|One of my favorite quotes from To Kill a Mockingbird, especially since it is so true!|
This past Tuesday, HarperCollins announced that they would be publishing the "sequel" to Harper Lee's only novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee originally wrote the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman prior to writing To Kill a Mockingbird, which shows an adult Scout returning to Maycomb, Alabama twenty years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird. Her then-publisher loved the backstory and flashbacks so much that it was requested Lee write the story of what happened to young Scout. The manuscript was shelved...until now.
I, like almost every other English teacher I know, squealed with delight upon hearing the news. I read To Kill a Mockingbird in Mrs. Tucker's ninth grade English class and it was honestly the first school book that I not only read cover to cover without the use of SparkNotes, but also truly enjoyed. I remember thinking Scout was the kind of friend I would have wanted to have when I was little, and even as a teenager, I somewhat idolized her. While it took me until my freshman year of college to pick up To Kill a Mockingbird again, my original thoughts on the book stayed. In fact, even as a teacher, I look back at some of the annotations I made upon my first reading and use some of them in class, as both examples of what an annotation is and how, 12 years later, I still understand why it was that I wrote them.
Was To Kill a Mockingbird the first book to really hook me as a reader? No, that honor belongs to the Harry Potter series. However, it was one of the first books I can remember where I actually thought about what life was like during the 1930s and how things really have not changed that much in 2015. I think that was the case for a lot of people.
In teaching ninth grade, I have the pleasure of teaching To Kill a Mockingbird to a new group of 14-15 year olds ever year. Over the past four years, the connections the students have made with our present-day society have been amazing. Not only do they see how in the past 80 years, many people's negative attitudes towards African Americans have not changed, but they see how prevalent, and hurtful, stereotypes are in general. During my first year of teaching, the ninth grade English teachers held a "De-Stereotype Me Day," in which the students faced their stereotypes head on by making and wearing t-shirts that bore the phrase "Just because I'm _________, does not mean I am __________." So for example, "Just because I'm a woman, does not mean I am helpless." In addition, they wrote personal narratives about their experiences with stereotypes. Both in their essays and in the in-class discussions, the parallels between these students...upper-middle class, entitled, predominately white teenagers...and the characters in To Kill a Mockingbird were astounding. For many of the students, that was really the first time they could connect their lives to a piece of literature, especially one that has been deemed a classic.
All this week, as my students have come into class, most have made comments about Go Set a Watchman and its publication this upcoming summer (July 14th). This is the first time I can remember where teenagers are excited about a book release that is not related to YA lit and it is amazing. My excitement is right there with them.