Beloved

I will be blunt.

Belovedby Toni Morrison is not for the faint of heart. That being said, this does not mean it’s not for literature classes. It’s a brilliantly written book and one that should be admired for its balance of beauty and intensity. At the same time, however, it is a highly complex book that is discussed at all levels from high school to college because of the themes represented within the book: race, gender, the affect of slavery on a person’s psyche. As I read the book I was struck by the paradox of it. At the same time that it’s simple, it’s difficult. It’s ambiguous and explicit which makes the writing of it ingenious, perhaps one of the many reasons why Beloved is not only a Pulitzer winning novel, but the reason why Toni Morrison was awarded the Novel Prize for Literature.

For those not completely aware of what Beloved is about here’s it as simply as possible: When she was a slave, Sethe ran away to Ohio with her children. Due to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, a gang of slave catchers finds Sethe and returns her and her children to the plantation. However, just before she is returned, she attempts to kill her children so that they won’t have to live in slavery. She succeeds in killing her two year old, who is unnamed and buried in a grave marked “Beloved.” Now the war is over, has been for years. Sethe and her daughter Denver have returned to the house in Ohio where the tragedy of the baby’s death took place. Except . . . the baby haunts the house.

There you go. That’s the premise of the story.

The book has been challenged on numerous occasions by parents of students in (predominately but not always) AP literature classes. The parents challenge this book based on various themes, the most prominent being: sex, violence, and a baby’s gruesome murder. In a recent case in Michigan at the Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, these issues were brought up, as well as the idea that Beloved provided too fictitious an account about the issue of slavery.

Fictitious even though the premise of Beloved, that of a slave woman killing her infant daughter because she saw it as a better way than allowing the child to be returned to slavery, is based off the case of Margaret Garner who escaped to Cincinnati with her family, was captured by slave catchers, and killed her own daughter because Garner didn’t want her daughter to go back to slavery.

Sex. This seems to be a predominate reason why many books are challenged. However, in the case of Beloved, I can see why parents would pick up on this. There is sex in this book. It’s hardly a porn book, however. This is where Morrison’s talent for paradoxical writing comes in. At once the scenes of sex are ambiguous, yet there is absolutely no reason for the reader to not know what’s going on. This is one of the reasons why reading Beloved can be so unsettling. Because some of these scenes deal with rape. Deal with gang rape and bestiality, though I only caught one scene where bestiality is mentioned and it was more of a character remembering than the actual act itself.

Which if you are prone to nausea and are overly sensitive to all things sex related Beloved is not the book for you.

The baby’s murder. How else is one supposed to write about a child’s murder than in ways that unsettle the reader? The whole idea behind Sethe’s reason for killing the child is unsettling. Just thinking about it is unsettling. To overly simplify the idea: How far would you go to ensure the safety of your child? Would you kill it?

Beloved, I believe, raises the bar for literature. It illuminates the corners of actions people don’t want to acknowledge, the idea that people weren’t just hurt physically because of slavery, people were hurt mentally and that opens up a whole closet full of skeletons that people are too afraid, even today, to sort through.

I’m still trying to fully process this book. I finished it three days ago, and usually I try to write the review the day I finish it. But Beloved is certainly something else. Like the baby haunting the house, Beloved wants to be noticed, wants to be acknowledged, and wants to be put to rest.

In my opinion, as Beloved is predominately an AP literature book (as most of the challenges I have researched stem out of AP literature courses), one should leave it alone and allow it in the classroom. Teachers are more than willing and, in some districts, required to let the parents know the list of books the class is reading ahead of time, so Beloved shouldn’t be a surprise. And if the student is in an AP literature course, that usually means that the student is above average of the current grade level and should therefore be pushed to broaden his or her mind. Thinking critically shouldn’t start in college, it should start in high school, maybe even before that.

Therefore, I believe Beloved by Toni Morrison is not only a credit to the written word, a credit and example of American literature, but a must read for everyone.

 

Age Rating: A 16+ on the age rating, mainly because of the content, but because of how the content is presented, someone younger may not be able to fully appreciate or understand the book until then. Unless, of course, said student is several grade levels ahead. But this is definitely a book where parents and students can have open discussions and speak about a whole host of ideas.

**Beloved was made into a movie in 1998. It’s rated R which is understandable. The trailer isn’t anything graphic.

The Catcher in the Rye

Okay, so, The Catcher in the Rye. Said to be one of the most controversial books in America, and by the looks of where it’s landed throughout the years on the American Library Association’s most frequently challenged books, I can see why it has gained that title.

First and foremost this book is about the original Rebel Without a Cause. Long before James Dean came on the scene there was Holden Caulfield. I would like to make a statement now: Holden and I would never be friends. In fact, I am quite certain I’d have slapped him if he and I knew each other. But aside from personal differences for now.

The Catcher in the Rye has been challenged due to the extensive use of foul language and sexual references. Caulfield uses ‘goddam’ liberally, one of the reasons why he annoys me. It was as if he didn’t know any other words. A few times near the end he ends us saying ‘fuck.’ But really, compared to the language found in books and movies of today, ‘goddam’ hardly seems a reason to challenge a book.

The sexual references are there. Caulfield is a teenage boy, and it’s my understanding (since I’m not a boy) that teenage boys are sex crazy (please correct me if I’m wrong). Since The Catcher in the Rye is written as a stream of consciousness, it is only fitting that such references would crop up. There is, however, no sex in the book though it gets pretty close sometimes.

Another reason why the book is frequently challenged is the because of the undermining of family and moral values. Caulfield is not a role model. But then again, what do you expect from the original Rebel Without a Cause. I think part of the point of Caulfield is that he isn’t someone you want to emulate, even though he has perfected teenage angst and the feeling of alienation in a crowd (something I think everyone has felt at one time or another). However, one redeeming factor I found in Caulfield was, no matter how ridiculous he was, he did find enough ability within himself to care about his younger siblings Allie and Phoebe. Both crop up several times in the book, and each time it is clear that while Caulfield has issues he needs to figure out, Allie and Phoebe are two people he will always be fond of.

Now, while I may not have liked the book, I know plenty of people who do. I think if you get the chance you should read it at least once. I like The Great Gatsby, I don’t like The Catcher in the Rye. One of my friends found that odd. Maybe you do. I don’t. But whatever your opinion of Caulfield, this book is an American classic, and it’ll always have fun creating controversy. (And don’t we all love a villain?)

 

Age Rating: 13 and up. If you’re a high school student, or if your child is in high school, don’t try and get the book banned because of bad language and sexual references. Like I stated before have you seen some of the stuff that’s been coming out recently? If you let the kids see and read that other stuff, then there really is no reason for you to ban The Catcher in the Rye.

Harry Potter Part 2: Witchcraft

            Continuing on in the review concerning the Harry Potter series, I now turn to the challenges against the series concerning witchcraft and magic. I don’t know completely about how other countries have taken to challenging the series, but coming from a Christian background, I know firsthand how many of the American Christian churches (but not all so I’ll attempt not to generalize) spoke against the Harry Potter series due to the belief that the magic in the books promote Wicca and witchcraft.

            First off, Wicca. After reading the Harry Potter series I still knew nothing about this religion/cult/sect (whatever you want to call it I’ll use religion), so I had to go and look up information on it. Wicca, just Wicca, is a modern pagan religion that, yes, gets some of its theology from what we modern people would call paganism and picture in our minds as pre-Christian Europe. Wicca was introduced to the public in 1954 by Gerald Gardiner in England and he and the others in the religion seem to have gotten much of their ideas from (as I said before) ancient pagan motifs, but also 20th century hermetic motifs, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn focused on spiritual development, and the concepts of ritual magic in Wicca seem to have derived from the Order’s practices.

            Theology: From what I’ve been able to read, it seems that there are many differences in the theology of Wicca based on different traditions and individual practitioners. What, however, I will mention, seems to be the commonalities I have come across. Firstly, there is no universally agreed upon “canon” for Wicca. In other words, unlike many Western/Eastern religions like Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, there is no Holy Book. Traditionally Wicca practices a duotheistic approach (meaning they worship two gods “mono” meaning one like Christianity, “duo” meaning two, and “tri” meaning three). Their two gods happen to be a Goddess and a God. The Triple Goddess is called such as she is normally associated with the moon, stars, and earth, while the Horned God is associated the sun, forest, and animals. Like many religions, including Christianity, three is an important number. However, there are some Wiccan groups, like the Dianic Wiccans who believe in a monotheistic god (the Goddess Diana), and then there are some Wiccans who tend more towards atheistic or agnostic thinking. Some can be polytheistic, meaning they believe in many deities. There is also no satanic figure in Wicca, therefore it is not Satanism.

            Afterlife: From my readings (and I’m sure I’ll be reading much more about the subject), traditionally Wiccans believe in reincarnation, though whether the reincarnation stays within a particular species or not is up for debate within the religion. Many Wiccans, as many would know through various means of pop culture, do believe in the ability to contact the dead, any spirit who is not “of this world” through various means like (stereotypically) an Ouija board or (like many horror films) a medium. This particular belief was probably influenced by the religion of Spiritualism which was prevalent and a little popular at the time Wicca emerged. There does not seem to be, however, an emphasize on the afterlife, more of a “live in the here and now” mentality within Wicca.

            Magic: Now to the juicy bits. Magic, in Wicca, seems to be highly ceremonial. Meaning that in order to perform magic, the magic must be part of some sort of complex ritual that was long, elaborate, and could be found in grimoires (a brilliant word, it has character), using various tools such as daggers, bells, cups, wands, altars, etc. Before Wicca, however, other various orders/religions used such practices to do “magic” like the Golden Dawn spoken above earlier, Ordo Templi Orientis, and the Builders of Adytum which is an American group.

            So back to Harry Potter.

            There are no mentions of gods or goddesses in the series. Unless there’s a hidden chapter that only those who have been divinely chosen can see, there is no mention of gods or goddesses. So that aspect of Wiccan isn’t taught in the Harry Potter series.

            The afterlife . . . there is mention of something after death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry is killed and wakes up in “limbo” where he is symbolically placed at Kings Cross station. However, that may also be, according to some, his own imagination coming up with the symbolism. Kings Cross is where Platform 9 ¾ is, and it’s the place where Harry catches the train to Hogwarts, his first real “home.” Therefore, symbolically, it appears in his mind as he is faced with the choice of either “getting on the train” to wherever the afterlife is, and “going back to London” meaning the land of the living. He also sees a tiny malformed, very ugly baby-not a baby creature which is supposed to represent Lord Voldemort the villain, who’s soul is caught in limbo because of his attempts to gain immortality. But, really, that could also be Rowling’s own Christian background coming out, or even a more Western view of the afterlife in general. Definitely nothing about reincarnation, it’s not taught in any of the classes, and it were true, then it wouldn’t really be sad that Remus and Nymphadora Lupin died or that Fred Weasley died because they’d just be reincarnated and that’s great and fine and gives a happy ending. No such thing. (The reincarnation in the story, there definitely is a happy ending).

            Now the magic in Harry Potter. Wands, I suppose, cross from Wiccan into the series, but the way either situation goes about doing magic is completely different. Yes, there are potions in the Harry Potter series, but then again before modern medicine people made potions too. The magic in Harry Potter isn’t ritualistic. The only ritual is in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Lord Voldemort returns to physical form and it’s clear to anyone who reads it that this ritual is a Bit Not Good, it’s Very Bad Indeed, and that no one should Ever, Ever, Ever Attempt Such A Thing because it’s Absolutely Awful. The rest of the magic in Harry Potter is more like what children use when they play make-believe. Children (or at least I did) will shout “Abracadabra” at something and pretend their bike has changed into a pony. Or they’ll point a pen at that ugly dress their Aunt Betty gave them as yell “Bippity boppity boo!” and hope it changes into a fairytale, take me to the ball, gown. The magic in Harry Potter is similar.            

            You want to disarm someone?

            Expelliarmus!

            You need water and there isn’t a water fountain in sight?

            Aguamenti!

            You need to find something and can’t find it? Fetch it then!

            Accio!

            Need to pass your Boy Scout “Make a Fire” test?

            Incendio!

            Need to knock someone unconscious?

            Stupify!

            Want to hurt someone very badly (and end up in prison)?

            Crucio!

            Do you want to commit murder (and go to prison)?

            Avada Kedavra!

            There’s no ritual with the spells, except maybe you have to swish and flick the wand or jab it or fling it around like one is conducting an orchestra.

            Some would still argue that the use of magic in the series would make children curious about witchcraft in general. Fine. Reading different books surrounding the Holocaust could make children curious about Judaism or Aryanism. Reading The Crucible or learning about the Salem Witch Trials in history class could just as much make a student interested in witchcraft in general than by reading Harry Potter. Just like reading The Chronicles of Narnia might possibly make a child interested in Christianity. Heaven forbid a child may want to learn about different religions and form well-rounded ideas and opinions.

            Okay, so perhaps I am letting my sarcasm get ahead of me. I understand that a lot of the individual Christians who raised concerns about the Harry Potter series are really trying to protect their kids, and try and teach them how to live life in a good, proper way. I respect that, I really do. Some of the people who opposed the Harry Potter series at my church and school I greatly respect because I know they’re only interest was in ensuring we kids had the most wholesome life and education we could get. But at the same time, there is such a thing as being ridiculous about something. I remember telling my high school English teacher that if she had a problem with Harry Potter because and only because of the magic, to take The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings off the shelf because they had magic too. (I’m still surprised I didn’t get a detention).

            So maybe after reading this post you, as the parent, aren’t still convinced your kid should read Harry Potter. That’s fine. Maybe you, as the student, now have some idea how to talk to your parents about why you should read the series, or dispel their fears about the series. A family close to mine have decided they’re going to wait until their daughter reaches the 8th grade before letting her read the series, because after researching, they’ve decided that it’s more age appropriate for that grade. Awesome.

            Just don’t go leading a crusade unless you’ve done your research. And don’t go insulting another person’s religion. You don’t have to agree with it. That’s no excuse to be rude.

 

Age Rating: Personally, I think anyone who is 4th grade and up can start reading the series. Especially is the student is above their grade level in reading. Also, this is a great series for adults, don’t be ashamed to read it.

 

*I consulted Wikepedia and the book The New Believers: A Survey of Sects, Cults, and Alternative Religions by David V. Barrett. If any of you have further reading you recommend let me know in either an email (found on the Bio page) or in the comments below.

            

Harry Potter Part 1: Themes

Note: I will be doing the review about the Harry Potter series in two parts. This part will talk about the different themes within the books, the themes that I believe are essential for people whether they’re children or adults. The second part I will focus on the main reason people challenge the book series, the witchcraft.

In literary criticism students and professors alike are always talking about Theme. Theme, theme, theme. What was the author saying here? What did the author mean by this veiled comment? Many times I have sat in classes or in parking lots talking with people about themes within certain books and their main excuse for not liking a book or the themes is,

“It’s all very political.”

Because of course everyone has a political agenda, because of course no one wants to try and promote peace and love and friendship they want to promote Republicanism or Liberalism or Socialism or whatever other sort of the political party one can think of. Because trying to teach children that people are equal and that there are things worth dying and living for is just the author’s way to get their political views across.

So some authors, yes, are like the heavily sarcastic paragraph above. And while some authors do have a specific purpose for writing in certain themes, that doesn’t make it political. Harry Potter is not (in my opinion) a political book. One can make Winnie the Pooh political if one tries hard enough (which I will not try hard enough).

So the themes. I’ll start light.

Growth. This is a book series people can grow with as children. Adults can even look back and remember a time of their lives when they were growing from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Harry goes from an eleven year old child to a seventeen year old. He has to wrestle with unfair teachers, detentions, friendship fights, relationships, and coming to terms with the fact that the world is not as pristine as he thought it was. Can’t you remember the time you began to realize that the world was not as perfect as you thought it was?

Friendship. Because where would one be without their best friends? In the beginning of the series, Harry Potter has no friends. He’s bullied and neglected. Then he discovers this brand new world and suddenly, he begins to make friends. Now the friendships aren’t perfect. He has fights and disagreements with his two best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. Sometimes Ron’s jealousy explodes and they don’t talk for a few days. Sometimes Hermione’s desire to be a good girl drives Harry to bits, but the three work through their faults and differences, becoming a stronger unit. They come to care so very much about each other, that they’d die for each other, they’d sacrifice everything for each other. At the end of the sixth book, Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he’s going to go searching for the items that will ultimately bring an end to the villain, Lord Voldemort. He tells them that it’ll be dangerous and that this is good-bye. Hermione and Ron put him in his place be telling them that they’re coming and that’s that.

Love. The Theme of the whole series. The Theme that is the reason Harry is who he is, that every character is who he and she is. Some had a lack of love, and their choices show it. Those who did have love, however, also show it. It is Love that saved Harry Potter when he was a baby, Love that allowed him to want to protect his friends and newly found family, Love that made Ron and Hermione go with Harry to search for the items that would destroy Lord Voldemort. Love that made every good character fight for the freedom of the wizarding world. Love that drove one of the Lord Voldemort’s minions to betray him for Harry Potter and for her own son. Love is what gave Ron courage to tackle Death Eaters that were torturing Hermione. Love is what drove Harry to try and break up with his girlfriend, because he couldn’t bear to see her hurt for him.

There are other themes as well. Sub-themes almost. One cannot have Love without Friendship or Family. The Weasley Family is one grand example of Family. Without Love there cannot be Betrayal. People lie and cheat and kill because they’re greedy, because they’re hurt, because they’re lonely. And at the same time, there are “adult” themes in the books. And I don’t mean Fifty Shades of Grey adult themes.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: Starts straight off with a double homicide of young parents barely into their twenties. Their son (Harry) becomes an orphan of war. He then is sent to live in neglected conditions with relatives who’d made Cinderella’s stepmother look like the fairy godmother. Then he deals with teachers and peers who are bullies both in the Muggle and Magical worlds. The fickleness fame brings, and the idea that there are things worth fighting and dying for, all from the point of view of Harry Potter a child. Then, he and two other children are more than willing to sacrifice their lives to save the school and possibly all of Magical Britain because the adults won’t do it.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Racism at its finest with the Pro-Pureblood attitude seen in several of the book’s characters. Much of the story is driven (though revealed much later) by the fact that a lonely eleven year old girl is used by a charming older man to get what he wants (because he’s Pro-Pureblood). The imbalance of power and abuse inherent in slavery is seen through one who risks his life to disobey his master because he believes that Harry can help fight the Pro-Pureblood factions. Fraud is discovered on an enormous scale where one man has stolen the lives of other people by erasing their memories and taking their stories and pretending the stories are his own works.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: Ableism (discrimination against people with disabilities) at its finest. A kind, competent adult is considered less than human because he has an illness that negatively affects his health at certain times of the month. A justice system that refused a man his trial, therefore incarcerating him in prison for 12 years when in fact he was innocent. Said man is one of the only ones who could possible remove Harry from his abusive home life, but because of the justice system that is far from just and would rather kill the man on the spot than admit it was wrong, Harry is kept in the abusive home. Again, the innocent suffer while the guilty thrive.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The privilege mistreating the underprivileged because they can. Returning to the theme of the second book of slavery and the abuse that comes with it, a Master punishes his slave for his incompetence and mistakes, allowing the slave to blame herself. A sports tournament which involves mortal risk to the participants (similar to the Hunger Games but cheered on like American Football). A lovely young man is murdered because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Harry is tortured, humiliated, and almost murdered, and the justice/government system from book three will not believe that such things were done to him.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: PTSD in Harry because after being tortured and then sent back to an abusive situation, what were you expecting? Depression in Harry’s godfather (the man from Book Three who is innocent) because he is forced to live in a house where he himself was abused as a child, along with possible inherited mental health issues that are the result of Pro-Pureblood inbreeding. A bigoted teacher who wants everyone under her rule tortures Harry for telling the truth about what happened to him in Book Four, and even attempts to have his soul sucked out. The discovery that your childhood idols are not perfect, and the effort to save a loved one’s life results in the loved one dying, resulting in the loss of a father-figure and guilt.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The idea that the soul can be broken beyond repair is examined, and propels the plot forward. Drugs (love potions) with the potential of date rape are shown as having achieved exactly that in one case that resulted in a pregnancy, and is shown in an another attempt. Chauvinism, though well-meaning, in trying to control the love life of a young woman. Internalized prejudice results in pushing away a loved one in an attempt to protect them from being tainted. The morality of those childhood idols that seemed larger than life is discovered in a betrayal of the worse kind.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: What will get worse does become worse, to the point where even the privilege, those with Pro-Pureblood attitudes, are suffering and afraid in a Pro-Pureblood regime. Internalized prejudice returns along with hysterical terror that one may taint friends and family. Self-sacrifice and the loss of loved ones in almost every single chapter (but on a scale of Twilight to Game of Thrones it’s more in the middle). It’s discovered that you don’t really know a person until you know their past, and sometimes those who are hurtful and bitter are so for legitimate reasons. Defeating inner demons is not as awesome as it sounds (so don’t believe the hipsters). Don’t underestimate the slaves. Not all cultures are similar. Many things come full circle (war ending with dearly beloved parents leaving behind a baby). And even if the ending is “All is well” the world is still imperfect, because it’s full of brilliant yet imperfect humans.

So maybe the fact that these characters use “magic” stops you from allowing your kids to read the Harry Potter series. Surely, of course, they could learn all these things in another book. They could learn about them by reading biographies and history books. That’s all well and they should read such things, but at the same time, what sticks in the mind better? Fact and stats, or stories and lives? Maybe the children won’t understand all these themes the first time around. I know I didn’t. I caught on to the Love the Friendship the Family. But the second time I read the Harry Potter series? The third time?

What must be asked is this. Are the problems one has concerning the book series worth more than the lessons that can be gleaned from the series? What is more important? The fear that the series doesn’t line up 100% with your religious or political views? Or the fundamental lessons found within 3363 some odd pages that could help people live a better, happier, well-rounded life?

2nd Note: Thanks to the tumblr post by anonymous (that’s what you appeared as so I apologize if that’s not your actual username) who gave me the concept on how to structure this post.

The Harry Potter series is the Number 1 most banned/challenged book between 2000-2009 according to the American Library Association.

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/top-100-bannedchallenged-books-2000-2009

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee hit the ground running when it was first published in 1960, and while it has received numerous praises and honors, the controversy about keeping it within school curriculum’s began not long after its publication.

The book takes place during the Great Depression and follows the narrator and protagonist, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch from the age of six to nine. Within the story, Scout interacts with her older brother Jem, their neighbor’s nephew Dill, and the numerous townsfolk of Maycomb, AL. Set in the Deep South during a time where racial prejudices were prevalent, is it any wonder that the topic comes up as a pivotal plot device within the very center of the book?

The genre that To Kill a Mockingbird falls under is hard to pinpoint. To an extent, some scholars put it under both genres of Southern Gothic and bildungsroman or “coming-of-age.” Personally I think the coming-of-age describes the book the best, as the protagonist is a child who sees the world as perfect, as her neighbors God-fearing, law-abiding citizens, and is then forced to realize that all humans are imperfect.

Within the book many themes are interwoven into the pages. First and foremost is the theme of Racial Injustice which is most notably found in the trial of Tom Robinson. Tom is accused of raping a white girl and put on trial. Scout’s father, Atticus, is able to prove that Tom is innocent and that the girl and her father are lying. But the jury of 12 white men find Tom guilty. Then, when he attempts to escape prison, Tom is shot seventeen times, a drastic display of overkill.

When I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, I was thirteen and in the eighth grade. I didn’t know what rape was, however, the way the book is written I didn’t have to know what rape was. I just knew that something VERY BAD had happened and that Tom Robinson was being accused of doing this VERY BAD thing that hurt this girl, and that Atticus Finch proved that Tom Robinson didn’t do this VERY BAD thing, and that the jury still found Tom guilty. Only when I reread the book a few years later did I realize what the crime was. So if you’re worried about exposing your child to rape you don’t have to be overly worried in this book as everything is insinuated. At the same time, if you’re worried about exposing your child to racial prejudices, then I ask why? Racism is still prevalent today and if not exposed via a book in the safe environment of your home, then your child may be exposed to it in another way, one that you can’t control and where your child can’t come to you to ask questions.

Compassion and courage is another theme that runs through the book. Atticus Finch had great courage in standing up to everyone in the town and defending Tom Robinson. This took place during a time in America’s history where a black man accused of hurting a white girl would be found guilty whether or not he was innocent. At the same time, the story shows another act of courage that foreshadows Atticus’ showdown in the courtroom via Mrs. Dubose who is dying and determined to break her morphine addiction before she dies. In one of the most iconic lines from the book, one of the most iconic in my opinion, Atticus Finch tells Scout’s brother Jem: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway, and see it through no matter what.

Atticus, though, also has something to say about compassion as well. He tells Scout: “You never know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”

These two quotes have followed me from the day I first read them.

Lastly, the loss of innocence is another theme in the book. The mockingbird is used to symbolize innocence. Atticus tells Scout and Jem that, when they’re learning to shoot their air rifles, they can kill all the bluejays they want, but that “it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” Later, Scout tells how her neighbor explains that mockingbirds do nothing but sing their hearts out for people to listen. In essence, to kill a mockingbird is to kill all that is innocent and harmless: Tom Robinson, the expectation children have of adults. Scout and Jem begin to lose their innocence when Tom Robinson is found guilty when it’s plain to everyone that he was innocent. And they continue to lose it until the very end of the book, where the reader is left with a sense of bittersweet justice.

It’s hard, as a child, realizing that not all people are good. That people betray and people lie. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a parent, to try and shelter children from the harshness of this world. As someone, though, who has worked with children for several years, I do know that some children lose their innocence long before they’re old enough to read To Kill a Mockingbird, and that some children are overly sheltered to the point that they almost can’t function in the real world because they have no idea how to handle the brokenness of the world around them.

Like Atticus Finch said, “There are a lot of ugly things in this world son. I wish I could keep ‘em all away from you. That’s never possible.

 

AGE RATING: 13 and above. If your child is going to read the book for school in high school, it’s a brilliant book to study, a great book to learn about tolerance. Again, if you’re still not sure about the book, read it yourself, or read it with your child.

 

*The American Library Association reported To Kill a Mockingbird as Number 21 of the 100 most frequently challenged books of 2000-2009.

http://www.ala.org/bbooks/top-100-bannedchallenged-books-2000-2009