Great Books

with Dachelle McVey

We believe in the power of story.
In our Great Books column, you’ll find suggested titles for preschool, elementary, and secondary students—along with a book synopsis, why you’ll want to read it, discussion questions, and related books.
“When you read a book, you are in a mind-to-mind encounter with its author, whether he lived 1000 years ago or lives today. This is the wonder of real books—all kinds of books, not only the serious and factual. Your mind grows through these encounters.”
—Dr. Ruth Beechick
High School
To Kill A Mockingbird
A Coming of Age Story
Based on To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Book Description:
To Kill a Mockingbird is a coming-of-age story of a young girl in the deep South during the Great Depression but was published during the racially divided and explosive Civil Rights Movement in the United States. This book explores what it was like to grow up in a world that was splintering into two polarizing viewpoints that would reach a breaking point a few years later.

The story begins with our narrator, Scout Finch, recalling her memories of being a six-year-old girl starting school. She shares her adventures with her brother Jem and their friend Dill. But the main plot of the story revolves around Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, and the legal defense he must give for a black man accused of rape by a white woman.

The book follows the trial of Tom Robinson, his defense, the accusations, and the emotions and feelings of those in the community. Scout and her family must learn to navigate a town that isn’t friendly to the children of a man who appears to be siding with someone most feel is guilty because of the color of his skin.

Throughout the book, Scout and her brother try to sort through their own feelings for their black housekeeper and her family and their racist neighbors and friends. They struggle with the outcome of the trial and the aftermath. In the end, the family comes together willing to accept what the future may hold.

Why You Will Want To Read This Book:
Harper Lee spent most of her life avoiding any kind of publicity around her famous and celebrated book. She felt that the book should stand for itself, and readers should get their own meaning from the story. Throughout its history, To Kill a Mockingbird has been acclaimed and simultaneously banned.

Unlike many books dealing with Civil Rights issues, this book takes an empathetic and compassionate stance. Scout and her brother learn to look at the plight of the defendant as he is obviously falsely accused, but instead of lashing out in violence, they also show compassion to their fellow neighbors. They are able to see the individuals and what makes them frightened and fearful.

One reason the book has resonated with so many readers is because of what Lee believed about writing. “A writer should write about what he knows and write truthfully.” And she did just that—writing about a fictional town that resembled her hometown and a court case that resembled others of the time. She wrote about characters we could understand. They weren’t perfect. They weren’t heroes. They weren’t saviors. They were simply imperfect people who had strong beliefs, fears, passions, and desires.

Everyone should read this book, not because it is the most highly recommended book in American history or because it won a Pulitzer Prize. Everyone should read this book because as Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”

Discussion Questions:
While reading this book, talk to your students about the racial divide at the time and how things have changed for the positive and how some things remain the same. Ask your students if they have ever felt empathy for another who was mistreated or falsely accused. What was their reaction and how was the situation resolved?

Another issue in the book is the racist and vulgar term used for blacks during this time. The book uses this term frequently, not in acceptance, but as a fact for how it was used toward people in the era. This is a good time to discuss how words have meanings to different people and how words can create emotional damage.

Some of the characters are stereotypes. Ask students which characters they feel are the victims of stereotyping. Do any of them eventually break those stereotypes?

More Books Like This:
If you enjoy Harper Lee’s famous book, you may also enjoy a book written about her, Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee. Or you might like another book about racial injustice, The Secret Life of Bees.
For more fun with our literary adventure, check out the To Kill a Mockingbird Online Book Club for Teens from Literary Adventures for Kids.
Dachelle McVey

achelle McVey is a working homeschooling mom of 3 in the South. She is the owner of, a blog about her adventures in homeschooling and parenting. She is also the author of dozens of online book clubs for kids from preschool to high school at her site Literary Adventures for Kids. You can often find her reading a good book (or even sometimes just an okay book) and enjoying a jar of Nutella — don’t judge. ;)

iPhone Mockup
Activity Guide
For fun, hands-on activities for each of the Great Books, check out our Summer Activity Guide! …>
iPhone Mockup