Beach Blanket Bookshelf
For three months, you don't have to read lab books, math problems, or five-paragraph essays. You don't have to write on a chalkboard or in a grade book or with a red pen. You don't have to divide your day into 55-minute periods or your workweek into five long days. What on earth are you going to do with all that time? We asked 16 teachers to tell us about good books that get them through summer's lazy days-books that, while fun, don't let you forget you're a teacher. Below are their recommendations. The titles offer perspectives on oddball kids, illuminate crucial moments in American history, and wonder what we're all doing this for, anyway.
JOEY PIGZA SWALLOWED THE KEY, by Jack Gantos. (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $16.) Every teacher knows at least one Joey Pigza, that insanely infuriating yet sweetly ingenuous kid who is now often diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder. This hilarious and loving portrayal of Joey, his mom, and his teachers is filled with the chaos, despair, struggles, and hope that define these lives. Gantos brings compassion, insight, and humor to Joey's story, with the result that you will never see that "difficult" kid in quite the same way again. A National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature.
---Steve Del Vecchi is school librarian at the Family Academy in New York City.
THE COURAGE TO TEACH: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life, by Parker J. Palmer. (Jossey-Bass, $22.) This is the best education book I've read in a long time. Palmer provides a powerful argument for the need to move from our over-reliance on technique toward a learning environment that both honors and truly develops the deepest human capacities in children and teachers. It's about time we remember that it's the person within the teacher that matters most in education, and Palmer makes the case eloquently.
--Lowell Monke teaches advanced computer technology at Central Campus in the Des Moines, Iowa, public schools.
CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC: Dispatches From the Unfinished Civil War, by Tony Horwitz. (Pantheon, $27.50, hardcover; Random House, $14, paper.) Horwitz provides a hilarious yet insightful look at Civil War reenactors-people who dress in period garb and recreate the battles-and the state of race relations in the South today. Wonderful anecdotes and fascinating descriptions of battlefields and other key sites make this a great read for history buffs as well as anyone who likes to read.
--Grady Smith teaches social studies at the Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, North Carolina.
YOUR FUTURE SELF: A Journey to the Frontiers of Molecular Medicine, by Hank Whittemore. (Thames and Hudson, $27.50.) This beautifully crafted book, based on medicine's latest imaging techniques, takes the reader on an exploration of our cellular universe. Astonishing photographs detail molecular and cellular interactions that were previously known only from X-rays, diagrams, and illustrations.
--Karen Luchessa teaches integrated science, biology, and human anatomy and physiology at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, Oregon.
SEARCHING FOR BOBBY FISCHER: The Father of a Prodigy Observes the World of Chess, by Fred Waitzkin. (Penguin, $12.95, paper.) I read this every year to recharge for really smart kids. It keeps in perspective that school isn't their main focus in life and that it's not necessarily an insult to me if they don't perform well. Their minds are caught up with more than just school.
--Bryan Jones teaches reading at McCook Junior High School in McCook, Nebraska.
THE GREATEST GENERATION, by Tom Brokaw. (Random House, $24.95.) This book is not about teaching per se. It recalls a generation of people who made great sacrifices that we need to remind students of. We need to teach students to start thinking of the good of all, not just the good of me, a philosophy that this book exemplifies.
--Ron Rozelle teaches English at Brazoswood High School in Lake Jackson, Texas .
SHE'S COME UNDONE, by Wally Lamb. (Pocket Books, $23; paper, $7.99.) This is the story of Delores Price's coming of age. From a teacher's perspective, Delores could be seen either as a diamond in the rough or a colossal pain in the neck. Her high school guidance counselor, Mr. Pucci, proves to be her key ally against her personal demons. It is a touching portrayal of how a teacher can affect a child's life-even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
--Denise Gelberg teaches 1st grade at South Hill School in Ithaca, New York.
TEACHING TO TRANSGRESS: Education as the Practice of Freedom, by Bell Hooks. (Routledge, $17.99, paper.) Hooks' political writings remind you of why you are in the classroom--not to dispense knowledge but to help students figure out how to learn.
--Emmet Rosenfeld teaches English at Mount Vernon High School in Fairfax County, Virginia.
AMERICAN SCRIPTURE: Making the Declaration of Independence, by Pauline Maier. (Knopf, $27.50, hardcover; Vintage Books, $14, paper.) Believe me, it is scripture. Maier brings out the personalities of the people involved in writing the Declaration of Independence. We tend to take it for granted, but she points out how Jefferson and his colleagues synthesized documents from different states into one final declaration. What interested me most was the social background against which it was conceived.
--Ian de Silva teaches math and science at Seaford High School in Dover, Delaware.
GENDER PLAY: Girls and Boys in School, by Barrie Thorne. (Rutgers University Press, $40; paper, $17.) Thorne observes kids interacting in a variety of school situations (in class, during lunch, at recess, and in the hallway, for example) and comes up with some interesting ideas about how kids teach and learn from each other-good things for teachers to know.
--Molly Hakes teaches 2nd grade at Cleveland Tri-School Academy in Washington, D.C.
FRAMING A LIFE: A Family Memoir, by Geraldine Ferraro. (Scribner, $24.) Ferraro tells of her grandmother's immigration from Italy in the late 1800s. The story is similar to tales of immigration we hear today-just substitute different ethnic groups. I recommend it to teachers who want a better understanding of the immigration experience.
--Lois Bianchi is the English as a Second Language coordinator for Washoe County School District in Nevada.
PORTRAIT OF PICASSO AS A YOUNG MAN: An Interpretive Biography, by Norman Mailer. (Grove/Atlantic, $35, hardcover; Warner Books, $19.99, paper.) A vivid account of the painter's life through his early years in Paris, this volume touches but does not dwell on the self-absorbed and often cruel Picasso that we've come to know in recent years. Mailer puts his subject's weaknesses and flaws in focus, providing a much broader portrait of the 20th century's most famous artist. As much as we may think we know about Picasso, Mailer gives us more, both factually and through his artistry as a writer. Ultimately, he shows us that great artists do not-indeed, cannot-separate their lives from their art.
--John Avedisian teaches art in the Phoenix Elementary School District.
IDENTITY LESSONS: Contemporary Writing About Learning To Be American, edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Jennifer Gillan. (Penguin, $16.95.) This provocative anthology of poems and short stories by an array of diverse authors tackles issues of racial, cultural, and personal identity and how they intersect-or collide-with the notion of an "American ideal." Fresh voices abound here, and the many selections that deal with teaching and classrooms will give educators much to ponder.
--Greg Michie teaches media studies and video production at Seward Ele mentary School in Chicago.
TINKERING TOWARD UTOPIA: A Century of Public School Reform, by David Tyack and Larry Cuban. (Harvard University Press, $22.50; paper, $14.) This broadly synthetic exploration of public education in the 20th century persuasively argues that schools and the people who work in them, while failing to "save" America from its multiple ills, have nonetheless done good in the face of enormous and repeated social upheavals.
--James Nehring teaches arts and humanities at Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts.
THE SOURCE OF THE SPRING: Mothers Through the Eyes of Women Writers, edited by Judith Shapiro. (Conari Press, $24.95.) This collection of short essays-written by noted writers such as Zora Neale Hurston and Anna Quindlen, as well as winners of a high school essay contest sponsored by Barnard College-concerns the relationship between mother and daughter, from the daughterpoint of view. This book is powerful and poignant, and deeply related to teachers' interactions with children. It examines the strongest of family bonds, and it validates the importance of both motherhood and education. I have passed it on to many teacher friends.
--Priscilla Eller is a language arts specialist at Hayestown Avenue School in Danbury, Connecticut.
THE SELECTED POEMS OF NIKKI GIOVANNI, by Nikki Giovanni. (William Morrow, $20.) This collection spans 30 years of living and loving. Witty and wise, Giovanni's poetry delights both me and my students. Her simple imagery triggers memories of how it felt to be a rebel and what it's like to fall in love.
--Carol Jago teaches English at Santa Monica High School in Santa Monica, California.
Vol. 10, Issue 8, Pages 64-65Published in Print: May 1, 1999, as Beach Blanket Bookshelf