I was excited. My two youngest children were skeptical. With great fanfare, I had presented each of them with their own copy of To Kill A Mockingbird. I informed them that it was one of the best books ever written and they would love it. And to sweeten their dispositions, I promised a movie party after we’d finished the novel. The movie was as good as the book. Oh, and we’d buy lots of junk food to eat while we watched it.
I’d read it with their older siblings, now it was their turn. Even though they were older (twelve and fourteen), we read aloud together. That first day, we got our books and sprawled in the family room. Before diving in, we read some information about the time period the story was set in and what things were like when Harper Lee actually wrote it. We read about the trial that inspired her. Their eyes glazed over and after the history lesson, they escaped without ever opening their books.
I wasn’t worried. I knew they’d love it. How could they not?
The next day, I read the first chapter aloud then we discussed it. Once again they disappeared as soon as we’d finished. A tremor of apprehension went through me. Maybe they wouldn’t like it. But by the time we got to the fourth chapter, my daughter was asking if we could read “just one more chapter.” “Yes,” I’d answer. “Tomorrow.”
We discussed every chapter, real discussions. Not tooth-pulling sessions of I don’t know. Of course, we laughed too (Pass the damn ham was one of our favorite lines.) Harper Lee has a way of preparing the reader, subtly and with ineffable grace and humor, for what lies ahead. By the time we came to the end of the book, we were reading three or four chapters per day at my children’s insistence.
The day we finished the novel was bittersweet. My daughter cried out, “No, it can’t be over. I want to read more. Is there a sequel?” There is no higher praise for a book or an author. As for me, I was sad that my last journey with my children and To Kill A Mockingbird had come to end. But my son told me not to worry. “You can read it to our kids someday.” As much as I’d love that opportunity, I think my children should read it to their children. It’s a marvelous journey to make together and they may learn something new. I learned after reading it for the bizillionth time that the callousness that comes with maturity is a survival instinct. Most of us aren’t strong enough to survive life’s ugliness without it.
In the coming years, as they struggle to mature and make sense of the chaos that is life will my children say, “To Kill a Mockingbird showed me that fear begets cowardice, hypocrisy and prejudice go hand-in-hand, and courage forges the metal of integrity”? Of course not, but the tender, bright hope that the story ultimately reveals buried under the layers of callused adulthood will echo through their minds when they need something to hope in: Hey, Boo.