TO KlLL A MOCKlNGBlRD: 50th Anniversary–But Does That Make It Acceptable Literature for 8th Graders At A Catholic School?

I just learned that my 13 year old daughter’s eighth grade literature teacher, who is a Catholic young woman recently graduated from college (and from a dear family as well), has assigned this novel to the class. This is a Catholic parish school.

Naturally, though I’m not concerned with the discussions of racial issues, I am very concerned about the matter of rape which this story brings up. I have not read this book in many years, so there might be more that I should be worried about as well. I think that my highschool aged children have read this in English honors classes, so I’m wondering why the teacher is pushing this on eighth graders… except that it is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of TKAM so it’s an even trendier book at the moment.

My daughter reads at a very high level, so her comprehension will not be an issue. She will “get” everything. So is this book appropriate for Catholic 13 year olds? There are some very innocent children in this class, but most are rather savvy. I cannot imagine what the classroom discussion of this story will look like. Some of the boys in this grade seem too immature to discuss more serious themes and what 13 year old girl wants to talk about rape anyway? I do not have a copy of the book, but I’m getting one from the library asap.

If this book is objectionable for this age group, would you please tell me why? It would be best to cite specific passages. I will then send an email to our school administration and the lit teacher herself quote the offending text in order to make my point. I believe that our principal will listen, and if it comes to it, I will just tell the teacher that my daughter cannot read the story and request a different novel.

Or maybe I’m overreacting… what do you think?

I think 8th graders should be able to handle it.

The most graphic part of the “rape” is Mayella’s testimony, and Mr. Ewells testimony during the trial

But a rape actually does not occur, and the description is not very graphic, and it uses words that we really don’t use today.

And it’s told in an innocent way, through Scout’s POV.

8th graders tend to be idealists, so the theme of racism will be understood by relating to Tom Robinson, and by relating to Atticus.

I wouldn’t have any problems with it at all.

My class read that book in the 5th grade…
It is a fine book to read.

I was in either the 7th or 8th grade when my class was assigned this book to read. (I did attend a Catholic school.) I agree that it is appropriate for this age group. It doesn’t go into anything graphic with regards to the rape. As I remember it, in my class when we discussed it, we didn’t go into a lengthy discussion about rape itself. We discussed how a false accusation could be so damaging to the person accused, and talked about the racial issues during that time period.

It is a great book and should be required reading. I read in the seventh grade. I see no problem whatsoever with an eighth grader reading this . After reading the book I strongly recommend you view the movie with her which is a classic.

There is no rape in the book and the descriptions of the alleged rape are very benign.

Just an interesting piece of trivia but Scouts friend who is spending the summer with his aunt is based on Truman Capote whom Harper Lee lived close to when she was a child. She accopmanied him to Holcomb Kansas when he was writing a" In Cold Blood"-another classic which , however , is best left for high school

My parents where in the same boat as you are. I always read at a much higher grade level, but I always struggled with math and science.

Have her read it, it’s one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. Tell her there are parts that are questionable (there pretty tame in this day and age) and have her talk to you if there are any problems.

Honestly, I’d say go with your gut. Parents are the primary educators of their children. Look for the book, find the passages you feel would not be appropriate and email them or go to school and talk to them about it.

This should not be an issue. I’ve taught this book a number of times at either the 7th or 8th grade level. And, be glad that your daughter will comprehend what is going on. I actually spend a good deal of time making sure students do understand just what happened. It’s important for a number of reasons. The years I don’t teach TKAMB I teach a novel by the name of Montana 1948 ( which has some similarities but is a little more complicated. Something like 1/4 of girls 14 and under are going to be sexually assaulted. She needs to, if not already, have some thought about being aware of surroundings, personal safety, etc. I’ve dealt with the immature boy thing in class and by the time I was done some were pale and sweating and looking at things in a whole new light. I had them write down every woman important in their life: mom, sister, aunt, teacher, friends, cousins. They had to come up with at least 12.Then I told them to circle any two. Those are your rape victims gentlemen. 1 in 6 american women will be raped. Set a timer for two minutes and let it go off over and over again in class. Every two minutes a woman is raped in this country. It gets a lot less funny in a hurry. IF they still aren’t getting it, I move on. 1/33 men are raped. The majority are not gay. They are raped just so the rapist can show/prove they have total control and domination over you. rarely do we ever need to go that far.

My kids were both assigned this book in 7th grade and when I reviewed it for them, felt it was appropriate in reading level and content. The discussion in class could have been better but that’s all in the teacher’s control.

My only problem with the book was that it was boring. Both of my kids love to read and always have 2 or 3 books going at a time but getting them to read this one was like pulling teeth.

I did not find it objectionable, just more work than it was worth for my not-at-all-reluctant readers. :slight_smile:

Those are the classes I use Montana 1948 with.

I appreciate each and every one of your replies. I am emailing my daughter’s teacher and express my concerns, but from what I’m reading here, I don’t need to keep my daughter away from this book. It was a good reminder that the story is told from Scout’s POV and the rape is described from the witness stand.

I think that I will read TKAM with her as well. Thank you for putting my mind at ease!

I do have one concern: is there an issue of incest in the Ewell family? What sort of abuse is going on there? As always, thanks!

Nothing is specifically said, it’s implied and the reader might even miss it.


Tom Robinson did not rape Mayella. She tried kissing him. She says something like, “I’ve never kissed a man before, and what my father does don’t count.” Mr. Ewell finds them in that embrace.

Mr Ewell then beats Mayella, and shows that as evidence of the rape. She never gets examined by the doctor. But, Tom could not have beaten her, he had a severe injury to his arm.

Tom was framed.

But it’s subtle, and again through Scouts POV. I suggest reading it, you’ll enjoy it.

Mary Gail:

Wow! You know your TKAM! Thank you for the citation.I don’t think my daughter will “miss” that (darn), but it is very subtle. She and I will discuss it privately. And hopefully it will be left alone in the classroom setting.

Why do you think it should be left alone in the classroom setting?

The brilliant Catholic novelist, Flannery O’Connor called the Lee novel, “a children’s book”, and she did not mean this as praise. The biggest difficulty with this book is that there are so many other books of greater merit to read, but, along with other second rate books, CATCHER IN THE RYE, A SEPARATE PEACE, etc., it seems to have become a staple of High School curricula. For a calm but dissenting view on the book, here is a recent piece from the WSJ also noting the 50th anniversary.

Christopher Check

Hmmm. My daughter read this when she was in between 4th and 5th grade as part of her summer reading. I’ve read the book many times, (it’s extremely easy to read) I don’t see a problem with it. Maybe I’m just a bad mom though…:shrug: I think for sure 8th graders can handle the subject matter. I can’t imagine they don’t know what rape is at that age. but it’s not really about rape it’s about racism…as Mary Gail pointed out Tom was framed by the racist ignoramus Mr. Ewell. Tom is one of the novels ‘mockingbirds’ ,a good person that is injured by the evils of mankind.

As a native Bostonian, with an English degree, who has lived about an hour from Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville for 30+ years, I have mixed feelings about the book. It is, indeed, written from Scout’s POV, and is an easy read. There is nothing an eighth grader shouldn’t confront. However, given the time and place, even raising issues such as those dealt with in the book was bold. (Though Atticus is based on her father, her father was a staunch segregationist.)

Monroeville (Maycomb in the novel) is the quintessential sleepy southern town; it is the site of an annual production of To Kill a Mockingbird, with a cast made up entirely of local folks. We were thrilled to wrangle tickets two years ago (nearly impossible to get) and enjoyed it thoroughly. My dh, who is a local TV news anchor in a nearby city, was drafted for a walk-on part, which he played to the hilt!!! The production takes place in front of, and, for the courtroom scene, actually in the courthouse itself. When we were there, we met Mary Badham (Scout in the movie) who was in attendance; she is a delight, and spoke of her great respect for Gregory Peck.

Harper Lee is apparently now in a retirement home, but her sister still practices law - in her 90s! Interesting family, to say the least.

I think a 13-year old girl should know about the dangers of rape. If I were so amazingly, abundantly, overwhelmingly blessed to have a daughter (I’m a bachelor - no kids at all :frowning: … ), by the age of 13 she’d not only have heard about rape, she’d be able to hit center mass with her Glock 23 at 25 yards with every shot.

Forewarned is forearmed (goes great with being actually armed).

Ironically, I have never had to read To Kill a Mockingbird. When I was in the 7th and 8th grade, I had some pathetic teachers who didn’t assign us actual novels to read.

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