With July just around the corner—well, maybe a corner and then another corner—the publishing date of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman is drawing closer. As Bill Ott wrote in the Booklist Reader back in February, news that was initially greeted with giddy anticipation took a darker turn when questions began to arise about the manuscript’s origins (a rejected first draft), the intent of Harper Lee (she seems now to have authorized publication), and whether readers really will want to know how it all turned out for Jem, Scout, and Atticus (the book is set decades in the future).
There is, however, one thing we know for sure. Young people dearly love To Kill a Mockingbird, and along with books like The Diary of a Young Girl, and The Catcher in the Rye, it is often their first foray into a kind of adult literature that nevertheless has young people at its soul.
When it comes to readalikes, it is hard to put other titles in the same category, but here are nine books (one a biography) that either reference To Kill a Mockingbird directly or have a similar heartfelt appeal for readers. The books run the gamut from grades 4 through 12.
Deliver Us from Normal, by Kate Klise. Gr. 5-8.
Charles Harrison, a neurotic 11-year-old, lives in Normal, Illinois—a cruel irony considering his family is anything about normal. When Charles’ sister, Clara, is harassed by the popular clique, the siblings’ horrified parents react boldly, pulling their kids out of school, moving to Alabama’s gulf coast, and launching a radical new life on a ramshackle houseboat. References to To Kill a Mockingbird (Charles identifies with Boo Radley) abound, and precocious readers will sympathize with the social anxieties Klise probes and feel comforted by Charles’ gradual relaxation into “extraordinary ordinariness.”
I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee, by Charles Shields. Gr. 7-12.
Passages have been taken from Shields’ adult “portrait,” rather than the book being rewritten, for this biography for younger audience. Still, this is a fascinating look at the unconventional Lee that captures the elusive writer, looks closely at her relationship with her lifelong friend, Truman Capote, and discusses her part in the writing of Capote’s In Cold Blood. Based on extensive interviews and research, this will give readers insight into Lee’s life.
I Kill the Mockingbird, by Paul Acampora. Gr. 6-9.
It really begins with the death of everyone’s favorite eight-grade English teacher, affectionately dubbed “Fat Bob,” who assigned To Kill a Mockingbird for summer reading. After Fat Bob’s death, best friends Lucy, Elena, and Michael vow to find a way to memorialize Fat Bob and ensure that everybody will want to read Lee’s book: by making the book scarce. This cheerful offering celebrates books, reading, and life—surely enough to satisfy the most jaded reader.
The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christopher Paul Curtis. Gr. 5-7.
Deeza Malone, 12, has a couple of big things going for her: a strong family and she’s smart as a whip. But there’s plenty of bad going on as well. It’s 1936, her father can’t find work, her brother isn’t growing, and her teeth are hurting. When Mr. Malone disappears, her mother has to move the family to a Hooverville shack. Set around the same time as To Kill a Mockingbird, this story shows hardship from the point of view of an African American girl who rises to the occasion. Deeza’s snappy personality will remind some of Scout.
Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine. Gr. 4-7.
Ten-year-old Caitlin has Asperger Syndrome, which makes the chaos in her life—especially the shooting death of her brother—particularly difficult to cope with. When she reads the word “closure” in her trusty dictionary, she sets out to find it for herself and her grieving father. There are missteps along the way, but eventually she succeeds with great finesse, another of her favorite words. Allusions to To Kill a Mockingbird enhance Caitlin’s journey.
Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool. Gr. 5-8.
The girl on the book’s cover even looks like Scout, with her bobbed haircut and overalls. This 12-year-old is Abilene, a girl who can’t understand why her father has sent her to live in Manifest, Missouri, after years of riding the rails together. In 1936, Manifest is a town worn down by sadness and drought. But Abilene soon finds herself involved in a local mystery that could help restore the residents’ faith in their town and themselves.
Paperboy, by Vince Vawter. Gr 6-8.
It’s hot in Memphis during the summer of 1959—in all kinds of ways. Things heat up for the book’s 11-year-old narrator when he takes over his pal Rat’s paper route—meeting new people is a horror for the boy because he stutters. He only feels comfortable with Rat and Mam, the African American maid who takes care of him when his parents are away, which is often. But being a paperboy forces him to engage in the world, which broadens his own. In some ways, the story is a set piece, albeit, a very good one. The well-crafted characters, hot Southern summer, and coming-of-age events will remind readers of Jem and Scout’s summer. But this has an added dimension in the way it brilliantly gets readers inside the head of a boy who stutters, and first-time author Vawter writes movingly about what it’s like to have words exploding in your head with no reasonable exit.
Revolution, by Deborah Wiles. Gr. 6-9.
Set in Greenwood, Mississippi, during the Freedom Summer of 1964, this is the story of Sunny, who spots an African American boy, Ray, leaving the town’s segregated pool at night. Ray is a harbinger of what is to come when a Freedom school comes to town with the goal to register voters and integrate public spaces. Sunny’s strong narrative voice, by turns confused, dismayed, fearful and brave, will resonate with readers. Sunny’s turmoil over racial events mirror Scout and Jem’s.
Searching For Atticus, by Jan Marino. Gr. 7-10
Fifteen-year-old Tessa has seen the film To Kill a Mockingbird at least five times and wishes her emotionally distant and frequently absent father, who resembles Gregory Peck, was more like courageous and devoted Atticus Finch. But after a voluntary tour of duty in Vietnam, her father comes home broken. This book is in some ways the reverse of Scout’s story, with a father who is not there for his child, and, in fact, with a child who must find a way to help heal her parent. Though much of the story centers around Tessa’s love for a boy who doesn’t deserve it, this also delves deeply into the father-daughter relationship (one in which the father is a beautifully developed character), and is told against an iconic societal event, the Vietnam War.