Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “To Kill A Mockingbird”

POM: April 5


  1. a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education

Such an interesting word. My German heritage perks up when I hear this term bantered around in literary musings. Bildungsroman is the combination of two German words: Bildung, meaning “education,” and Roman, meaning “novel.” To Kill a Mockingbird always comes to mind when I try to explain to students what the word is all about. After the mention of TKaM titles ping about the classroom: “Oh, you mean like Huckleberry Finn, Jane Eyre, The Catcher in the Rye…I get it now.” Gotta love those literary epiphanies. In fact, the other day my across-the-hall-colleague walked over with purpose and asked, “What is the long word you like to toss around when it comes to To Kill a Mockingbird?”  I told him. He tried repeating it and I shrugged with a smile. “Try it phonetically.” I’ll see his students in about three years and I’ll ask them if they know the technical term for a coming-of-age novel. Or maybe I’ll toss out examples.

All that to say this is why I’m featuring this poem excerpt today. Enjoy. What’s your favorite bildungsroman novel, play, or poem?



                         i.m. Scott David Campbell (1982-2012)

From “Bildungsroman” by Malachi Black

Streetlights were our stars,
hanging from the midnight
in a planetary arc
above each empty ShopRite
parking lot—spreading
through the neon dark—
buzzing like ghost locusts,
trembling in the chrome

A Bit of Book Botherment

As much I proclaim to be a Book Bookster, I fear I’m not a proper one, for if I was,  wouldn’t I be scandalously boring about reminding everyone that September was National Get a Library Month (“get carded at your local library”) or that October was National Book Month? I’m not fully living up to my potential. I’m hoping it’s okay that I just read and blog about what I’m reading. Guilt does overtake me now and then that I should be organizing parties and perpetuating cute little cookies in the shapes of books or something. Perhaps I need one of those calendars that they tend to pin on the wall in the staff bathroom that spouts when it’s national Eat a Chili Pepper Day or National Hug Your Bank Teller Day. There must be a calendar app just for bibliophiles.


In an attempt to make amends for not noticing October was National Book Month, I will reprint an article about books that have influenced a batch of Ted Educators. We do like our Ted Talkers.

If I were a Ted Educator and someone did ask me about a book which had influenced me, I would wholeheartedly reply: To Kill a Mockingbird for the reason that having read it I keep passing on my passion for it on to my students. It’s not just required reading. It’s required to read to understand our US country’s history better and how Jim Crow laws affect who we are today, and how walking around in someone else’s shoes should be a lifestyle commitment not just the answer to the question on the test of “name a famous Atticus quote.” I know the book makes a difference in my students’ lives because when they return to me three years later as seniors that unequivocally agree that TKAM  is “such a great book.”

As to the idea of books making a difference or creating an impact in live I provide for your entertainment and enlightenment John Green’s list of books he appreciates.


So, by the by–which book has changed your life? Or is there a book you want everyone to go and read right now?

Stacking the Odds



Now and then I try to squeeze in volunteer time at the library by shelving a cart or two of books.  Having worked at a couple of libraries I can do the Dewey sufficiently well.  In the future I should remember that the reason the non-fiction juvenile cart is up for grabs is because it takes a loooong time to do. I will have to say that it does involve quite a bit of aerobics stretching from whales to the Star Wars cookbook.

Besides the getting some calisthenics in and helping out the library, I volunteer shelve because I find all sorts of treasures for myself. And because I am on my own clock now I don’t suffer the guilt (and rebuke from my supervisor and coworkers) when browsing. Okay, I do feel a little bit of guilt.

Here  are some of the treasures I’ve discovered:


The Good, the Bad, the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone
Being a Boomer girl I had quite the Barbie collection. I even had the one in the zebra one piece. Had Midge, Skipper, Ken complete with a kitchen set and canopy bedroom ensemble. Oh, yes, I do wish I still had them. No, not because I’m a Barbie fan, but I’m sure my retirement account would have been a bit healthier because there are LOTS of Barbie fans out there.

Lincoln Lawyer (this was a series before the movie!)

Limitless–having watched the movie I was intrigued enough to read the book. Go with the movie.

Monk? based on the series? How could a book do him justice?

Deadly Pursuit–a Christian thriller mystery? I’m game. Toss it on the TBR list.

I also made some observations:

If I look like I know what I’m doing people will think I do know something. I felt really, really good about helping a patron find a book she wanted. We didn’t find it but I gave her information how to place a hold or a search for the title.

I had no idea how prolific Christie, Cussler, Jance, Patterson are as authors until faced with trying to alphabetize their numerous titles. SIDENOTE: I found out it’s okay to get the titles in place by author (you know how that’s dratted patrons just mix them up anyway–wait, I’m a dratted patron).

People really do read Melville’s Moby Dick.

And To Kill a Mockingbird still rocks the shelves! Big yeah on this one.

So don’t be shy, trot right on down to your friendly local neighborhood library and see about volunteering for shelving. You’ll feel good, the library folk will be happy, and you’ll have an even fatter TBR list.

The Book I Would Like to Write

Sometimes the rumblings of hunger manage to induce some amazing culinary renderings on my behalf.

“Let’s see–some rice, a dollop of pesto, assorted veggies, ooh a garnish of nuts, oh yeah there is that leftover sautéed chicken breast.”

Yes, it was tasty. No, didn’t snap a photo.

I wish I could do that with my writing. Here are the ingredients that are rumbling around in my writerly mixing bowl:
-an irrepressible protagonist who transcends time
-address a political issue in a manner that is neither knee jerk, condescending, nor didactic
-scatter in memorable minor characters who majorly affect the plot
-set the story in a picturesque small town of yesteryear
-provide a handful of quotes that will resonate long after the book has been reviewed, shelved, studied, and reread
-have one maybe two iconic symbols that shift paradigms
-explore old thoughts in a new way
-create a subculture that spans time, culture, and political decorum

Wait a minute…
This book is already available, attainable, and darn right delicious.

Harper Lee’s classic remains my ideal of perfect novel.  I have too many ideas rumbling around to only write one book, but oh what a book to have written as the one-claim-to-fame.
Do you have a ONE book that you feast on as a reader?  Or is there one special book that inspires your writer creativity towards boil, simmer, and serve?

Revisits and Rereads

Cover of "To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Ann...

Cover via Amazon

It’s 5:45 a.m. and I’ve just finished re-reading Mockingjay. I checked it out a couple of days ago partly because I was surprised to see not one, but two copies on the shelf. I cancelled my hold request for Catching Fire as I reached the last chapter of the last book in this series.. How could I return to the middle after witnessing the end of Katniss’s journey?
I usually don’t reread books unless a long interval takes place–at least five years or more. To Kill a Mockingbird is the exception–then again, I teach that one and is less of a re-read than a re-visit at this point.

But let us turn from Mockingbirds back to Mockingjays:

As I eased the last page over and closed the book and suffer from that post traumatic feeling of “book done” I’m glad I’ve reread Mockingjay. The first time through was a done in a frenzy of page turning, and I missed so much. This time I have faces for the characters having watched the movies and the tangled relationships of Katniss take on a deeper meaning now.

It’s much the same when I revisit Scout —Mary Badham‘s freckled pageboy face is superimposed upon Harper Lee’s Scout, as she bildungsromans her way through childhood and racial injustice, let alone Southern discomforts of the 193os.

Someday I will return once again and reread the third and final adventure of Katniss. Although I definitely appreciated the Hunger Games trilogy, I doubt I will actually become as familiar with it as I have with To Kill a Mockingbird. Hmmm, I wonder if there is a connection between my fondness for these two lit ladies, one a Mockingbird and the other a Mockingjay.

Yes, there is: it’s called A Good Story.

So, Book Boosters–while you are dialed in–any novels or books you reread? Or perhaps revisit?

A Mistaken Tree

Have you ever avoided something because of a developed perception?  Foods, movies, places, and unfortunately at times, books, can get slighted because of mistaken notion of what it is all about.

Take A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, for example.  I’ve known about this novel for years, and even tried reading it once. I started reading with a formed bias that  the plot focused on a poor family living in New York with an alcoholic father who kept them back from success. I didn’t want to read yet another sad story about poor people (I might have just finished The Jungle) and I put the book down after a few pages and did not return to it until recently.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (novel)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (novel) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure why I decided to try the novel again.  I’m not one who seeks out what I call “downer” reads–those books where reality gets too real and somebody dies or there is a tragic accident or there is unmitigated loss.  I’m not much of a reader of Dickens for those reasons. Yet, in my quest to read all the old classics and the touted contemporary ones I checked out ATGiB once again.  As I began reading  I found out what the plot really was about: it centers on a poor family living in New York with an alcoholic father who keeps them back from success.

Discriminating Voice: Umm, excuse me–wasn’t that what kept you reading the book the first time?

CM: Yes, actually.

DV: The difference this time?

CM: I kept reading.

That’s right the reason that stopped me reading it the first time got set aside and I plunged on, despite my preconceived bias.  I don’t know why I listened to that squeamish inner reader voice  the first time.  I liken that inner reader voice  to the fussy eater voice I had as a kid. Especially when it came to eating broccoli.  When young I didn’t appreciate it until I had tried other vegetables over the years and decided it was actually pretty tasty.  So it can be with a read.

I think I stopped reading ATGiB because the opening involved description and a bit of poem about how the sadness, yet homeyness of Brooklyn.  Being a West Coast gal I could not a)relate to New York at all and b)I was not into poetry at the time.  Now having sampled, nibbled, and devoured poetry over the years I appreciated what Smith had established–setting.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn does center around a family (the Nolans) who live in New York (Brooklyn) in which the father is an alcoholic, and his alcoholism does create hardship for the family.  It also centers around Brooklyn in the early to mid 1900’s. The tree serves as a metaphor throughout the story.

p. 6:
The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock.  It had pointed leaves which grew along green switches which radiated from the bough and made a tree which looked like a lot of opened green umbrellas  Some people called it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky.  It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.

image Wikipedia

That’s the story right there in that paragraph.

The Nolan family consisting of Francie, her younger brother Neeley and her parents, Johnny and Katie, struggled throughout the novel, barely surviving the trials of their poverty. Contrary to the harsh aspects of their tenement life was the slice of heaven they called Brooklyn.  The omniscient narrator takes the readers on the life journey of the Nolans, with Francie as our guide.

Francie is as tough and irrepressible as Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Mick Kelly (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter). I do have a fondness for those tough chicks of literature.

Simply said, this time around I devoured the book, which proved difficult because I wanted to stop and savor it as well.  Betty Smith is a wordsmith and descriptive narrative is her forte.

These two visiting teacher were the gold and silver sun-splash in the great muddy river of school days, days made up of dreary hours in which Teacher made her pupils sit rigid with their hands folded behind their back while she read a novel hidden in her lap.  If all the teachers had been like Miss Bernstone and Mr. Morton, Francie would have known plain what heaven was.  But it was just as well. There had to be the dark and muddy waters so that the sun could have something to background its flashing glory.

The novel also is rich in detail, providing a living portrait of Brooklyn in the 1900’s, its sorrows, its hardships, its comedy, and its people.  I have a new RRS (re-read someday) favorite.

My takeaway transfer, from reader to writer is this: do not be stingy on the details.  Yes, yes–I’ve heard this writing advice many times.  Seeing it in actuality brings the lesson to reality.  Betty Smith recreated Brooklyn through the lives and eyes of the Nolans.  They survived and thrived just like that tree that grows in Brooklyn.



It’s Friday? Right? Soon?

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is nothing like a tough week to make you wish for the weekend.  I’m one day too soon in my wishful thinking it’s Friday. I shouldn’t be feeling so tired since I’m not teaching every single day as usual.

That’s because November is an odd month in that it is so fragmented.

There is actually only one week that contains one fully functioning school week what with quarter break, parent-teacher conferences, professional learning communities, and Thanksgiving holiday.

Like Vera’s dad says, “How do they expect you to get any education if you aren’t in school?”  Vera didn’t have an answer either.

Speaking of Vera, the NaNo blog is going reasonably well.  Today marks 29,860 words.  I already pre-celebrated with my Haagen Daz.

Even with having to invest my evening into the nightly word count, I’m still managing to get some reading done, even if it’s by audio on the way to work.  Anyone else out there read Washington Square by Henry James?  I’m really thinking Morris is quite the cad.  Catherine deserves much better.

I’m also rereading To Kill a Mockingbird for my ninth grade novel unit.  I’ve lost track how many times I’ve reread the novel.  I love introducing this classic to my students.  It is always so gratifying to hear students pop into class, “I finished the book over the weekend!” and this is from kids who couldn’t even turn in their first quarter book report with offerings like The Outsiders to choose from.

Well, the weekend is almost here. Thursdays make me appreciate Friday that much more.

Burn and Turn: Censored and Challenged Books/BB Week #1

What have To Kill A Mockingbird, The Awakening, Huckleberry Finn, and The Hunger Games all have in common?  Easy. Besides making the bestsellers list, they have also made the banned books list. And let’s pause this opening for a bit of clarification. Banned Book Week is actually misleading, since books aren’t technically banned anymore–they are challenged, since we all have, at least in the US of A, the ability to procure what we want to read.

Banned Book Week is the annual emphasis that occurs during the last week of September, and serves as a reminder how society, during given points and times in history, get tweaked about what is available to read.  However, it is not only in the United States that books have created ire in the powers of say so.  Read Tweak happens around the world.  For instance:

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:  Used to be banned in the province of Hunan, China, beginning in 1931 for its portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on the same level of complexity as human beings. The censor General Ho Chien believed that attributing human language to animals was an insult to humans. He feared that the book would teach children to regard humans and animals on the same level, which would be “disastrous.”

Then again sometimes banning is not good enough–let’s just burn the bugger and totally purge society’s ability for intellectual discernment.  Burned books would include:

  • Ulysses, by James Joyce–Burned in the U.S. (1918)
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John SteinbeckBurned by the East St. Louis, IL Public Library (1939)
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway–Burned in Nazi bonfires in Germany (1933)
  • Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut–Burned in Drake, ND (1973)

Although there haven’t been any recent burnings, Ray Bradbury (rest in peace, Ray, you are missed) foresaw a day when all books would be burned. Not because of poisoned opinion, offended sensibilities, or societal outrage–no, Ray thought books would be burned due to lack of interest.  Intellectual thought via the printed page would be overridden by the quest of Jello entertainment(that ubiquitous substance which has form but no true nutrition and is quite similar to most television programming). In the near future Bradbury believed it would be illegal to own or read books so the government created a mockery out the fireman and had him burn books instead of saving that which would burn.  The paradox is stunningly brilliant, which is why Bradbury and his insights will be missed.

The book I refer to is, of course, Fahrenheit 451. The delicious and sad irony is that F451 was censored for its language in order for school districts to allow it on reading lists.

This week I will be posting views, trivia, and insights about banning, censoring, and challenging intellectual matter, because it does matter.

Banned Book Week.  Read a book and challenge your brain.

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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