Some notable news from the publishing world for English and civics teachers: As of today, To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee’s classic portrayal of a young girl’s coming of age amid racial injustice in Depression-era Alabama, is available in downloadable e-book and audiobook forms for the first time. (Kindle and Nook versions are both up for less than $5.00)
The famously reclusive Lee had previously resisted appeals to release a digitized version of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, which was first published in 1960. But she announced the change through her publisher on Monday (also her 88th birthday). “I’m still old-fashioned,” she said. “I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that Mockingbird has survived this long. This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”
Dan Sigward, a researcher and curriculum writer for the civics-education group Facing History, says the e-book release has the potential to make the novel “accessible to a whole new generation of readers.” As such, he sees it as an opportunity for teachers to deepen students’ understanding of the issues explored in the book—and their own “growth as moral and ethical people.”
[The novel's] themes of moral and ethical development, the power of stereotyping and prejudice, the forces that shape the way people respond to difference, the role of upstanders in responding to injustice, crowds and power, the limits and possibilities of the law as a tool for social change, and the impact of the legacies of injustice on individuals, groups, communities and nations at large are just as relevant today as they were in 1960.
By way of a particular lesson idea, Sigward recommends having students examine critical responses to the novel to help them contextualize the story and their own reactions to it.
The New York Times’ Learning Network also offers teaching resources on To Kill a Mockingbird (including the paper’s original 1960 review). Lesson plans and additional ideas are available from the National Endowment for the Humanities and The Big Read.
For the record, To Kill a Mockingbird has the distinction of being on both the Common Core State Standards’ list of exemplar texts (grades 9 and 10) and the American Library Association’s list of most frequently banned or challenged books. So you could tell your students that it’s doubly controversial.
Image: A screenshot from the film “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) with Gregory Peck and Brock Peters. —Wikimedia Commons
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.