school. It included 22 plays, including contemporary works (Arnold Wesker's Roots, Shelagh Delaney's A Taste of Honey), four plays by George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, and Sophocles' Antigone.  For W Shakespeare the list read 'Any Play'.
The list for prose was longer -  44 books. They included plenty of nineteenth century novels: Jane Austen, Brontes C and E, two novels by Dickens and one by Hardy.
There were many twentieth century texts, British, American and translated : Anne Frank's Diary; Of Mice and Men (and another Steinbeck), To Kill a Mocking Bird. George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984; Nevil Shute's A Town Like Alice and The Pied Piper, Graham Greene's Brighton Rock, D H Lawrence Sons and Lovers.
The list covered many genres -  science fiction (Day of the Triffids); romance (Pride and Prejudice); historical fiction (Rosemay Sutcliff's Warrior Scarlet); memoir( Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals), dystopian fiction (Fahrenheit 451); mystery (Josephine Tey's The Franchise Affair) a western (Shane by Jack Shaefer) and a thriller (Alistair McLean's The Guns of Navarone).  There were several true-life stories from the Second World War, one by a Polish writer, one by an Italian and Alan Burgess's novel A Small Woman about a British missionary in China.
This list was clearly designed to be as broad as possible, introducing pupils to classic works of literature and inviting them to find out what sort of book they enjoy. It was challenging, interesting, reflecting different social classes and nationalities, as well as ethnic minority groups.
Should schools find this extensive list too short, there was a note: 'Candidates from Schools whose extended lists have been approved by the Board may, of course, refer in addition to texts on these lists.'  My husband remembers that pupils were told to read at least five or six of the 66 texts on the list, but he read at least 20, some in class, some from the local library. The final examination at the end of the course asked generic questions such as: 'Write about strong characters in some of the books you have read.'
This list  fostered a love of  reading in my husband which eventually led him to read English Literature at Oxford University.
The really interesting thing is that he was taking CSE English at a Secondary Modern school, a school to which he had been condemned by failing the 11 plus. CSEs were widely seen as useless qualifications for thickies, but I would contend that anyone who was given that list and had a crack at reading six books on it, would find something  enjoyable and challenging to read which might inspire them to read more in the future.

Our daughter took GCSE English recently, studying anthologies of poetry and short stories, a few scenes from Macbeth and Of Mice and Men; a syllabus which seemed to be designed for kids with short concentration spans. Of Mice and Men was the only text she read that ran to any length at all - all 107 pages of it. I have nothing against Steinbeck's classic, and certainly nothing against Macbeth, I am sure that the anthologies contained good material, but I have to admit to a great deal of parental frustration as I watched my daughter thoroughly turned off by this thin fare, and irritated by being asked to compare World War One poetry with Macbeth, an exam question that she found pointless and off-putting. .
I am writing this, of course, because of the recent kerfuffle over GCSE English, a row in which facts got lost to prejudice (for and against Michael Gove, for and against American literature, for and against Dickens and other nineteenth century authors).
Depending on who you read, Gove had personally interfered to ban books, or had bravely intervened to widen the curriculum, or Gove had nothing to do with any of it. As the saying goes, fools rush in, where angels fear to tread: it seemed as though the way the changes to GCSE English were reported and discussed was designed to make everyone look foolish (a Machiavellian plot by Gove himself, perhaps?)
I watched the row develop with increasing frustration, as it had so little to do with the actual crisis facing British children's literacy. Libraries are closing! Schools are being designed without libraries! Reading is being re-defined as deciphering phonics! School library services are closing! Children are spending more and more time glued to screens and less and less time reading for pleasure! These are the real crises, not whether Of Mice and Men remains on the school syllabus.
 When I read that Bailey's Prize winner Eimear McBride wants to spend some of her £30,000 prize money buying copies of Of Mice and Men and To Kill a Mockingbird to give free to teenagers, I want to scream. These books haven't been banned, Eimear! Schools have so many copies that they will, no doubt, find a way of using them, perhaps by teaching them to Y9 pupils.  Instead, please give your money to the Siobhan Dowd Trust which has the simple and essential aim of promoting the love of reading among disadvantaged children and young adults.
Yesterday the review section of The Guardian newspaper asked a select group of authors and academics to pick GCSE texts (no librarians, English teachers or children's writers among them). The choice that make me giggle the most was put forward by Linda Grant: Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth. And the one with which I agreed  whole-heartedly was Hilary Mantel:
Should we play the Gove game, by setting up opposing lists? Or should we ask, which Gradgrind thought up the idea of set texts in the first place? Why should students be condemned to thrash to death a novel or a corpus of poetry, week after week, month after month? No novel was ever penned to puzzle and punish the young. Plays are meant to be played at. Poetry is not written for Paxmanites. Literature is a creative discipline, not just for writer but for reader. Is the exam hall its correct context? We educate our children not as if we love them but as if we need to control and coerce them, bullying them over obstacles and drilling them like squaddies; and even the most inspired and loving teachers have to serve the system. We have laws against physical abuse. We can try to legislate against emotional abuse. So why do we think it's fine to abuse the imagination, and on an industrial scale? What would serve children is a love of reading, and the habit of it. I wonder if the present system creates either.

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14. Coming to Terms With Yourself

When Harper Lee was asked what advice she’d give a young writer, she wrote: “Well, the first advice I would give is this: hope for the best and expect nothing. Then you won’t be disappointed.” And she went on to say: “You must come to terms with yourself about writing. You must not write “for” something, you must not write with definite hopes of reward. People who write for reward by way of

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15. Kerry Madden's Harper Lee (Up Close)

When I discovered that Kerry Madden was writing a biography about Harper Lee, I knew I had to read it. After all, it would be about my absolute favorite author and my all-time favorite book. Without fail, I devour every single word spoken by narrator, Scout, each time (I've lost count) I read To Kill A Mockingbird. Add one of the most talented and delightful authors, Kerry Madden, to the mix and it's a sure winner.

The young adult author of Gentle's Holler, Jesse's Mountain, and Louisiana Song, the Maggie Valley Trilogy set in 1960s North Carolina, has written the story of Nelle (pronounced Nail in her South Alabama hometown, Monroeville) Harper Lee with loving warmth. I have an idea how much the "Mockingbird" author means to Madden because detailed research and interviews leave no stone unturned.

Nelle, was as much a tomboy as narrator, Scout. This is probably one of the reasons I so identify with the book. Jane Hybart, a childhood friend writes that, during a softball game, she intercepted a ground ball hit by Nelle and was set to tag her out at first base. Instead of letting that happen, Nelle plowed right over Jane, knocking her flat. "Like a freight train," Jane recalled. Nelle was also wild about football, and played center on her hometown 4th grade football team and had no problem. My kinda gal!

I found Harper Lee's insecurity about her writing, refreshing. Reading through the early years of her life, it was easy to see the huge influence played by her supportive father; even if he did think giving up law school to move to New York to write, was an "unpractical profession." He thought she'd be much happier staying in Alabama writing for the Monroeville Journal. Had it not been for the encouragement of an old friend, Truman Capote, perhaps she would've backed out and the world might never have read, "He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning."

I hesitate to give away anymore tidbits about the life of Nelle Harper Lee, her family and friends, because you need to read and savor this bio for yourself. Although she was turned down by Ms. Lee to be interviewed for the book, as has everyone else wanting to chronicle her life, Madden barely misses a beat in Harper Lee (Up Close).

Kerry Madden's Website
Harper Lee: Up Close
3 Comments on Kerry Madden's Harper Lee (Up Close), last added: 11/5/2009
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16. 5 Great Depictions of Childhood in Novels for Adults - John Dougherty

Some people do find children difficult, don’t they?

And just as there are those who find children hard to relate to in real life, there are those who find them hard to relate to in fiction, and who therefore assume that any book with a child protagonist must ipso facto have been written with a readership of children in mind. This attitude generally goes hand-in-hand with the sort of assumptions about the merits of children’s fiction that makes those of us who write it rather cross.

Thankfully, there are also authors on the other side of the Great Fictional Divide who understand that childhood (in which, for the purposes of this piece, I include teenagehood as well) isn’t just a period of waiting to turn into a real person. So, as my contribution to the Awfully Big Second Anniversary Celebrations, here - in no particular order - are five of my favourite depictions of children and childhood in novels written for proper grown-ups:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
When I was a small child, I was told by my classmates that the house at the school gates was The Witch’s House. I remember going fearfully but excitedly up to it, one day after school, with one of my friends; and seeing, just as we reached it, an old woman’s face at the window.

We screamed and ran. We were afraid; but it was a safe fear - a fear of something we had created in our minds and fixed to someone else’s home. I don’t know why children do this - perhaps in order to practice dealing with genuinely scary things when we’re older - but in the Radley house, Harper Lee captures this sort of childhood totem perfectly; and in Scout, Jem and Dill, she creates three very real children, who play and negotiate and slowly learn about justice and injustice and the complexities of the adult world entirely convincingly.

To Kill a Mockingbird is fifty this year, and hasn’t aged a bit.

2. About a Boy, by Nick Hornby
We all knew a Marcus at school, didn’t we? Except, of course, for those of us who were Marcuses - bright in some ways and yet so naive in others; misfits who desperately needed to be taken under someone else’s wing.

It’s Hornby’s masterstroke, of course, that the wing in this case belongs to someone who bridges the gap between the child and adult states - a grown-up who’s never actually had to grow up.

About a Boy is a wonderful comedy of embarrassment, with a lot of unsentimental warmth and down-to-earth wisdom about families and growing up; and with two very real boys of vastly different ages at

8 Comments on 5 Great Depictions of Childhood in Novels for Adults - John Dougherty, last added: 7/28/2010
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17. A Classic

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Earlier this summer Becky @ Becky's Book Reviews and I decided to do a Buddy Book Review. We chose To Kill a Mockingbird as our first read.
Becky's review was posted earlier this week, the link for the review is:

Amazon link for the book:

Link for the book @ publisher:

Link for those interested in reading along with others or to obtain a widget:

Published by Harper Collins 50th Anniversary edition 11 May 2010, 336 pages, Fiction/Coming of Age Story/Classic
Originally published on 11 July 1960
I purchased this edition--hardback--on the very day that was the 50th Anniversary--11 July 2010

When To Kill a Mockingbird was published (1960) Jim Crow laws were in force. Blacks could only drink out of water fountains designated "For Colored Only", sitting in the back of the bus was the only option, whites and blacks did not mix in public schools, in the movie theaters a specific area was, "For Colored Only"--or in the town I live in they were not allowed at all in the four movie theaters in town. Most people did not talk about it, it was, "just the way things were". A new generation of people during the 1960's put words and actions in to the streets and newspapers and books and television. They did not cease in their mission for equality and freedom for all people--regardless of the color of their skin.
When Harper Lee wrote To Kill a Mockingbird she wrote what on first appearance is a coming of age story, of a brother named Jem and his sister named Scout growing up in a small town in Alabama during the depression years. It is a large story though that touches on several life issues: single parent, poverty, abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, ignorance, illiteracy, racial hatred and prejudice, loneliness, grieving a death, childhood angst, bullying, wanting to be accepted.
It is also a story that reminds all of us of when we were children: long hot summer days with little to do, walking barefoot everywhere, actually allowing our imagination to carry us away in thought, first day of school, teachers that we know "for sure" have it in for us, taking joy in small treasurers, innocence, spying on our siblings, cooties.
There is something in the story that all readers can identify with--personalize--and in this it becomes apart of you. It is a story that you always remember, and when you do think of it, there is a feeling

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18. The Top 10 Banned Books I’ll Make Sure Kids Read

When I have children, these will be among the best books on their shelf, but people around the country have found them much more controversial.  So instead of saying “why not”, here’s WHY they are so great:

1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell / The adorable true story of two male penguins in Central Park who, with the help of the zookeeper, hatch a beautiful baby daughter. While one of the most challenged books in 2008-2009, this may be my favorite story about a “modern family”.

2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson / Victims should never be blamed or silenced, and anyone that sees rape as pornographic is severely disturbed. I was appalled at how Anderson’s novel was targeted last week. Teens should be encouraged to #SpeakLoudly… and they can get the courage to do so from this book.

3. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling / Obviously.  Since I am the kind of person that labelled myself as a “Christian witch” when I was 12.

4. Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary / If kids are reading the dictionary (even if it’s to look up the definition of “oral sex”), the only consequence is that they’ll probably do better on the SATs. Also, if your children have to look up what sex means, you probably need to work on your parenting skills.

5. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison / Ooh muttis and vatis may have a nervy spaz because Georgia’s diary contains gorgy sex gods, but if you cannot grasp the hilariosity, you are probably a wet tosser and in need of a duffing up. Now let’s go down the disco!

5 Comments on The Top 10 Banned Books I’ll Make Sure Kids Read, last added: 10/2/2010

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19. Banned Books - Savita Kalhan

Offending a vocal minority, or arguably even a hostile majority, in the areas of politics, religion and morality can result in your book finding itself on the banned list. Banned Books week, launched by the American Libraries Association, ALA, to celebrate the freedom to read and to highlight the dangers of book censorship, has just come to an end. When I read Anne Rooney’s piece, "Banned: The Hidden Censorship of Children’s Books", it all brought back memories of what it was like living in a society where 95% of published books were banned.
For most of us in the UK, it’s an alien concept. Yes, we know that in the distant past books have been banned here, but not in modern times. We’ve got used to the choice, knowing that if a book is out there, the librarian or bookseller only needs the ISBN number and, hey presto, the book will arrive in the library, or in the bookshop, or through your letterbox in a matter of days.

Imagine a place where there are no books, no fiction to speak of, no poetry, no comics, no magazines, unless they have been vetted and deemed suitable by the Ministry of Information. It’s a terrible vision, too awful to contemplate.
For several years I lived in a country where there were no public libraries to speak of and only one bookshop. It would be two or three years later before the second bookshop opened.
This was back in 1991. Most books were banned. You could pick up the work of a few lucky authors – but the choice was limited. I remember John Grisham being stocked, but I think the covers of his books were pretty uncontroversial. If you wanted to read a half-decent book you had to bring it in to the country yourself. And that was a tall order. You had to smuggle it in.

So, my once or twice yearly trip to the UK involved buying lots and lots of books, and when I went through a phase of reading fantasy epics, well, you can imagine the problems that that caused. The trilogy was out of favour. Several thick books in a series were common. Yes, it gave me headaches, and I hadn’t even got as far as thinking about how heavy my suitcases would end up, the excess baggage payment, or the sweaty-palmed dread as I walked towards customs at the other end.
I spent several years hiding books in the lining of my suitcases, folding them inside clothes and secreting them about my person, so having to wear the voluminous black abayas did have a use! It was no laughing matter. A few hundred pounds of books were hidden away in our bags, and so much more. To be caught red-handed meant the books would in all probability be confiscated. If you were lucky you would get some of them back. It really depended on the covers, the book title and the mood of the customs man. If he found some of your books and he wasn’t feeling magnanimous, they would be sent straight to the Ministry of Information, where they disappeared in a bureaucratic black-hole while you desperately applied for the books to be returned to you. To be caught meant being deprived of several months of reading and that was a horror that I didn’t want to contemplate. It was a situation that faced us each time we disembarked with our bags and headed towards customs.
7 Comments on Banned Books - Savita Kalhan, last added: 10/6/2010
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20. You Are What You Read

What am I reading now? The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by K. DiCamillo
On Thursday, October 28, 2010, Scholastic launched You Are What You Read, a new social networking site for readers. The main focus of You Are What You Read is to both “celebrate those books that helped us discover who we are and who we can become.”

Users can log on through existing social media accounts, namely Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn and MySpace. Once users have logged on they have the chance to not only share the five books that made a difference in their lives but also connect with readers around the world through shared “Bookprints.” Daniel Radcliffe, Taylor Swift and Venus Williams are just a few of the more than 130 “Names You Know” who have shared their Bookprints.

In addition, You Are What You Read provides users with the opportunity to:

  • Discover new books through an interactive web that shows how users’ Bookprints are connected

  • Find and connect with users across generations and from around the world to see the books in their Bookprints

  • Compare their Bookprints to those of the participating “Names You Know,” and find out if they share a book in their Bookprint with famous athletes, award-winning entertainers, world-renowned scientists or iconic business leaders

  • “Favorite” other books they like and check out what similar users enjoy reading

  • See which books have been chosen as Favorites from around the world

  • Share a book in the real word through Pass It On, which encourages users to give a favorite book to a family member, a friend or even a complete stranger

  • In the spirit of You Are What You Read and to get the ball rolling even further, here’s my Bookprint:

    1. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

    2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

    3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

    4. The Giver by Lois Lowry


    2 Comments on You Are What You Read, last added: 11/11/2010
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    21. Research Advice from National Book Award Winner Kathryn Erskine

    Kathryn Erskine (pictured, via), tackles tough subjects through children’s books.

    Her debut novel, Quaking, responded to the Virginia Tech tragedy. Her second novel, Ibhubesi: The Lion, dealt with apartheid. Her third book, Mockingbird, featured a character with asperger’s syndrome–winning this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. We caught with her to learn about her writing process. Here are some highlights from the interview.

    Q: Can you talk about the writing process you undertook for Mockingbird?
    A: As in all my writing, I do a lot of research to put myself in the most authentic place. For Mockingbird, I researched how families deal with death and trauma, but focused on Asperger’s extensively, attending workshops and seminars, interviewing teachers and caretakers who interact daily with kids on the spectrum, in addition to living with a close family member who has Asperger’s.


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    22. Too Much Awesome: Photos, Posters, Student Writing, etc.

    I know, Dear Reader, I know.

    You are getting tired of my slipshod approach, the endless excuses about how busy I am.


    Yesterday I coached two baseball practices, for two different teams. Threw batting practice to twenty-two different boys who are at a point, ages 11 and 12, where it’s no longer okay to just blob it over. They need the ball with a little heat. So my wing is sore.

    Today I’m driving off to Geneseo with my oldest, Nick, for a second look-see. He’s a high school senior and we’re getting down to decision time for college. On Wednesday, my good wife Lisa flies down to Atlanta, where she’s going to learn how to perform minor surgery on a cervix — and frankly I do not want to know any more details than that. She comes home Sunday, the day I coach a doubleheader and drive down to Long Island for a week’s worth of school visits.

    And, oh, yeah. There’s the job thing, too. Writing stuff.

    So the blog suffers.

    I wanted to share a few scans and photos. I recently visited a school down in Sicklerville, NJ, where the students filled the halls with creative responses to my book, Bystander. First, some beautiful faces . . .

    There were posters and poems. Some students wrote journal entries from the perspective on a book character, and I thought those were particularly interesting and effective. Isn’t that the big lesson in To Kill a Mockingbird, when Scout stands on Boo Radley’s porch and sees the world from his perspective? When she stands in his shoes?

    “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.”Harper Lee.

    So after my presentations were done, and the books signed, we walked around the halls and filled a big box with incredible artwork, posters, etc. I can’t show it all to you, but here’s a few samples:

    Most posters were too big to scan. I loved the tagline that one boy came up with . . .


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    23. The Book Review Club - Mockingbird

    Kathryn Erskine
    middle grade/ya

    Every once in a while I run across one of those stories with a main character so beyond the bounds of my everyday existence I marvel at how anyone could create her/him and do so in such a believable way.

    Erskine has done so with her character, Caitlin. A fifth-grader, Caitlin has Asperger's Syndrome. She's really smart but has a really tough time understanding and expressing emotion. Maneuvering through life means learning an exhausting list of facial expressions that decode what what people are thinking and/or what they really mean. Add to that that the the person who helped her maneuver the world, her older brother, has been killed in a school shooting.

    Erskine bites off a huge chunk of storytelling with her character and the external event of a school shooting. She maneuvers both phenomenally. Caitlin is one of the best characters I've read lately. I had no idea what it's like inside the mind of a child with Asperger's. Erskine gives her readers a glance. It's a glance that doesn't pity. It doesn't minimize. It is. As such, I came to both empathize and understand Caitlin. It's a phenomenal bit of writing. Add to it weaving Caitlin's story seamlessly together with the affects of a school shooting on a community and exploring how to find "closure" and this work moves from phenomenal to unforgettable.

    The one aspect of this novel that I was less impressed with was that it, like When You Reach Me, relies on an outside piece of art, in this instance To Kill a Mockingbird, to carry part of the story. One day I may do this myself and kick myself for not understanding or for finding fault with this particular writer's tool at present, but when a writer can weave as well as Erskine, story doesn't need outside art to support it, or deepen the emotional resonance. It's already there. And there in spades. For me, bringing in the outside world in this way detracts from the story being told. It pulls me outside Caitlin's story. It also expects a lot from that external art and the reader. I'd hazard a guess that not many children today have seen, To Kill a Mockingbird. Thus, what effect will the film really have on the reader? Wouldn't a fictional film do the job even better by staying within story by being a created part of it?

    If you're looking for a deep story about school shootings, how they affect a community, what it must be like to "feel" and perceive the world as a person with Asperger's all wrapped into a story that pulls you toward it in a gentle but insistent way, read Mockingbird. There is so much here. Much to discuss. Critique. Enjoy. Ponder. And grow from.

    Read it.

    For other great Spring diversions, hop over to Barrie Summy's website. She's got temptations galore!

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    24. Mary McDonagh Murphy to Release Harper Lee Documentary

    Filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy has created a new documentary about celebrated author Harper Lee entitled Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird.

    According to Shelf Awareness, the film will feature interviews with Anna Quindlen, Tom Brokaw, James McBride, James Patterson, Wally Lamb, and Oprah Winfrey. Some of those celebrities can be seen in the trailer embedded above.

    Initially, the film will have a limited release in New York City and Los Angeles starting May 13th with a nationwide release to follow. Last year, Murphy published Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill a Mockingbird for the book’s 50th anniversary.


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    25. To Kill a Mockingbird tops WBN poll

    Written By: 
    Graeme Neill
    Publication Date: 
    Tue, 13/09/2011 - 09:00

    Readers have nominated Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird as the book they would most like to see given away as part of next year's World Book Night.

    During the past two months, more than 6,000 book lovers had been nominating the titles they would like to see included in next year's event with more than 8,000 individual titles put forward.

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