Published Online: October 30, 2007
Published in Print: October 31, 2007, as New in Print

Book Review

New in Print

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‘When I Was a Little Cuban Boy’

How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life

edited by Tom Miller (National Geographic,; 352 pp., $16.95 paperback).

O José can you see … that’s how I sang it, when I was a cubanito in Miami, and América was some country in the glossy pages of my history book, someplace way north, everyone white, cold, perfect. This Land Is My Land, so why didn’t I live there, in a brick house with a fireplace, a chimney with curlicues of smoke. I wanted to wear breeches and stockings to my chins, those black pilgrim shoes with shinny gold buckles. I wanted to eat yams with the Indians, shake hands with los negros, and dash through the snow I’d never seen in a one-horse hope-n-say? I wanted to speak in British, say really smart stuff like fours core and seven years ago or one country under God, in the visible. I wanted to see that land with no palm trees, only the strange sounds of flowers like petunias, peonies, impatience, waiting to walk through the door someday, somewhere in God Bless America and say, Lucy, I’m home, honey. I’m home.

—Richard Blanco, a poet raised in the United States by Cuban exiles, reflects on his early years of schooling in Miami for a collection of essays, How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life. The book’s contributors, a diverse group including politicians, artists, writers, athletes, and entertainers, describe their common struggle to master the English language, and highlight the teachers, both formal and informal, who gave them their first instruction.

Learning From Latino Teachers

by Gilda L. Ochoa (Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley,; 288 pp., $24.95 hardback).

Eight Latino teachers with mostly Latino students weigh in on bilingual education, high-stakes testing, tracking, and other controversies in this book based on interviews.

Once Upon a Quinceañera: Coming of Age in the USA

by Julia Alvarez (Viking, an imprint of Penguin,; 288 pp., $23.95 hardback).

A profile of the “sweet 15” celebration from the author of the best-selling novel How the García Girls Lost Their Accents.


Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites

by Mitchell L. Stevens (Harvard University Press,; 320 pp. $25.95 hardback).

Education, particularly higher education, is one of the primary means by which enterprising young people can climb the socioeconomic ladder, at least according to the modern vision of the American dream. But in reality, admissions offices for the nation’s elite colleges and universities do more to perpetuate privilege than encourage upward social mobility, contends Stevens, an associate professor of education and sociology at New York University. This book stems from the 18 months he spent as a participant-observer in the admissions office of an unnamed, reportedly prestigious liberal arts college. That experience, he relates, showed him the preferential treatment given to applicants whose parents bought houses in good school districts, enrolled them in extracurricular activities, took them on trips abroad—in short, structured their own lives around their children’s education and edification. Such favoritism, he writes, solidifies an upper-middle-class social system that uses academic credentialing as a way to pass wealth and status from one generation to the next. And because society’s privileged members tend to dictate its mores, he concludes, the end result is a revolution in child-rearing that further cripples the disadvantaged. Merit may have displaced money as the primary calling card for admission to an elite college, but readers of this book may wonder if much has really changed.

Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life

by Anthony T. Kronman (Yale University Press,; 320 pp., $27.50 hardback).

Entreats the humanities to resume their role in pondering life’s basic questions.

Paying for College: Lowering the Cost of Higher Education

by Trent Anderson & Seppy Basili (Kaplan,; 208 pp., $18 paperback).

Walks families through the financial-aid process.


The Education Mayor: Improving America’s Schools

by Kenneth K. Wong, Francis X. Shen, Dorothea Anagnostopolous, & Stacey Rutledge (Georgetown University Press,; 240 pp. $26.95 paperback).

Across the nation, big-city mayors increasingly are claiming a role in public education, bringing district management under their purview with the aim of reforming entrenched systems and furthering student achievement. But has mayoral control shown success as a turnaround strategy? Based on an analysis of more than 100 school districts in 40 states, the authors, three university faculty members and one doctoral fellow, answer yes. Focusing on cities with mayor-appointed school boards, they assess standardized-test results, district finances and staffing, and district-community relations to determine the impact of switching to such a system. They find that it can lead to higher reading and math scores, greater fiscal discipline, and more public attention on education issues, among other positive effects. The authors caution, however, that mayoral control is not a cure-all for every city district, and they point to places where the change in governance has been tried and abandoned.To lessen the chance of failure, they also offer guidance for evaluating whether an attempt is likely to succeed in a particular location. The stakes are high: Both students’ futures and mayors’ political prospects may depend on getting mayoral control right.

Schools Betrayed: Roots of Failure in Inner-City Education

by Kathryn M. Neckerman (University of Chicago Press,; 240 pp. $29 hardback).

Race, class, and immigration intertwine in this account of Chicago’s public schools from 1900 to 1960.

Small Schools and Urban Youth: Using the Power of School Culture to Engage Students

by Gilberto Q. Conchas & Louie F. Rodríguez (Corwin Press,; 168 pp., $24.95 paperback).

A comparative analysis of school culture in four small schools in Boston and Oakland, Calif.


American Band: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland

by Kristen Laine (Gotham Books, an imprint of Penguin,; 336 pp., $26 hardback).

Indiana’s state-champion high school marching band works to defend its title in this nonfiction narrative.

Going to School in East Asia

edited by Gerard A. Postiglione & Jason Tan (Greenwood Press,; 504 pp., $65 hardback).

A reference book profiling the education systems of 17 East Asian countries.

Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle Over School Prayer

by Stephen D. Solomon (University of Michigan Press,; 432 pp., $29.95 hardback).

Recounts Ellery Schempp’s 1956 refusal to participate in his public school’s mandatory Bible-reading and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, and the course of the U.S. Supreme Court case that bears his name.

The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher’s Guide

by Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers Foundation (Broadway Books, an imprint of Random House,; 256 pp., $21.95 paperback).

Instructions for implementing ideas from the best-selling book and recent movie.

TIME America: An Illustrated History

edited by Kelly Knauer (Time Books,; 272 pp., $29.95 hardback).

A coffee-table book featuring more than 500 artifacts, drawings, and photographs from Colonial times to the present.

Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way

by Leonard S. Marcus (Golden Books, an imprint of Random House,; 240 pp., $40 hardback).

An illustration-filled history of the picture-book publisher whose “poky little puppy,” “saggy baggy elephant,” and “tawny scrawny lion” have delighted children for 65 years.

Vol. 27, Issue 10, Page 26

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