| By Traci Cothran |
A few weeks ago, To Kill a Mockingbird was removed from approved reading lists over an entire Mississippi district, due to “language that makes people uncomfortable.”
Indeed, but having the conversation about how and why we are uncomfortable with certain words and scenes is incredibly valuable. In fact, my ninth grader and I had this talk just last week. To Kill a Mockingbird is required reading for her English class, and she asked me why the “n-word” was in the book if it’s not acceptable to say, and we had an important talk about racism and our country’s history, and how we can learn from what has happened in the past to do better in the future. She’s having similar discussions in her class, as millions of others have in the last fifty years, and that is the great legacy of author Harper Lee.
As part of our conversation, I pulled up Novels for Students, a Gale eBook on GVRL, for information on this gem. Not having read the book in a number of years, it was a great refresher, with the Plot Summary, Characters, and Themes all delineated. The Cultural Context offered is especially useful for today’s students (and teachers), as discussing Jim Crow laws, The Great Depression, Emmett Till, and the Civil Rights Movement provides the background needed to understand the time and setting of the book as well as the 1960s when Harper Lee penned it. There’s also Critical Overview of the film, which we’ll be watching as soon as my kid finishes the story (no spoilers!).
Gale’s Children’s Literature Review also offers great coverage of this iconic and oft-banned American work, examining the claims of those who’ve objected to it on the grounds of racial prejudice; family values, sex, and language; and religious interpretation.
To Kill a Mockingbird also appears in other places in our ebooks on GVRL: The St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture; Literature Suppressed on Social Grounds; and Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them; among others.
There is no doubt To Kill a Mockingbird is an important book to our country; it is so widely read that it has helped shape our nation—exposing legal injustice, examining prejudice, and providing a venue for difficult but essential conversations. I am hopeful that this latest ban on the story only serves to highlight its importance —and that those Mississippi students make their way to their public libraries to discover it.