A lazy day, a cool drink, and a great book — that's the perfect summer day for many literacy teachers. We don't get nearly as many days off in the summer as most people assume, so we want to make the most of our pleasure reading time. We asked some of our favorite literacy experts what is on their summer reading pile. Here are their suggestions, with hopes there is a "just-right" book for you mentioned by one of them.
Colby Sharp, a fourth-grade teacher in Michigan who blogs at Sharpread, recommends Tom Angleberger's new book, Fake Mustache. He says, "I'm not sure that anyone understands what middle grade readers want in a book more than Mr. Angleberger. Fake Mustache is a hilarious zany adventure that will hold Angleberger fans at bay while they wait for Origami Yoda 3 in August."
Shari Frost, a literacy coach in Illinois and coauthor of Effective Literacy Coaching, recommends a professional book and a novel. "The professional book is Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter Johnston. It is a welcomed, highly anticipated sequel to Choice Words. If you have heard Peter Johnston speak in the past two or three years, you've heard the stories of the classrooms where the teachers use Choice Words. It is wonderful to have those stories, the thinking behind the stories, and Peter's insights in a teacher-friendly volume. The novel is State of Wonder by Ann Patchett. A scientist travels to South America to develop a drug that extends women's reproductive years. She makes what might be described as 'ruthless decisions.' It is a wonderful book club book because of the ethical issues that merge, perfect for discussion. Patchett is a master storyteller, and this is one of her best."
Ralph Fletcher, author of What a Writer Needs and Fig Pudding, has several recommendations. He writes, "I think it's important to balance current fiction with classics. I just read Steinbeck's East of Eden which was surprisingly readable — a great story. This summer I'm going to go back to one of Wallace Stegner's books, maybe Crossing to Safety or Angle of Repose. I recently read A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley — terrific, and a great summer book. If you've never read anything by John Updike, I'd suggest you check out Couples."
Jeff Anderson, author of Mechanically Inclined, recommends Flesh and Blood So Cheap by Albert Marrin. He explains, "I read it to find out more about the iconic Triangle Factory fire in NYC, which held the record highest workplace death toll until September 11, 2001. I learned a lot about the factory fire, but Marrin also deftly contextualizes the entire story within the story of immigration, politics, and the labor movement. The narrative nonfiction book reads like a novel, and made me understand history and the labor movement in new ways."
Ruth Shagoury blogs at Lit for Kids and coauthor of Living the Questions recommends Mare's War by Tenita S. Davis. She writes, " Mare is not your typical grandmother. Though 80 years old, she is spry, opinionated, drives a red sports car, and wears stiletto heels. Her two teenaged granddaughters (Octavia and Tali) dread their summer road trip with her. But on the cross-country trip, they learn about Mare's young adult life. Chapters alternate between the contemporary road trip and Mare's flashbacks. Her rough growing-up experiences in the deep South led her to run away to join the Woman's Army Corps during World War II, in the first African-American women's battalion. Her fascinating life in the army brings her to Paris, London, and she makes friends with other girls from across the United States. The historical aspects are intriguing, and the poignant encounters with prejudice and injustice follow her from rural Alabama into her army service. Wonderfully drawn characters, episodes of courage, and lots of humor and adventure make this a terrific read.
Ruth also recommends Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor: "Star-crossed lovers, but more in the Romeo and Juliet tradition than the Bella and Edward (for one thing, it's really well written, and for another, our heroine is no wimp). Karou is wild, beautiful, and mysterious — even to herself. It seems like everyone who knows about her knows more than she does. Like the teeth-collecting monsters who are the only family she has ever known, or the Angel Akiva who wants to kill her, before he realizes he loves her. That, perhaps he's always loved her, even though they just met. It's a fascinating and well-told story that feels all the more original for it's familiar basic plot. I can't wait for book two!"
Cris Tovani, high school teacher and author of I Read It, but I Don't Get It recommends two books. "I'm loving His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg by Louise Borden. I've been waiting a long time for this one. For several years now Louise has enchanted me with her anecdotes surrounding the writing of this book. Much like Raoul Wallenberg's heroic quest to save Nazi victims, Louise experiences her own epic journey as she worked to uncover the mystery surrounding this very important historical figure. Everyone needs to know this story. His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg is beautiful — full of amazing prose, stunning pictures, and moving firsthand accounts. I love this book and plan to not only use it with my high school students, but with middle and elementary kids as well. No classroom library is complete without it. Louise does it again!"
Cris also recommends a professional book from Stenhouse, Well Spoken by Erik Palmer. "In the light of the Common Core Standards inclusion of speaking and listening as something that will be assessed, I thought it would be a good idea to bone up on my teaching of speaking and listening skills. Palmer's book is short, which I love, but also packed with snippets of information that are not only useful to students but to me as a professional speaker. Palmer moonlights as a standup comedian, and Well Spoken is laced with humor that keeps readers engaged. For a professional book, I find this one not only informative but also entertaining."
Samantha Bennett, literacy coach and author of That Workshop Book, recommends the novel 1Q84 by Hakuri Murakami "for long leisurely summer days." Samantha explains, " Murakami is the master of slowing down and lingering on beautiful details, and this novel is all about the idea of time and the small moments that mean everything to a person's life. There are so many amazing literary allusions and layers in this book that I feel like I could read it at least once a year for the rest of my lifetime and discover something incredible each time. The audio book has been incredible for my fitness level too — there are days I've run twice just so I can keep listening! If you are ready to linger and be in awe of a master storyteller, find a quiet spot under a Japanese Maple and immerse yourself in 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami."
Debbie Miller, author of Reading with Meaning, recommends a new professional book. She says, "My new favorite professional read is Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions. What would classrooms look like if teachers asked fewer questions and students asked more? Dan Rothstein and Liz Santana show us exactly how it looks and sounds, and remind us how important it is that children are the ones doing the asking."
Teri Lesesne blogs at The Goddess of YA Literature and is the author of Reading Ladders. She has a few recommendations for us. Teri says, "Because I think summer reading should be FUN, I am recommending a couple of titles that are light, frothy, and perfect for middle-grade readers. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cotrell Boyce (Candlewick) is a wacky family adventure and, of course, a sequel to the Ian Fleming novel (which bore little resemblance to the Disney film, I might add). Bits and pieces of the original car that could fly and transform into a submersible, are gathered by Mr. Tooting. Before long, he and his family are off on an adventure not to be believed. Add into this mix Whatever After: Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynoski, a fractured retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (again, no semblance to the Disney version here) where Abby and Jonah travel into a magic mirror and interrupt Snow White before she can meet her Prince. As they try to set things right, of course, complications arise. Both books promise laughter and are quick reads."
Heather Rader, instructional coach and senior editor at Choice Literacy, recommends On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. "Due to my vivid imagination, I was afraid of Stephen's writing until I discovered this book. The first section has snapshots of his life — funny, wild stuff — while the second section moves into building a writer's toolbox. He's made me think about adverbs in a whole new way. The last section is called "On living" which is appropriate for what we all try to do throughout our summer. It's a well-paced, honest read that made me laugh, think, and connect."
Penny Kittle, a classroom teacher and literacy coach in New Hampshire, and author of Write Beside Them, recommends The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks. She writes, The Digital Writing Workshop mentored me in learning to understand digital tools so that I can empower my students. Troy understands the essential hierarchy for me: first the writer, then the writing, then the technology." She also recommends a companion piece, Teachers are the Center of Education: Writing, Learning, and Leading in the Digital Age by the College Board, NWP and PDK, 2010 a NWP report that details how the digital writing workshop classrooms change the world.
Jennifer Allen, literacy coach in Maine and author of Becoming a Literacy Leader, recommends Jack Gatos's Newbery winner, Dead End in Norvelt. "This is another book embedded with the sense of humor that Jack's readers hunger for . . . He had me with the character of Jack as the chronic nose bleeder." Jennifer also tells us, "The book on my nightstand that I am going to read next is the new professional book, What Readers Really Do: Teaching the Process of Meaning Making by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton."
Karen Szymusiak, elementary principal and co-author of Beyond Leveled Books, recommends two adult novels. Karen says, "The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton is a complex discovery of the life of a little girl lost in years of unspoken truths. Kate Morton unveils the past in a story filled with mystery, and she hands over to the reader pieces of the puzzle that come together in a fulfilling story of self-discovery." Karen also recommends Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and tells us, "This is simply a love story but also a complex mixture of characters, space and time. I reread this book every couple of years because it is such a big part of my reading life. I appreciate the strength of this story, and the lasting impression it leaves on my heart."
Tammy Mulligan and Clare Landrigan, the leaders of Teachers for Teachers, have a few new favorites. "One new chapter book we love is Wonder by R. J. Palacio. The main character Auggie is a character who will stay with you long after you read it. It is a book about how a boy with physical differences transforms a school community. It is a tearjerker, so be prepared. Spoon by Amy Rosenthal is one of our favorite picture books. Spoon is a character who is trying to figure out how he is different from the other kitchen utensils. In the end he learns that he is unique in his own special way. And a literacy coach introduced us to Swim! Swim! by Lerch and now we use it with students everywhere. It is a book about a goldfish who searches to find a friend in his fish tank. Although the fish asks some unusual objects to be his friend, in the end he finds one. This book has very few words but makes you laugh out loud."