Go Set a Watchman
by Harper Lee
Recommended by: Rose Reissman, United Federation of Teachers member, director of the writing center at Ditmas I.S. 62, Brooklyn
Suitable for: Grades 8-12
Why I chose it: Since last year's anniversary of the Selma march, and free admission for many students to the film "Selma," a new generation of students has the historical background about segregation and voting and racial equity issues to get the context of this book. It is closely related to the school curricula fixture, To Kill A Mockingbird.
What I like best about it: Coming home sparks memories of Scout's upbringing, childhood and community values, prompting adolescent readers to realize they, too, will have to grapple with defining themselves within their communities and begin to form positions on political, social, racial and ethnic concerns. Scout deals with issues of race and gender and tells her father, Atticus, she despises him, that he has betrayed her by straying from his own statement, "Equal rights for all, special privileges for none." Yet, on the last page of the book, she says: "I think I love you very much" and opens the door for him. This is a story of the ties that bind all of us to our roots and how, as we evolve, we must also sometimes uproot ourselves.
How teachers can use this book: Students can first read To Kill A Mockingbird, Lee's debut work, to predict with textual reference what the characters will be doing in 20 years. Students will be studying Brown v. Board of Education, which is referenced here, and they can link this research with the cultural, geographic and political values in the book. The Selma march, which occurs 10 years after this book takes place, allows students to follow racial unrest and allegations of black and other minority mistreatment by police, as well as federal review of cases. Students can debate this ongoing issue using character quotes or argue it in writing.
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