by Sharon Kane
Many readers who love To Kill a Mockingbird go on to read one or more of the many biographies of Harper Lee. They discover that her childhood in Monroeville, Alabama, provided many experiences that Nelle (as she was known) later wove into her classic novel set in the fictional Maycomb. Readers also learn of her friendship with little Truman (Streckfus Persons, later Capote), who also grew up in Monroeville. The children inspired each other and eventually influenced each other’s adult writing. Versions of Nelle appear in Capote’s work, and vice versa.
G. Neri, in Tru and Nelle (2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), tells a fictionalized version of the friendship of these two young misfits. He explains that his story is based on real events, “but I’ve rearranged them into a single story and added more than a few fibs for spice, hopefully making for a flavorful bowl of southern homestyle yarns” (p. 318). The children, inspired by the Sherlock Holmes stories they have read, play detective games and eventually become embroiled in a mystery that involves an encounter with the Ku Klux Klan. They write stories on a typewriter given to them by Nelle’s father; when Tru moves to New York, they promise to keep writing, and to go somewhere together when they grow up.
Teachers could offer this book as for additional reading while students are reading To Kill a Mockingbird; students will delight in finding episodes that are similar to the ones in the classic. They may also be inspired to write creatively about the childhood of one of their own favorite authors, conducting research and pondering the influences that led to the works they admire.
I’d pair this book with I am Am Scout: A Biography of Harper Lee, by Charles J. Shields (reissued in 2015 by Square Fish Books). A book talk about that biography was posted on this site in January 2014 and can be found here: http://hhpcommunities.com/youngadultlit/?s=i+am+scout.
Appropriate for intermediate, middle, and high school grades