Shireen Afzal is a senior at the Woburn Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Canada. She was one of two finalists in the 2015 Student Essay Contest. In this Q&A, she’ll share her thoughts on the contest, what motivated her, and give advice for students entering this year’s contest inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Harper Lee's death reminds us that “To Kill a Mockingbird” is not only a classic work of American literature, but has also opened important conversations around the themes of race, justice, and morality. The day before Lee passed away, we published the following essay by writer Margaret Stohl, co-author of the bestselling young adult novel, “Beautiful Creatures,” on why “To Kill a Mockingbird” mattered so deeply to her. Our Teaching Mockingbird curriculum helps educators bring the historical context behind the novel into their classrooms.
I have a problematic relationship with conformity. Though I was born in Los Angeles, two generations of my family came from a small town in rural Southern Utah, and they carried the seeds of that community with them to California long after they left the town itself behind. As I grew up, I noticed that my family was nothing like our neighbors or my friends at school. We had different views, different beliefs, and different approaches to life. At the same time, the longer I lived in California, the less I fit in with my own family. That’s probably why, when I read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird as a teenager, I felt an immediate connection to the novel’s main character, Scout Finch.
In January and February, Barnes & Noble Booksellers is partnering with Facing History and Ourselves to promote our resources for teaching To Kill A Mockingbird to educators across the United States. Facing History’s Senior Program Associate, Laura Tavares, reflects on why Mockingbird is more relevant today than at any time since it’s original publication at the dawn of the American Civil Rights Era.
Six months ago, Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman revealed a different side of the beloved Atticus Finch. Lovers of Lee’s classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, were left confused as he is rendered a segregationist who clashes with his daughter over his racist beliefs. My colleagues and I saw this as an opportunity to explore Mockingbird even further. Since the book’s release, we immersed ourselves in this text to develop resources that can inform the way you read and teach Mockingbird in your classroom.
Like so many literature lovers, I’d been eagerly anticipating yesterday's release of Go Set a Watchman. For nearly two years, I’ve been thinking about the world of Maycomb as I worked with colleagues to create Facing History and Ourselves’ resource Teaching Mockingbird. I couldn’t wait to read Watchman, which has been described as a first draft or “parent” of To Kill a Mockingbird, to learn more about how Harper Lee first imagined beloved characters like Atticus, Scout, and Jem, and to see how she depicts Maycomb in the 1950s.