This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, a key book in the canon of American literature, and that anniversary is being marked in various ways. Now Christian publisher Tyndale House is hurrying out a book that treats the spiritual themes of the classic from a Christian perspective. It’s a book that almost didn’t make it to market.
Thomas Nelson signed The Mockingbird Parables last summer, planning a March 2010 publication date. The book was edited and almost through production when Nelson canceled the contract because of unresolved permissions issues. Agent Kyle Olund (a former acquisitions editor at Nelson) had to regroup and figure out how to get Matt Litton’s book into the hands of readers. “We both really believed this is an important book,” said Olund, who considered self-publishing and also shopped it around. Finally Olund offered the project to Tyndale, which, to Olund’s delight, acquired the book this past April. “We hadn’t even tried a publisher that big,” he said.
Author Matt Litton was also thrilled the book had been saved from publishing limbo. “The Nelson cancellation strengthened our resolve,” Litton said. “Kyle really believed in the book as much as I did, and worked hard to get it out there.” Because the cover and interior files were almost ready for the printer, Tyndale was able to add the book to its fall list and make the Mockingbird deadline.
Litton has taught the book in his high school English classes for many years and over time the spiritual themes became apparent. To him, the heart of the book is compassion. He points to the passage where, as Atticus prepares to defend Tom Robinson, he tells Scout, “This case... is something that goes to the essence of a man’s conscience—Scout, I couldn’t go to church and worship God if I didn’t try to help that man.” Other themes include care for neighbors, courage, financial responsibility, and, embodied in the characters of Miss Maudie, Calpurnia, and Scout herself, the key role of women in the church. Litton said his book “just happened” when he began writing the parable of Boo Radley in February 2008.
What does Litton hope to achieve with The Mockingbird Parables? “I think today we’ve lost our sense of community, of connectedness,” he said. Before television and other electronic devices became ubiquitous, Litton noted, “People used to sit out on their front porches. They used to go ‘visiting’ on Sundays. Now we are much more isolated from each other, and the church is a part of that, too.” Litton offers ideas and encouragement for readers to get involved in their communities and the larger world at www.mattlitton.com.