Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine: Good and Strong and Beautiful

mockingbird by kathryn erskine children books kids fifth grade students aspergers autism death of loved one loss grieving empathy sibling brothers and sisters bereavedWhat a beautiful story! This 235-page children’s novel by Kathryn Erskine is so well written, it could easily be used as an example to kids of how the author expertly disappears into the background, leaving the reader completely enthralled in the story and its characters. Quite a feat, since the author herself drew on much of her own experience to write it!

Caitlin is a fifth grader with Asperger’s syndrome — regarded as part of the Autism spectrum. Her main problem seems to be an inability to recognize emotions, both within herself and in the facial expressions of others. However, with the enduring and self-sacrificing help of her school counselor, Mrs. Brook, Caitlin is bravely working on her social skills, as well as slowly coming to grips with the recent death of her older brother, Devon.

Caitlin does have some symptoms that many children will not be able to directly relate to, such as severe hand-shaking and difficulty with personal pronouns (like understanding that “Mind your manners” = “Ok, I’m minding MY manners”). However, many of her traits are similar enough to our own raw impulses that we can clearly recognize fear, loneliness, anguish, and delight. I myself felt like Caitlin was much like my own “natural state” as a child — doing things I’d have done, had I felt free enough to follow my impulses — like sometimes hiding under a couch cushion and peeking out at the world.

Readers of Mockingbird will enjoy this story for its perspective of bravely navigating through hard times, growing through change, and embracing community. It is recommended for ages 10 and up, but as an adult reader of children’s books, I too found it thoroughly engaging. And for teachers or group leaders, the book also includes 20 thought-provoking discussion questions about the text.

Thank you, Mrs. Erskine, for giving us this literary jewel and showing the world how to better understand children with Asperger’s — as well as those who have lost someone they love through sudden death. I am glad your own daughter has you to be her “Mrs. Brook”! :O>

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This book is set in modern times in the state of Virginia, USA.
The main character is a female fifth grader, 10 years old.
There are 39 chapters, each approximately 5-12 pages long.
In the copy of the book I own, the bottom margin is wide, and there are about 250 words per page, making this a quickly advancing read — excellent for reluctant readers.
Here is a link to that particular book: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
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All dialogue in the book is in italics (without quotation marks), perhaps showing the relatively foreign nature of conversation to the main character, compared to the more clear and black-and-white nature of her own private thoughts. In addition, a few other grammatical conventions are stretched a bit for emphasis. For example, capital letters are employed in special phrases Caitlin finds most significant, such as Closure, Get It, Work At It, Look At The Person, and Facial Expressions. These unconventional ways detract nothing from but rather add much to, the overall tone and character of the book. The average 10-year-old (or even a couple years younger) should have no problem understanding these changes, and finding them interesting. Kathryn Erskine has definitely found creative ways to express her character’s uniqueness!
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Resources for this book & author:
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