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A new twist on the innocent mockingbird

Title: Mockingbird

Author: Kathryn Erskine

Length: 232

Devon was the one who helped ten-year-old Caitlin understand the world around her and navigate the rough roads of childhood. Devon’s unexpected death throws her world into chaos. Caitlin has Asperger’s syndrome and has a difficult time relating to other children period, much less relating to them while in the grips of grief. Caitlin’s world is black and white and she turns to books and dictionaries, her normal source of comfort and knowledge, to try and deal with her brother’s absence. Her father is detached and wrestling with his own pain  and little knows how to help his daughter. After hearing the word closure and looking it up in the dictionary, Caitlin begins a quest to help herself and her father come to grips with Devon’s death. And on this road to healing, she finds that the world might just be a place of color where good, strong, and beautiful things can come from darkness.

BRIDGE: The most obvious bridge for this YA novel is to read it as a bridge to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.  There are many references to the book itself as well as the black and white movie version that might help younger readers (middle school) navigate the narrative of Lee’s novel. In addition, Erskine discusses the symbolism of the mockingbird in Lee’s book and the references to black and white throughout Erskine’s and Lee’s novels might help older readers (early high school) interpret some of the more abstract themes and motifs in the original work.

Another interesting option for deeper reading would be to use this novel in a Health/Wellness class. One could use this book in tandem with other novels about health issues (both mental and physical) to cover a wide variety of health issues. Literature circles containing books about health issues would not only introduce students to a variety of health issues through narrative but also encourage empathy by studying these issues in real-world context in addition to a text book.

One could also teach this novel as part of a unit on writing craft, particularly stream of consciousness narration. Caitlin as narrator gives us a glimpse into the mind of a child with Asperger’s. Her sentence structure is long and choppy. She thinks bluntly and many times simply says exactly what’s come into her mind. One could use this in middle grades to introduce stream of consciousness writing or pair Erskine’s passages with more well-known novels like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury to compare writing structures within stream of consciousness narration.

SIMILAR TITLES: (These books could be used in a Health issues literature study or just as additional reads if the reader likes Mockingbird.) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (Asperger’s), It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (depression, suicide), Saving Francesca  by Melina Marchetta (depression) or Perfect (anorexia) or Lush (alcoholism) by Natasha Friend .

READERS: The most obvious reader type for this book would be those struggling with grief or with a family member who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome. But the book does have other appeals. Caitlin is an artist – particularly charcoal drawings – and likes to express her feelings through her art so artistically gifted children would be drawn to her. Also, this book would attract the quiet, shy readers who like to stay out of the spotlight. They would be able to identify with Caitlin.

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2 thoughts on “A new twist on the innocent mockingbird

  1. I love To Kill a Mockingbird and while I had reviews that said Mockingbird connected to TKAM, I didn’t know it made movie references too. We started to watch the movie in 8th grade but never finished it 😦

    Did you hear Thanhha Lai’s talk at ALAN? it was around 2 I think. And you reminded me of it when you said that this book could be used as a teaching tool for writing craft. She talked about how she thought of the book as her ten-year-old slef and so she thought in Vietnamese. She then had to translate it and she said that Vietnemese, like Chinese, is a language of images. So I gather, the language in Inside Out & Back Again, is perhaps sparse and choppy. Different. but in a wonderful way! (Or so I hope, I haven’t read the book yet). I would love to study the variety of writing styles, especially the more unique styles such as stream of consciousness.

    I would 100% recommend, no insist, that you read Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork. (which is often compared to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime) Marcelo has Asperger’s and I would love to see how it could be appplied to the classroom.

    And I feel woefully uneducated because I haven’t read ANY of the similar titles, ugh. I did start Saving Francesca once and then didn’t finish it….

    Your review was especially interesting to read because I know there was some controversary over this book’s depiction of those with Asperger’s but I never really followed the issue.

    Now get a follow button or something so I can stay updated on your blog because I don’t always remember to check my favorites tab 😀

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