When that mockingbird won't sing...
Every time I teach To Kill a Mockingbird, I'm reminded of a lullaby my dad taught me. You know it -- "and if that mockingbird won't sing..." and a list of things the parent is going to buy or do.
So, even before I've cracked the cover, TKAM reminds me of my dad.
So, this February, I geared up to start TKAM with a new crew of freshmen. Freshmen, a squirrely bunch, are all united by one thing (even though they will deny it): they love to be read to. Thankfully, my dad was excellent at reading out loud and he passed his gifts on to me. I relish reading out loud -- I can hold the book, walk the isles, raise and lower my voice to keep kids engaged, and I can spout a pretty good southern drawl when I'm trying to sound like Miss Maudie Atkinson. I wouldn't say it's a production, but it would be hard to ignore me when I get going.
So, I read the first couple of chapters out loud every. single. time. we read a novel. It's important that students get a feel for the language and for the characters and (I hope!) reading aloud provides that for them.
This year, though, I was faced with a new challenge to reading about my favorite literary dad: I've very recently lost my own dad. In January, my dad passed away. If you can imagine how much of a "daddy's girl" Scout is, you have a pretty good idea of what my relationship with my dad was like. He was my champion, my protector, my cheerleader, my very first teacher, and an all-around gentle soul. When I was younger, "Daddy do it," was one of my catch phrases and I'm always drawn to books where the main character admires her dad. Dad taught me to love reading in his lap; I can trace my English teacher roots to his chair, well past my bedtime, sharing stories.
So, I set out to read chapter 2 out loud. In chapter 2, for those who don't have the joy of rediscovering the novel with 80 new faces every year, Scout gets in trouble at school. She sticks up for Walter Cunningham and her first grade teacher, teaching the "Dewey Decimal System" is upset with her for knowing how to read and write in cursive. Scout, being as reactionary as she is, is frustrated. She has decided to hate school (something she continues to do throughout the novel). In that chapter, she delivers one of the most poignant lines in the book: "Until I feared I would lose it, I did not love to read, one does not love breathing." I always pause after this line and let it sink in and permeate my classroom. What does it mean to love something so much that it scares one to lose it? How does that feel?
This year, that line socked me in the gut. I felt Scout's pain knowing my loss, while different, was as big as the moment Scout was staring down. I managed not to cry, but I did have to take a few deep breaths to keep going. That line, and the subsequent "deal" Scout makes with Atticus to keep reading at night reminded me of the grief I'm still working through. They reminded me how lucky I was to have a dad who believed in education, who believed in treating others with kindness and respect, who stood up for those who couldn't always stand up for themselves, and who lead others with a quiet, patient, gentle manner. People who love TKAM love Atticus for so many of the same reasons that I love my dad.
I'm reading TKAM with new eyes this year, which isn't a bad thing. I think every time a reader revisits a novel she picks up a new meaning, a new part speaks to the heart of us all. That is why reading is so powerful and so important to share with the little (and big) ones in our lives. C.S. Lewis once said, "we read to know we are not alone." Reading TKAM, sharing it with my students, remind me that even when I miss my dad, I'm not alone. He'll always be there in our favorite stories.
Find more information about the slice of life blogging challenge by Two Writing Teachers at this link.
Kari Straube is working on her second slice of life challenge in 2017. She spends her days with freshmen in rural Iowa & loves helping them grow. Her English teacher husband encourages her book hoarding habits & people do not like helping them move. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views on this blog are mine alone and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.
Kari teaches English I to 9th graders (!) and other electives in rural Iowa. Her husband is also an English teacher, and their friends have sworn to never help them move again because "even libraries don't have that many books."