Earlier today, I finished reading Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. Upon finishing it, I was so overwhelmed with emotions that I had to write about it. The book, which is inspired by the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, explores the thoughts and life of a young girl named Caitlin, who is growing up with Asperger’s syndrome, after her brother, Devon, had been shot in a school shooting at his middle school. The book focuses on Caitlin’s struggle to not only understand what Devon’s death really means, but to also try to understand other people and their emotions. Caitlin and her father spend the book searching for closure to the death of a loved brother and son.
Students with special needs may be able to relate to Caitlin’s thoughts, feelings, and daily interactions throughout the book. For instance, a lunchroom scene where the “popular” girls give Caitlin a hard time about sitting at “their” table, may help students see, from a third-person point of view, the struggles that other students deal with on a daily basis. This could be an excellent teaching moment for parents and teachers to help a student understand how to handle this situation and grow from it, as Caitlin and the “popular” girls do in Mockingbird.
The book is written perfectly for middle school students. It incorporates some great words that could be used for word lists (e.g. empathy, finesse, superfluous, etc.) and several literary devices that could help reinforce SOL concepts being taught in class. The storyline will keep readers engaged and will often leave kids laughing or tearing up. Anytime a book can elicit an emotional response in a student, parents and teachers have to be pleased. Furthermore, in today’s society, where bullying is rampant, and school systems are desperate to try and help the situation, Mockingbird provides the perfect opportunity for teachers to have an open dialogue with students about being tolerant of people who are not just of a different skin color or religious background, but have different minds and ways of understanding and learning things that many of us take for granted.