It is somehow almost July, which means it is past time for my Six Books of Summer. Since I have some new readers, I wanted to quickly recap the theory behind this annual post, which goes like this: My to-read list is impossibly long. Intriguing books and must-reads come at a rate that far outpaces my time to read them, and so in my early years of teaching I spent my summers desperately trying to read as many books as possible in the vain attempt to catch up on my list. The issue with this was that even when I kept up a frantic pace, my list never shrank as much as I hoped and I often ended the summer feeling less recharged and a bit fuzzier on the details of many of the books than I’d like.
My approach now is to prioritize. Instead of reading twenty or thirty books, I read six–one per week–and I take my time and really enjoy, process, and think through the books. I have been doing this now for three years, and the result has been far so much more meaningful and satisfying than my old I-have-to-read-them-all method.
I also encourage you readers to discuss the books with me; some of my favorite blog-related conversations have happened over previous summer book choices.
So without further preamble, here is my 3rd annual list of the six books I’m reading this summer. It is out later than I normally like, but with everything happening in the world I needed a little extra time to regroup before getting back on the keyboard. I hope you enjoy.
You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy
Longtime readers will know that I come from a family of notoriously poor listeners. Those were the genes I inherited, and one of the great challenges of my adult life–one that I still regularly struggle with–has been learning to actively listen. This struggle and the fact that the book is a featured book in Dave Stuart Jr.’s new and free summer book club has me particularly excited for Kate Murphy’s You’re Not Listening, which looks at the science and sociology of listening. I am also excited about this book from a teaching perspective too, as one of my goals this school year, whether we are teaching in the classroom or especially if we are teaching via Google Classroom, is to make active listening a bigger part of my curriculum, as the world needs active, thoughtful listeners more than ever right now.
Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi
Every year I share a number of quotes with my classes to help frame the reading work we will be doing. One of them is a Nora Ephron quote where she says the following: “Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.”
This quote perfectly describes my reading life right now. In recent weeks I have found myself in great need of both escape and connection, and Tori Adeyemi’s Children of Virtue and Vengeance, the second in her Legacy of Orisha Trilogy, feels like the perfect book for that. If it is anything like the first book in the series, The Children of Bone and Blood, it likely offers a fantasy world far from our own while simultaneously digging into serious themes that we can see whenever we open a browser or living room window.
Other People’s English: Code-Meshing, Code-Switching, and African American Literacy by Vershawn Ashanti Young, Rusty Barrett, Y’Shanda Young-Rivera, and Kim Brian Lovejoy
In the forward to this book, linguist Dr. April Baker-Bell (who will be giving a webinar for NCTE tomorrow), states a heartbreaking truth that I recognize from students who come into my own classes:
“Within communities and classrooms, Black students who communicate in Black Language encounter dehumanizing messages that suggest that their language is deficient, inferior, wrong, and unintelligent.”
I have long worried about what Dr. Baker-Bell describes here. Regular readers will know that part of how I try to solve this problem is that I talk to my classes directly about the history of Standard English and how it is a dialect that is elevated, not because it is more logical, but because it was the dialect of those who wrote the books on grammar rules. Still, I have often felt I could go further in making sure my students encounter humanizing and uplifting messages about their language, even as we learn Standard English conventions. My hope is that this book, which is written by four linguists from different backgrounds, and its core notion of “code-meshing” will help me to do that.
I once had a relative say to me, “Wait, you are writing a book just on feedback? Isn’t that too small of a topic for a whole book?” My answer was polite, but to the point: Feedback on the surface may seem “small,” but it takes up hundreds of hours of teacher time and is central to not only student learning, but also the academic identities of the students and the relationship the students have with the teacher and the class. I could easily see a relative asking a similar question of Martin Brandt: Wait, you are writing a book just about teaching sentences to students? But like feedback, the little sentence has an outsized impact on whether writing works or not, and I, for one, am delighted that someone wrote a whole book on the subject. Further, I’ve heard Brandt talk about his approach, and I have a strong suspicion that his lively and somewhat unorthodox methods will make this a great summer read.
The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Written entirely in verse in the style of Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming or Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down, The Poet X is a book I picked up on a whim this winter after being at a conference where Elizabeth Acevedo spoke. I only got a few pages in before it was borrowed by a student, and then another student, and then another student. Then the pandemic struck and all borrowed books stayed borrowed until last week, when I finally got them back. Still, my students told me that I had to read it this summer, and I can tell from the beautiful language and rich characterization in the first few pages that they are right. It looks like an incredible read from an exciting and rapidly ascending young author–one that I might even want to bring into my curriculum.
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Students and colleagues have been recommending Just Mercy to me for years, but this summer it is required reading for me. The story is of Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization committed to fighting for, in its own words “ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the U.S., challenging racial and economic injustice, and protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society.” The book centers around the case of Walter McMillian, a young man on Death Row for a murder he says he didn’t commit. The book is supposed to be full of deep emotion and gripping turns and twists, but what makes it a must read right now for me is that it is a book about taking action–which, when looking at a world that is filled with a pandemic and protests–is something I hope to do even more of in the school year to come.
I’ll be back with my first new post looking ahead to the 2020-2021 school year next week. Until then happy and healthy reading.
Yours in teaching,
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