BOOK CLUBS: Readers Guide
A Silence of Mockingbirds: A Memoir of a Murder by Karen Spears Zacharias
Child abuse is a crime that repulses people at the deepest level of emotion. Most people believe only a “monster” could commit child abuse while the reality is that it occurs in all types of families and communities around the state and across the nation.
Research indicates that very young children (ages 4 and younger) are the most frequent victims of child fatalities. The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) data for 2009 demonstrated that children younger than 1 year accounted for 46.2 percent of fatalities and children younger than 4 yerars accounted for four-fifths (80.8 percent) of fatalities. These children are the most vulnerable for many reasons, including their dependency, small size, and inability to defend themselves. No matter how the fatal abuse occurs, one fact of great concern is that the perpetrators are, by definition, individuals responsible for the care and supervision of their victims. In 2009, parents, acting alone or with another person, were responsible for 75.8 percent of child abuse or neglect fatalities. Fathers and mothers’ boyfriends are most often the perpetrators in abuse deaths; mothers are more often at fault in neglect fatalities. Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway. Available online at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/fatality.cfm1.
However difficult it may be to read a book about a young, abused child, these statistics and those cited below indicate that every community needs to address this issue.
NB: Some page references that relate to questions 2, 3, 4, and 7 are provided following the questions. This is not a comprehensive list; other references could be cited.
1. Is child abuse a major problem in the United States? Read and discuss the following national statistics to reach your conclusion about how important it is to be informed on this topic.
- A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.
- More than five children die every day as a result of child abuse.
- Approximately 80% of children that die from abuse are under the age of 4.
- It is estimated that between 50-60% of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates.
- More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way.
- Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions, and at all levels of education.
- About 30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse.
- About 80% of 21-year-olds who were abused as children met criteria for at least one psychological disorder.
- The estimated annual cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States for 2008 is $124 billion.
2. Numerous people knew Karly and had varying types of interactions with her. However, the three primary people in her life during the crucial months were her mother Sarah Brill Sheehan, father David Sheehan, and Sarah’s boyfriend Shawn Field. How did each of these three interact with Karly, and how did their actions and words before and after her death demonstrate their attitude toward her care and well-being?
3. Some people in Karly’s life, such as her daycare teacher Delynn, cared about Karly and tried to do all they could to help her, but ultimately were unable to protect her. However, state and local government representatives and medical personnel involved overlooked or neglected to investigate key facts along the way. What breakdowns in the system set up to protect children occurred and how did they influence the outcome?
4. What do you make of Karen’s dreams about children?
5. Do you think Karen, her adoptive parents, and others who knew Sarah in her earlier life failed her as she seems to think? What personality traits did she exhibit that point to her lifestyle choices? Do you think she was a credible witness?
6. If you could meet Shawn and Sarah, what would you want to ask them? Did the book provide any evidence of remorse on the part of either?
7. Why did the author choose the title A Silence of Mockingbirds? In your opinion, what is the title’s meaning?
Page References for Questions 2, 3, 4, and 7
NB: This is not a comprehensive list; other pages could be cited.
2. David, pp. 3-4, 59-60; Sarah, pp. 14-15, 63-64, 69, 72-76, 123, 165-169, 187, 204; Shawn, pp. 78, 83-84, 140, 206
3. pp. 59-60, 86-90, 93, 96-98, 101-103, 108, 120, 122, 125-126, 130-137
4. pp. 21, 77
7. Page following the dedication page and pp. 387-388
1. “Most every failure in this case is tethered to some lie, some deception, and some denial on Sarah’s behalf.” -Karen Spears Zacharias (123)
2. “There’s more than one face behind every crime, and there is more than one heartache behind every headline.” -Karen Spears Zacharias (12)
3. “This homicide was preventable, and we in the system failed…. We set protocol and we didn’t follow it, and I’ll carry that around for the rest of my life.” -former District Attorney Scott Heiser (17)
4. “Might there have been an intervention that could have saved this child’s life? I don’t know but after hearing all the evidence it seems there was a continuum of failure after the first hint there was something terribly, terribly wrong.” -Judge Holcomb (277)
5. “I think every kid should have an equal shot at life. I think it’s a pretty sad reflection on our society that there are fundamentals that kids just don’t have. I wanted to try to do a little bit to level that playing field.” -David Sheehand, speaking about the foundation he established in Karly’s honor (301)
6. “…evil is always threatened by goodness and … the only way we can truly honor Karly is to be good and joyful like she was.” -Karen Spears Zacharias (302)
ENRICHMENT AND EXTENSION ACTIVITIES
These enrichment and extension activities are developed for use in middle or high school or higher education classrooms. Writing or literacy group leaders, book clubs, or other groups may also find some of these suggested activities useful.
1. Research child abuse statistics in your home city/town, your state, and the United States. What trends do you notice over time?
2. Prepare to interview local professionals who deal with child abuse issues and victims. Develop a list of questions you would like answered. Sample questions: How are victims/abusers referred for professional help? What measures are taken to protect the abuse victim’s rights, the rights of accused abusers? What long-term effects may occur in victims of child abuse? What is the conviction rate among accused child abusers?
3. Develop criteria for a poster contest which advocates for child abuse prevention. Participants should develop thought-provoking slogans and illustrations which will bring attention to this national problem. The contest could be held within in a class, a school/school system, a bookstore chain, a city, etc., with appropriate permission from officials in charge.
4. Agree or disagree: When you consider the generational history of those involved, society failed the victim, her parents, and the accused in the cycle leading to the abuse of Karly Sheehan. See pp. 15-16.
5. Read Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier and relate its central idea to the personal character of Sarah Brill Sheehan. See pp. 15-16.
6. Read the poem by Karly Sheehan’s Irish paternal grandfather; use the link below to access the poem. Write a paragraph in response to his words, mirroring the emotions he displays in the poem. http://wp.patheos.com/.s3.amazonaws.com/blogs/karenspearszacharias/files/2012/01/Karly.Swimming.jpg
7. Read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as a companion piece to A Silence of Mockingbirds.
a. How are the two books alike/different in terms of theme and character?
b. What kinds of abuse exist in each novel?
c. Research mockingbirds to find facts related to their nesting and parenting habits, their level of aggressiveness, their singing, etc. Consider your findings in interpreting the novels.
d. How is the mockingbird a symbol in each novel? Quote text to support your thoughts.
e. Fold a piece of 8 1/2 by 11” paper in half at the midpoint of the 11” side. Illustrate the mockingbird quote from To Kill a Mockingbird on the left side of the fold and the quotation from A Silence of Mockingbirds on the right. Attach a typed statement of each quotation to the front of the appropriate illustration. Type paragraphs explaining each picture’s interpretation of its mockingbird quote on another folded page to place below the illustrations when posted for others to enjoy. Present your final product to your group.
8. Writing Activities: Write a found poem and/or monologue. See the following definition pages.
SUGGESTED WRITING ACTIVITIES
1. Found poem definitions:
a. According to this site, “found poems take images from existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems or prose selections. A pure found poem consists exclusively of lines from an outside text: the words of the poem remain as they were found with few additions or omissions. Decisions of form, such as where to break a line, are left to the poet. http://www.poetw.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5760
b. In their book Getting the Knack: 20 Poetry Writing Activities (Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1992), Stephen Dunning and William Stafford, in a chapter entitled “Found and Headline Poems,” state that “poems hide in things you and others say and write. They lie buried in places where language isn’t so self-conscious as ‘real’ poetry often is. Writing found poems is about keeping your ears and eyes alert to the possibilities in ordinary language.”
Sample Found Poem
2. Write a monologue: a speech or narrative (story) presented in the voice of one person; a soliloquy.
For this assignment, gather details from the assigned reading about a certain character, his/her actions, conversation, reactions, thoughts, characteristic language, etc., as revealed in the reading material on which you are focusing. Imagine how your chosen character might tell about events, experiences, ideas in the story from his/her perspective. Write your monologue and present it to the class.
Reader’s Guide prepared by Phyllis Heroy
Enrichment and Extension Activities and Suggested Writing Activities prepared by Ann P. Biggers