Review: To Kill a Mockingbird
For years, my colleague has been asking me if there was a graphic novel adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s been part of our 8th grade curriculum for the last several years, and she has been looking to support her ELL (English Language Learners) and Special Ed students. Well, my book order had not arrived yet, but the ELL teacher was unboxing a case, and all the teachers were waving their copies. And when my book order finally came, my 8th graders who are well into the novel were eyeing it. Thankfully, no one asked for it, so I was able to grab the copy and read it over the weekend.
To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee. Illustrated & adapted by Fred Fordham
Harper Collins, Oct. 2018, HC $23.99
8th Grade and Up
Confession: I really love the novel. I read it in 8th or 9th grade on my own. Voluntarily. It just seemed like a good book. And when my school decided to start teaching it, I used the audiobook narrated by Sissy Spacek to refresh my memory. (One of my favorite audiobooks, aside from the Harry Potters…)
This is the thing. As much as I love the novel, I always found the first part a little slow. It doesn’t really “heat up” and get good until the Tom Robinson trial. (At least for me.) I say this, because as I was reading the graphic novel, I had that same feeling. In fact, I had such a negative vibe at first, until it all shifted as the trial got underway. Which brings me to my next point.
The adaptation is really true to the book. Fordham writes that for the most part, he used Lee’s own words and only changed them when it better suited the format of a graphic novel, which explains why my reaction to this book was so similar to my reaction to the novel.
There were a few transitions that were a bit sudden, like when Miss Maudie’s house burns down: One minute you’re looking at a panel of the house’s ashes, and the next Scout is standing at the ready, spoiling for a fight, demanding that someone “take it back.” Novels traditionally have a space or chapter end for a transition, but here there was nothing to note the shift of scenes.
The color on the artwork is what struck me most. I expected black and white pencil drawings, which would evoke the Gregory Peck movie. Instead, bright, soft colors are used. It works. It’s beautiful. The characters are drawn to bring to mind the movie, especially Atticus, who’s rendering suggests Gregory Peck.
I hope young readers who find this adaptation won’t skip out on the original work, but I do hope it brings this story to a whole new generation of readers. Don’t abandon the novel, but read the adaptation as well.
About Esther Keller
Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. She also curates the Graphic Novel collection for the NYC DOE Citywide Digital Library. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.
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