Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

In Caitlin’s world, everything is black or white. Things are good or bad. Anything in between is confusing. That’s the stuff Caitlin’s older brother, Devon, has always explained. But now Devon’s dead and Dad is no help at all. Caitlin wants to get over it, but as an eleven-year-old girl with Asperger’s, she doesn’t know how. When she reads the definition of closure, she realizes that is what she needs. In her search for it, Caitlin discovers that not everything is black and white—the world is full of colors—messy and beautiful.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. In what ways is Devon’s unfinished chest symbolic of the loss of Devon? How has it has impacted the rest of Caitlin’s family? Although her father has covered the chest with a sheet, why do you think he chooses to keep it in their home?
  2. How do readers know Caitlin isn’t dealing with the loss of her brother? What are some of the behaviors she displays that verify how she’s doing?
  3. Devon served as a navigator to Caitlin as he helped her understand and explore the world; how does his absence make it significantly more difficult for her to deal with others? What are some of the specific kinds of things Devon did to help his sister? What was his motivation in doing these things? Did he stand to gain anything for assisting her?
  4. Do you believe Caitlin’s father is providing her the support she needs? Why or why not?
  5. Based on instructions on how to act, Caitlin reminds herself to “Look At The Person.” Why do you think this is particularly difficult for her? Why is each word in that phrase capitalized? What other phrases have that same treatment?
  6. Why is Mrs. Brook important to Caitlin? Why does Caitlin trust her and not some of the other adults at school? What does her absence at school mean to Caitlin?
  7. Asperger’s and autism often exhibit ritualistic behaviors; what are some of Caitlin’s? How do these actions make her feel? Discuss whether you believe she should be allowed to engage in these activities or if she would be better served by being forbidden or stopped.
  8. What are the reasons Caitlin dislikes recess?
  9. Describe Josh. What motivates him to behave the way he does? Do you think he has a valid reason for being so angry? How does Caitlin feel about Josh? Why might she feel so strongly about him? Why might others?
  10. When considering her passion for books, Caitlin states, “You can open and close books a million times and they stay the same. They look the same. They say the same words. The charts and pictures are the same colors. Books are not like people. Books are safe.” (p.34) What can we infer about her statement? Do you agree with Caitlin?
  11. When Josh and Caitlin have an altercation on the playground, their classmates come to Caitlin’s defense and even team up against Josh, but later, some of these same students laugh and tease Caitlin about her behavior—why would they chose to behave this way and what do we learn from this contradictory behavior?
  12. One of the ways Devon and Caitlin connected was through their shared appreciation for the movie, To Kill a Mockingbird. Why was this particular movie so special to them? In what ways were they similar to the characters in the film?
  13. Throughout the course of the novel, Caitlin tries to understand the meaning of closure. What are some of the events that help her achieve closure? How does her understanding of the concept of closure change?
  14. Why is Caitlin so insistent that she and her father finish Devon’s chest? What does she hope to accomplish by completing this project? What happens during the course of finishing the chest and how does that affect both Caitlin and her father?
  15. Though she is a gifted artist, Caitlin is fearful of using color in her work and her work doesn’t involve human subjects. Why do these things make her uncomfortable? How is this indicative of her disability?
  16. How has Caitlin matured from dealing with the loss of her brother? What has she learned? How have the people to whom Caitlin is closest learned from her as well?

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