George Lucas Educational Foundation
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One of my favorite summer activities is reading -- I relish those long afternoons (and mornings and evenings) on the couch (or beach or bed) when I lose myself in a book. I remember vacations by what I read; travels get surreal overtones because of the confusion with the interweaving of narratives -- reading Song of Solomon on Costa Rica's Pacific coast or Pope Joan in Jamaica -- stories that don't match my environs when I close the book. I'll compromise the purity of the travel-experience, however, for a side trip into a good book.

I know that summer vacation is getting close because I've recently found myself perusing the shelves of my favorite used bookstores and building a stack on my bedside table. Here in Oakland, we have a few more weeks of school; I'm envious of all of you who are already done with the school year. But as I anticipate a break, I'm creating a reading list -- and I want to ask all of you for recommendations!

I'm going to share some of my recommendations for the Best Summer Reading for two reasons: first, because they are fantastic, engrossing must-reads, and second, because then you'll get a sense of what I like to read and then you can make recommendations. I do, by the way, read some work-related books in the summer -- it is possible for me to get lost in an education-related book.

Divided by genre here are my recommendations for summer reading (drawn from my reading list of the last 12 months):

Non-Fiction: Education-Relevant, but Not Directly-Related

  • If you read only one book this summer related to school, read Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Especially if you do any work in school change/reform/transformation. The authors tell engaging and entertaining stories, and pack in punches of science and wisdom and insight about how to change things. You'll find relevance and meaning for your personal and work life. I loved, loved, loved this book and reference it all the time. And it'll feel like fun reading. I promise.
  • I also recently read The Talent Code: Greatness isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How. This is another one that you'll find relevant to your personal and work life. Who doesn't want to figure out how to unlock talent in themselves or their students? Another super easy read, narrative-based book.
  • I went on a Daniel Pink binge early this year; I had heard his books talked about for long enough and devoured them one after another. If you haven't done this yet -- do! Read Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, and A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. These are both sooo good. You'll get insights into classroom management, engaging students in their learning, and lots of tips and tricks that are applicable in your own life.

Directly School-Related

If you read only one teaching book this summer, read, Teaching the Taboo: Courage and Imagination in the Classroom, What a relief this book is! The authors express what so many of us (teachers, parents, principals) who are drained by testing-mania are yearning to hear. In this vision of schools, students have a voice and drive their learning. Teachers: Read this! You'll get ideas, hope, validation, and community.

Non-Fiction that's Not Work Related

  • This spring I read two nonfiction books that blew my mind and haven't left me. First, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. I couldn't put this down -- which I usually don't experience with memoir. This is a woman's account of dealing with some really heavy life experiences at a young age and finding resolution and healing on a long hike. If you've ever dealt with anything in your life that hurt -- read this. I couldn't believe how much I loved it
  • Beyond the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity is a very different kind of book -- reads like historical fiction: engrossing characters, plot and suspense, political intrigue, but it's nonfiction. This was fascinating, disturbing, and brilliantly written. Also one I couldn't put down. And actually, there were some insights to apply to working in schools


I love fiction -- it's always going to be my favorite genre, but I'm a little short on recommendations this year. I did read one novel that would be a perfect beach book: A Discovery of Witches is the first in a trilogy. This is a tangle of witches and magic, vampires, alchemy, history, family lore, suspense, and a little romance into a very entertaining page-turner. A complete distraction.

What do you recommend?

What's on your bedside table? I'd love to hear education-related and non-related recommendations for summer reading. Thanks!

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Barbara Cockerham's picture
Barbara Cockerham
Univerity Professor

Delpit - Multiplication is for white people.
Cain - Quiet
Pearl - The Technologists
Kristof & WuDunn - Half the Sky
Ali - I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced
Lesh - Why won't you just tell us the answer?
Obidah & Teel - Because of the Kids
and uncountable murder mysteries and novels!
You have probably all read these and I am behind!

Jabin's picture
AP Environmental Science teacher from North Manchester, IN

The View From Lazy Point by Carl Safina
The Wild Trees by Richard Preston
The Responsible Company by Yvon Chouinard and Vincent Stanley
Indian Creek Chronicles by Peter Fromm
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

Good-Night Willie Lee, I'll See you in the Morning by Alice Walker (a wonderful collection of poetry that will make you rethink your dislike for it)
The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead (Something totally different by a talented Black writer)
Uncommon Genius by Shekerjian (uses 40 highly McArthur "Genius Awards" to discuss the topic of creativity - every educator should read it)

Jennifer's picture

I love summertime because I can catch up on all sorts of reading and tomorrow is a local book distributor's annual $1 book sale so I get to stock up on all kinds of NEW reading materials. However, at our high school we have a summer read every summer that goes with our current PD or upcoming PD. This year we have been discussing and working on student engagement so the book that we are all reading is Engaging Students: The Next Level of Working on the Work by Phillip C. Schlechty. With all of our discussions this past year I am anxious to read this book and see what other ideas it has to offer.

Carrie Deahl's picture
Carrie Deahl
High School English teacher from Phoenix, Arizona.

Elena, thanks for this post and for starting the discussion!

Must-Read Education-Related Books:

Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students by Kathleen Cushman

The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life by Parker J. Palmer (re-reading this summer)

A White Teacher Talks About Race by Julie Landsman

Currently reading: Born to Rise: A Story of Children and Teachers Reaching Their Highest Potential; NBPTS for English Language Arts/Young Adult

Just finished: Food Rules by Michael Pollen

Favorite books from 2011-12 School Year:

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon (memoir)

Daniel Half-Human by David Chotjewitz and Doris Orgel (young adult novel)

The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins

Breathing Under Water by Alex Flinn (young adult novel)

Elena Aguilar's picture
Elena Aguilar
Coach, author and consultant from Oakland, California

[quote]Delpit - Multiplication is for white people.

Cain - Quiet

Pearl - The Technologists

Kristof & WuDunn - Half the Sky

Ali - I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Lesh - Why won't you just tell us the answer?

Obidah & Teel - Because of the Kids

and uncountable murder mysteries and novels!

You have probably all read these and I am behind![/quote][quote]Delpit - Multiplication is for white people.

Cain - Quiet

Pearl - The Technologists

Kristof & WuDunn - Half the Sky

Ali - I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Lesh - Why won't you just tell us the answer?

Obidah & Teel - Because of the Kids

and uncountable murder mysteries and novels!

You have probably all read these and I am behind![/quote]

Love this list and haven't read many of them! Thanks for the suggestions!

williamsmary138's picture
high school chem teacher

I also love to get caught up on reading in the summer. 2 books on my list are Work Hard, Be Nice, and Napoleon's Buttons, both of which are not at my local library. Why doesn't edutopia start up an educator's library of ebooks?

Lynn Dion's picture
Lynn Dion
Reading Consultant Coach for a West Warwick, RI elementary school, grades K

Ishmael by Daniel Quinn (so uplifting and a it will have you feeling like you
want to slow down the world so everyone can truly start
recognizing and enjoying the IMPORTANT things in life)

Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag (always love a good thriller!)

Switch (I had already read this book when it was suggested on this summer list and
I will pick it up again. Truly a valuable read

cnavata's picture

Just finished John Connolly's The Gates and about to start the sequel, The Infernals. If you've never read him before, The Book of Lost Things is the one that hooked me.
Book 2 of the Game of Thrones series (maybe book 3). Read book 1 last summer and it left me gutted.
Education related: out of our minds by ken Robinson (it was recommended by a colleague) and The Disciplined Mind by Howard Gardner (started last summer but never finished).
But now I have to add several of the suggestions mentioned here to my already miles long "to read" list. =o luckily, some of them have already been languishing on my list. I really need to learn to speed read...with comprehension, of course!
Happy reading, all!

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