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Should students be deterred from reading To Kill A Mockingbird?

The Durham District School Board has ruled that students don’t have to read To Kill A Mockingbird if they don’t want to. It’s all part of a modern curriculum change that would give students (or most likely parents) more control over the novels studied in class.

To be very clear: the book is not being banned — students are just no longer required to read it. The idea is that those who feel uncomfortable about the language and the themes of To Kill A Mockingbird will be allowed to choose another option to read in class.

Written by Harper Lee and published in 1961, To Kill A Mockingbird follows the story of Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. It’s a classic novel that explores themes of racism, gender roles, and religion.

Reaction to this decision has been mixed. Some are praising the Durham District School Board for “modernizing” the curriculum while others can’t understand the problems it may cause.

I’m all for diversifying the books students read. In fact, I think new literature should be added to the reading list every year — but there are some novels that should absolutely be read and To Kill A Mockingbird is one of them.

First of all, young people should be exposed to different kinds of literature, especially if it explores themes that make them uncomfortable. This is how they learn about history and aspects of life they may be unfamiliar with. Too often, especially in school, teachers lean towards political correctness. In typical Canadian fashion, no one wants to offend someone else. But, if there is one place students should feel comfortable enough to ask questions that may not be acceptable in current society, it’s at school! If all of the “controversial” books are removed from shelves or are provided as an option rather than a requirement, how will students be exposed to different walks of life?

The argument that this book may be offensive to some people is ridiculous. It’s a historic novel that presents real themes that still impact people today. Sure, the language can be a bit intense (no one likes the n-word), but how else can teachers begin a conversation about why those phrases and words are not acceptable now? A good novel has a way of introducing topics that may be disturbing or controversial, and allows for real discussion. I think all students should be encouraged to read books that explore themes like religion, gender, politics, and racism.

At the same time, I support the idea that new and modern books should be re-introduced into the curriculum. But, why not put these two ideas together? Instead of making students choose between a book written in the 2000s and one written in the 1960s, make them read both! Expose young people to a variety of literature, including those written in Canada. Who says students have to focus on one book a year? I say, the more the merrier.

So, Durham, I hope you have thought this through. Don’t deprive students from the teachings of a classic and important novel just because it may make some of them uncomfortable. It will only hurt them in the long run.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

The Party Wall: a refreshing take on humanity and relationships

I had very few expectations when I first opened The Party Wall by Catherine Leroux (translated from French by Lazer Lederhendler). The summary on the back cover looked a bit jumbled — four different stories, all involving pairs of people that may never meet. The plots appeared a bit confusing and illogical, and I couldn’t figure out how the author was going to make this work as one, singular novel.

But, I was pleasantly surprised.

Leroux is able to intertwine and shift between numerous storylines seamlessly. Her writing is delicate, almost lyrical, yet not overbearing. It’s themes touch on the very foundations of humanity, relationships, and above all else, love. But not in a way the reader expects.

In fact, there was little about The Party Wall that was predictable, which is what made it such a refreshing read. The novel follows the separate stories of four pairs.

Monette and Angie are two young sisters taking a walk, marvelling at the small things they witness along their way, unaware of the shocking end their story may have. Madeleine and Édouard are mother and son, or are they? Madeleine learns at the worst possible moment that she may not be the biological mother of the child she gave birth to. Ariel and Marie are husband and wife in a post-apocalyptic future in which Canada has a labour party and Saskatchewan is a barren wasteland. The power-couple come to a startling realization about their shared past. And finally, Simon and Carmen are siblings that watch as their mother passes away, all the while holding a deep secret about their background that changes the essence of their relationship.

Each story redefines what it means to be a family — the identity that unifies us or breaks us apart. Not all of the stories have happy endings, but each and every one makes the reader stop and think about the universal truths of humanity. Human beings are full of flaws and regrets; yet also the ability to see good in those who can’t see it in themselves.

What truly captivated me was Leroux’s vivid imagery and startling metaphors. The characters were all wonderfully developed and very real. Even the plot line that exists in a futuristic state is all-too revealing of the impending consequences of North American indulgence.

There are very few authors capable of jumping between four separate storylines while still maintaining the readers interest. The passion and truth radiating from this piece of fiction was compelling and genuine, which leads to my final recommendation: The Party Wall is a must-read for 2016-17.

The Party Wall is shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was the winner of both the Governor General’s Literary Awards for translation and the France-Quebec Prize.

Totsapalooza: being hip and happening with your kids

The 2016 Small Print Totsapalooza was hip and happening as kids dancing their little hearts out, ate delicious cupcakes, made innovative crafts and costumes, and listened to great storytellers.

On Feb. 6, the Revival Nightclub near College and Ossington hosted a different type of dance party, catering to trendy young urbanites in the two-to-eight year old bracket.

The annual event is run by Small Print, a local non-profit dedicated to children’s literature and providing opportunities for kids to take part in literary programs. By providing indie dance music and a cool way for families to have fun, Totsapalooza is dedicated to little readers and provides fun ways for children and authors to interact and have fun with the kids.

“It is always a whirlwind,” said Shana Hillman, board member of Small Print Toronto. “At the end, instead of beer bottles, it is cheesestring wrappers that are left on the floors. It is an opportunity to hang out with your kids in a really cool way.”

“Small Print is about doing interactive literary events with children. All of the events have a component where they get to interact and create, which helps innovate kids to become storytellers.”

Totsapalooza attendee, Aurora, playing dress-up.

Finding Winnie was one of eight children’s books sold at the event and was read by author Lindsay Mattick, the granddaughter of Harry Colebourne who discovered the real life bear, Winnie. Her son attended the event as well and took part in the reading.

Finding Winnie started from a personal place because it is in my family,” said Mattick. “It has been incredible to share the impact of the story I wanted to share as a mom.”

Finding Winnie is a story about Colebourn, the Canadian war veteran, who found Winnie, the bear that inspired the classic tale of Winnie the Pooh. Winnie was a black bear found in White River, Ontario in 1914. Colebourn brought him to the London Zoo, where he met a little boy named Christopher Robin.

“This experience for me is a dream come true. [Totsapalooza] is a very awesome event. It embodies so many things the kids should be doing dancing and enjoying books,” said Mattick. “I think as a parent, we all want to teach our kids to appreciate and be aware of great books and stories.”

All of the storybook authors at the event were Canadian, and parents, and their kids, had an opportunity to meet them first-hand. What made this particular event unique is that it catered to a specific demographics — kids and parents who were interested in the indie scene.

Being an indie parent means you are invested in preserving the tradition of books in place of Ipads, supporting local music and literature, and rejecting large corporations such as Disney in favour of smaller enterprises. Snacks were provided by local vendors, in addition to craft beer for the parents. Totsapalooza featured Bellwoods, a local indie band that graced the stage in the afternoon.

“It is an event with indie music, craft beer, and no Disney content in site,” Hillman said. “It definitely gives them exposure to an audience, and a chance to directly connect to their customers and future fans.”

Author, Lindsay Mattick reading to the kids.

From crafts to dancing to dressing up in costumes and taking fancy photos, Totsapalooza had something to offer everyone big and small. The event was an overwhelming success and is worth attending in the future. My own daughter didn’t want the Totsapalooza party to end and we will definitely be returning next year.

Feminism as Practice: Valuing a Feminist Motherline in the Age of Neoliberalism

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming collection of scholarly feminist essays mixed with personal stories, Mother of Invention from Demeter Press. For your chance to win a free copy of the book enter here. 

Introduction: The Age of Innovation

In our current neoliberal age, innovation provides the guiding mantra. We are constantly looking toward the future, hoping to find the next best thing defined by what is guaranteed to ensure “value.” And yet our definition of “value” has changed drastically, with the language of social value increasingly being replaced by the economic determinism of market value. In this age of innovation defined by short-term thinking and future prospects, the value of the past is lost. It is precisely for this reason that a discussion of feminist motherlines is becoming increasingly essential. The stories of our mothers and grandmothers, and the intergenerational knowledge that is passed down from them, cannot be quantified in market value terms. And, more importantly, these stories weave the fabric of our very social core.

My Mother’s Stories

My mother grew up as the youngest child in a family of seven on a farm in the southern part of Holland. At the age of 12, she was sent to an all-girls boarding school that was run by nuns. At the age of 17, she went to an all-girls college to become a Montessori teacher. She then decided to travel by herself to Canada and teach kindergarten, and here she met my father. At the age of 24, she worked with my dad to build their own log home in Calgary because no bank would give them a mortgage. And at the age of 28, with two small children, she worked night shifts to make enough money so my dad could start his own piano tuning business that she would go on to manage for the next 30 years. When I listen to my mother’s stories, her words cannot be relegated to a particular feminist theoretical framework. In fact, when we sat down for an informal interview and I asked her whether she considered herself a feminist while living in Holland during the 1960s, presumably during the heyday of feminism’s Second-Wave, “nope” was her response. Then upon further consideration she laughed and said, “They called them dolle Minas. They were the ones that would burn the bras, feel the freedom […] the birth control pill came out, it was about love and no war. But I wasn’t part of that. We would see it on TV. Especially in Amsterdam” (Informal interview with Maria Vandenbeld, June 13, 2012).

Feminisms

From my mom’s perspective, feminism was something that had nothing to do with her; it was a theoretical paradigm that bore no relevance in her daily life. And yet, when I listen to her stories, and when I think about everything she has taught me throughout my life—particularly when I had my daughter—I know that my mother’s influence has been pivotal in my understanding of what it means to be “feminist”, and these are the very same things that I now teach my  daughter. The values of equality and freedom, that everyone is equally important, that being honest, sharing and being kind are the most essential qualities, but also the ability to recognize when injustice or inequality must be acknowledged and the capacity to be both kind and strong at once—these are the values that have been passed, and will continue to be passed, down my motherline. And when thinking about our motherlines, it is equally important to recognize how knowledge transfers in multiple directions. My mother now actively identifies as a feminist and laughs about how she didn’t think feminism had any relevance for her in the past making a discussion of feminisms so important. And I am constantly amazed and enriched by my six-year-old daughter’s understanding of the world and realize daily how much I have to learn from her.

During our discussions, my mom said that she always felt like an outsider in Canada, and that the mothers here were far more lenient with their children than what she was accustomed to. The 1970s were, after all, the age of the “free-range” child in North America. And I, too, often feel like I stand outside of contemporary normative mothering discourses. In our current hyper-competitive neoliberal age, while “freedom” remains highly prized, “equality” does not, and nor do the values of sharing or being kind. Rather, within an individualistic winners-take-all mentality, kindness can often be equated with weakness. As such there is an uneasy juxtaposition between recognizing where one’s own value systems emerge and appreciating their historicity, and acknowledging how these value systems, rather than being purely individual, are inspired by larger socioeconomic circumstances and dominant ideologies.

A discussion of feminisms enables the recognition of the multiplicity of feminist voices while also acknowledging the possibility for collectivity. While we are all part of larger societal discourses, we are also unique individuals with particular stories to tell. My mom might have been part of a larger second-wave feminist temporality, but her story is unique. And while she did not identify as a “feminist” until recently, her mothering has been the best example of feminist practice that I can think of. I will always be grateful for the values that my mom has taught me, and I hope I will be able to continue my feminist motherline by instilling similar values in my own daughter.

 For your chance to win a free copy of the book enter here.