I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee

I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee

by Charles J. Shields
I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee

I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee

by Charles J. Shields

Hardcover(First Edition)

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To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most widely read novels in American literature. It's also a perennial favorite in highschool English classrooms across the nation. Yet onetime author Harper Lee is a mysterious figure who leads a very private life in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, refusing to give interviews or talk about the novel that made her a household name. Lee's life is as rich as her fiction, from her girlhood as a rebellious tomboy to her days at the University of Alabama and early years as a struggling writer in New York City.

Charles J. Shields is the author of the New York Times bestseller Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, which he has adapted here for younger readers.What emerges in this riveting portrait is the story of an unconventional, high-spirited woman who drew on her love of writing and her Southern home to create a book that continues to speak to new generations of readers. Anyone who has enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird will appreciate this glimpse into the life of its fascinating author.

I Am Scout is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805083347
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 04/01/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.31(w) x 9.28(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 1120L (what's this?)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

About the Author

CHARLES J. SHIELDS is the recipient of a Quill Award Nomination for Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee. He has been a teacher, a reporter for public radio, and a journalist, and is the author of several nonfiction books for young readers. He and his wife reside in Barboursville, Virginia.

Table of Contents

A Note From the Author ix

Chapter 1 "Ellen" Spelled Backward 1

Chapter 2 "Apart People" 22

Chapter 3 First Hints of To Kill a Mockingbird 36

Chapter 4 Rammer Fammer 60

Chapter 5 "Willing to Be Lucky" 78

Chapter 6 "See NL's Notes" 103

Chapter 7 Mockingbird Takes Off 126

Chapter 8 "Oh, Mr. Peck!" 146

Chapter 9 The Second Novel 173

Chapter 10 Quiet Time 192

Notes 213

Bibliography 231

Index 240

Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions


In fiction, characters are created by what they say, what they do, and what others say about them. How is Nelle's character created using these three methods?

Slavery was long over by the time of Nelle's childhood. But what can you say about the status of whites and blacks in 1930s Monroeville? Draw on examples from this chapter.

Chapter 2: "APART PEOPLE"

Based on what you've read so far in I Am Scout, why might Nelle not have tried to become her mother's ideal daughter?

Harper Lee says that because most folks had no money during the Great Depression, children were forced to live in their imaginations. Now, of course, there are video games, television, organized sports, and so on. Has this change made a difference in children's ability to imagine? What's your opinion?

Harper Lee drew heavily on real people for her characters in To Kill a Mockingbird. Was she wrong to do this? Why or why not?


How are Harper Lee's behavior and values consistent from the time she was a child until she became a young adult? Can you make a connection to Scout?

One of Nelle's classmates at Huntingdon later said that she seemed determined to be different. In what ways did she defy expectations for female undergraduates?

Sometimes photographs can give clues about the past and people. Look at the photograph on p. 50. Study it. What do you notice about Harper Lee compared with the two young women standing beside her? Look at the dress, body language, and expressions.


Read Nelle's column on pp. 66–67. What is she attacking and how does this fit with her values?

This chapter doesn't specify what it was about the nature of being a lawyer that repelled Harper Lee. Do you have any ideas based on what you've read about her so far?

1948 was both the year that Truman Capote published his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, and that Harper Lee left home for New York. What argument might Harper Lee have used to convince her father that she needed to relocate to New York?


Harper Lee didn't show her creative writing to anyone when she was a child; then she didn't send out her stories for almost ten years while she was in New York. When the Browns gave her the money to write full time, she replied, "It's such a fantastic gamble. It's such a great risk." Can you draw a conclusion about this pattern in her behavior?

Alabama Governor B. M. Miller received a petition signed by citizens of Monroe County that persuaded him "there is much doubt as to the man [Walter Lett] being guilty." He commuted Lett's sentence from death to life in prison. Think about the era. Why didn't the governor just pardon Walter Lett?


Why, in your opinion, was Capote failing at first to get the story in Garden City, Kansas?

Some people might accuse Nelle and Truman of invading people's privacy, such as by visiting the Clutter's house. Others would argue they were fulfilling their jobs as writers. What do you think?

What strengths did Nelle bring to getting the story in Kansas that Truman didn't have?


Think about what was happening in America in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Do you think social and political events in America influenced how To Kill a Mockingbird was received?

What are the indications that fame will be difficult for Harper Lee?


Even to this day, older residents of Monroeville fondly remember Gregory Peck's visit to their town. Why did Peck behave as he did?

Point to indications in this chapter and earlier ones that Truman will not want to share credit for In Cold Blood with Nelle, and why.


Are there any clues in Harper Lee's interview with Roy Newquist (pp. 181–182) that she will be unable to publish a second novel? Support your reasons by interpreting what she says.

What do you think of Alice's explanation that a burglar stole the manuscript of Harper Lee's second novel?


What are some reasons, either personal or artistic, Harper Lee might have stopped work on The Reverend.

Should the biographer have brought up the rumor of the drowning incident? Why or why not?

What does Harper Lee mean by, she "forgave herself"?

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