Education Opinion

Celebrate Reading Freedom

By Donalyn Miller — July 04, 2009 8 min read
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On this Independence Day, I am grateful for my freedom to read what I want. My fundamental right to write or read any book, blog, news article, or Twitter feed—no matter how controversial, thoughtful, or ridiculous—is not commonplace for all citizens around the world. When we choose our own reading material and encourage children to do the same—we exercise our rights as Americans. Celebrate your reading freedom today!

I have exercised my right to read this summer. With the extra time the vacation brings, I set the ambitious goal to read a book each day. Perhaps, I was inspired by my first summer read, Julie and Julia, one woman’s quest to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s masterwork, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Or I felt motivated after reading blogs by reading mavens like Jen Robinson and Terry Dougherty, who regularly post about the scores of books they read.

I chose each book at random—my own enjoyment or edification the only goal. Some of these books will wind up in the hands of my students this fall, some aren’t appropriate for my sixth graders. I believe each book has an audience somewhere! For those who are counting, there are only 29 books, but it took me two days to read Debbie Miller’s book and absorb it. I have starred the books that I consider must-reads. Enjoy my list and post your own summer reading finds. We all want to see what you are reading, too!

Books Read In June

Teaching Books

**Teaching with Intention: Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action, K-5 by Debbie Miller (nonfiction). My favorite quote from this book sums up its premise, “I’m convinced that success in the classroom depends less on which beliefs we hold and more simply on having a set of beliefs that guides us in our day-to-day work with children. Once we know who we are and what we’re about in the classroom, we become intentional in our teaching; we do what we do on purpose, with good reason.”

Adult Books

The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood by Sy Montgomery (memoir). A memoir of nonfiction author Sy Montgomery and the special pig she and her husband kept as a companion for fourteen years.

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment by Julie Powell (memoir). Realizing, at 30, that her life wasn’t going to be anything remarkable, Julie Powell set out on a year-long journey to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking . Look for the movie, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, later this summer.

High School (9th-12th)

how I live now by Meg Rosoff (realistic fiction). Sent to live with her aunt and cousins in England, fifteen-year old Daisy falls in love with her cousin Edmond and life in the countryside. When war breaks out and her new family is split apart, Daisy discovers the untapped emotional and physical strength she needs to survive. Winner of the 2005 Printz Award.

My Most Excellent Year: A Novel of Love, Mary Poppins, and Fenway Park by Steve Kluger (realistic fiction). Baseball, Broadway musicals, and social activism provide a humorous and tender backdrop for this story of three Boston teens and their year of self-discovery.

**I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (realistic fiction/ mystery). After thwarting a bank robbery, Ed Kennedy receives messages in the mail, marked in code on playing cards. Compelled to complete one mission for each clue, Ed changes other people’s lives, and ultimately, his own. A 2006 Printz Honor Book.

Middle School (6th-8th)

**The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin (realistic fiction). Matt, narrates this story (written as a letter to his youngest sister, Emmy) of the abusive treatment he and his two sisters endure at the hands of their violent and unpredictable mother. A 2006 National Book Award finalist.

Lay that Trumpet in Our Hands by Susan Carol McCarthy (historical fiction). Reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, this book describes the shocking history of the Ku Klux Klan in 1950’s Florida through the eyes of twelve year-old Reesa, a white girl whose liberal parents oppose the Klan’s tactics.

Tillmon County Fire by Pamela Ehrenberg (realistic fiction). Read my review and interview with Pamela earlier this month.

Thwonk by Joan Bauer (fantasy). Visited by her personal cupid, A.J. must choose one of three gifts: academic, artistic, or romantic success. A funny take on the “be careful what you wish for” theme.

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (realistic fiction). Realizing 20 pages in that I had already read this book, Anderson’s writing compelled me to read it again. Tyler Miller, invisible before spraying his school with graffiti, returns to school for his senior year, and struggles with his newfound notoriety, crushing course load, and demanding father.

The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante (realistic fiction). Raised on a religious commune, Agnes seeks sainthood, while Honey yearns to escape. Rescued by Agnes’ grandmother, the girls must decide what they really believe about faith, family, and self-determination.

Killer Pizza by Greg Taylor (fantasy). Welcome to Killer Pizza, where the classic monster movie theme and funky menu items like the Frankensausage hide the restaurant’s true purpose as a monster-hunting organization.

Intermediate Grades (4th-6th)

**The Great Wide Sea by M.H. Herlong (realistic fiction). When his mother dies in a car accident, Ben’s father sells their house and sets out with Ben and his two younger brothers on a year-long sailing trip. When their father disappears, the boys must fend for themselves under increasingly dangerous conditions.

Things Hoped For by Andrew Clements (realistic fiction/mystery). While she prepares for intense music school auditions, Gwen’s grandfather disappears, leaving behind a cryptic answering machine message. Bobby, the protagonist from Clement’s Things Not Seen, befriends Gwen, and works with her to conceal her grandfather’s disappearance and solve the mystery.

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff (realistic fiction/mystery). As he approaches his eleventh birthday, Sam discovers a newspaper clipping that indicates he might have been kidnapped years ago. Unable to read well, Sam pairs up with a new girl in his class, Caroline, to uncover the secrets of Sam’s past. (Long time readers of my blog might recall that this book was on my summer reading list last year!)

Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures that May or May Not Exist by Kelly Milner Halls, Rick Spears, and Roxyanne Young (nonfiction). This book provides an in-depth look into the study of cryptids, legendary beasts like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, and the scientists who work to confirm (or refute) the existence of these creatures.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson (nonfiction). Thoughtfully researched and beautifully illustrated, We Are the Ships tells the long-overdue story of the Negro Baseball League. Winner of the 2008 Coretta Scott King and Sibert Award medals.

Trouble Don’t Last by Shelley Pearsall (historical fiction). When Harrison, the elderly man who helped raise him decides to run away, eleven year-old slave, Samuel, joins him on a terrifying escape along the Underground Railroad. Winner of the 2003 Scott O’Dell Award.

Merlin and the Making of the King by Margaret Hodges (traditional literature). With succinct versions of three tales and ornate medieval-style illustrations, this book provides a marvelous entry-point to Arthurian legends.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson (historical fiction). “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Living in a racially segregated neighborhood in 1971, this line from an Emily Dickinson poem inspires Frannie, to examine the nature of hope through the eyes of her deaf brother, her frightened mother, and the white boy who joins her sixth grade class.

Gossamer by Lois Lowry (fantasy). Apprentice dream giver, Littlest, learns how to send good dreams to her human charges, and old woman and a troubled young boy, and protect them from nightmares.

The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 by Laurence Yep (historical fiction). Alternating narrators between Chin, a Chinese immigrant, and Henry, a banker’s son, Yep delivers a thrilling description of the historical and seismic events before, during, and after the Great San Francisco Earthquake.

The Seems: The Glitch in the Sleep by John Hulme and Michael Wexler (fantasy). An alternate universe, known as the Seems, constructs and manages the world as we perceive it. Recruited as a Fixer, troubleshooters who maintain our version of reality, twelve year-old Becker Dane embarks on his first mission to fix a problem in the Department of Sleep before catastrophe strikes.

Book of Time by Guillaume Prevost (fantasy). Searching for his father, who has been missing for ten days, Sam discovers a secret portal in the basement of his father’s bookstore and uses it to travel through time.

**Chronicles of Ancient Darkness #1: Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver (fantasy). When a demon-possessed bear kills his father, Torak and his wolf cub companion pursue the bear in an epic quest to save their home in the forest. Set 6000 years ago, this book provides a detailed look at the lives of prehistoric hunter/ gatherer tribes. The first in a six book series.

Elementary Grades (3rd-4th)

The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davies (realistic fiction). When fourth-grader Evan’s little sister, Jessie, skips the third grade, he expresses his frustration by opening a lemonade stand to compete with hers.

**Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford (realistic fiction). On the last day of summer vacation, Moxy Maxwell has not read her assigned summer reading, Stuart Little. Distracted by life, Moxy creates a series of obstacles and excuses to avoid reading. Hilarious photographs by Valorie Fisher depict Moxy’s family and the disasters that befall them. Fans will enjoy two more Moxy books: Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Writing Thank-you Notes and Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Practicing the Piano.

Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures of a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic by Emily Jenkins (fantasy). This gentle book describes the adventures of three friends, who are also toys.

Look for more book-a-day picks in future posts. I am already three books into July!

The opinions expressed in The Book Whisperer are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.