July 2022 Reading Update

What a great reading month for me!! I love summer reading, especially when I had a long plane trip and down time in which I could read a lot this month! I also discovered that I actually can do adult fiction on audiobook, at least occasionally. I read so much that I had to make two photo collages to capture it all, so I separated them by fiction and nonfiction (and realized afterwards that I still missed some covers in those pictures and had to add a 3rd mini collage!). In July I read:

  • A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park – I first heard about this children’s book when I saw many of our upper grade classes reading it over the last few years. I saw it again referenced in 6th grade History/ Social Science standards and decided I needed to read it myself. For adults, this is a very quick read. The story is based on elements of the true story of “The Lost Boys” of South Sudan, when thousands of people, many young boys, were forced to flee their homes, travel to refugee camps in Ethiopia, and then again to Kenya. This story follows Salva, a real “Lost Boy” and his harrowing journey, along with an alternating timeline of Nya a girl fetching water from a far a way pond each day. We see Nya’s village get a well as we see Salva’s journey all the way to America. While short and lacking significant emotions or connections to the characters, we still get a glimpse into the violence of the war in Sudan, the endless walking that refugees did to survive, and the value of clean water. I’m glad that story included elements of Salva’s work to give back instead of other charitable work that often feels more like White Saviorism and very performative. I think our students can learn lessons about the access to water and education in different countries and perseverance.
  • IT by Stephen King – After being too scared to read this as a child (simply because of the images of “the clown”), I have finally finished this monster (1.200 pages!) of a book! I’m glad I read it. IT, while often represented by the clown, is really a manifestation of people’s fears. The story is about 7 children who come together in the 50’s to avoid nasty bullies and to try to defeat IT, after it kills one of their brothers and many other children. The children are brought back together in the 80’s, all adults now, called back to Derry, Maine, when IT starts killing children again. The adults return, but they all learn that they don’t remember what happened in their childhood, none of them have children, and all who left the town are very rich. The longer they reminisce, their memories start to slowly return. The final scenes are flashbacks to how they fought IT in their childhood and how they fight IT in the present day. Like King’s other books, this is graphic, full of horror and some over-the-top ridiculous fantasy-like plots (more than usual for him on this part), and LOTS of detailed description. The childhood scenes reminded me of the friendship between the boys in Stand by Me, the movie based on one of his other stories. Each of the characters is well developed and we grow to care about them all in different ways. I’ve enjoyed the book club discussions about this, and I’m only a little scared to watch the movie with our group!
  • The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark – This is a typical thriller, narrated by both Kat and Meg. Meg, we learn, is a con artist who rights the wrongs committed by men against women who loved them. Kat is a journalist looking for a good story to make her career, while also questioning her fiancee’s truth, as he is a recovering gambling addict. While I enjoyed this propulsive read, and I wanted to know how it all ended, each of the characters was more dislikable than likable. They all lied, cheated, stole, and otherwise were deceiving. But disliking them as I read was fun too!
  • Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson – This was a recommendation from my Currently Reading Patreon group and I’m so glad I got it! The story centers around a Dude Ranch in Reno, Nevada, created to help women get divorced in the late 1930’s. Women stay there for 6 weeks to gain residency in NV to finalize their divorce. During these periods the women make friends with each other and with the small staff who work there. The narrator, Ward, was a young man when he worked at the ranch and he is reminiscing about one particular group which included Emily and Nina. These woman become fast friends, get into a lot of fun trouble, and drag Ward along in all of it. The ending made me happy and a little annoyed with one of the characters, and I loved it all! I read this in one day, on my plane ride home from vacation.
  • All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King [audiobook] – After hearing Abby and Glennon interview B.J. King on their podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, I knew I wanted to listen to this audiobook. I remember B.J. from my childhood, specifically around tennis and the negative treatment about her being a lesbian. At that age, and until now, I didn’t know how awfully she was outed in a negative and public way, what a strong advocate she IS for women’s rights and equality, and how passionate she is about leveling the playing field for all. I appreciated her candor about her eating disorder, the way women were treated in the tennis world for most of her career, and her own homophobia and that of others that kept her in the closet much longer than she wanted to be there. She changed the world for young girls and women athletes in all sports. She is a force to be reckoned with. I’m glad to know more of her story and her impact.
  • Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand – Hilderbrand’s books are always a good mix of fun, realistic characters with normal flaws and a little romance. In this case two families come together on Nantucket for Jenna and Stuart’s wedding. Jenna’s mother died 7 years ago and left her a notebook of ideas for her future wedding, which is the guiding force behind every detail. Everyone surrounding the happy couple is struggling in their own relationship and there is a lot of messy, complicated, silly, fu that happens throughout the weekend. This was a little angsty, a little silly, and a lot of comfort all rolled into one sweet story.
  • Yerba Buena by Nina LaCour – This was a sometimes sad, sometimes sweet story with two parallel storylines that converge. We meet Sara as she is escaping a rough life in Washington, after her girlfriend is found dead. She travels to LA to start all over. We meet Emilie as she is finally finishing college but still without a clue what she wants to do. We follow both of their lives, in and out over a few years, until they meet. There is something hopeful in the story as you wait for them to get it right, and also for their lives to truly begin, without the chaos. I loved their sweet love and their confusion and what they learn about each other and themselves.
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick [audiobook] – For the life of me I cannot remember where I heard about this book (some podcast or FB post I’m sure). I usually cannot listen to fiction books on audio, but I was able to track this sweet story throughout my commute this week. Arthur Pepper’s wife died a year ago, and he is still grieving that loss, and the loss of a close relationship with his two adult children. When he finds a charm bracelet in his wife’s belongings, Arthur goes on a quest to learn about the charms. His his journey he learns about his wife’s past before they met and he learns a lot about himself as well. This story was full of lovable characters and found family!
  • Differentiated Mentoring and Coaching in Education: From Preservice Teacher to Expert Practitioner by Vicki S. Collet – I received a free copy of this book in order to review it for AASA’s magazine. As an educator who has been an instructional coach most of my career, I always enjoy reading other books on coaching and mentoring. Collect outlines her version of a coaching cycle as: Model, Recommend, Question, Affirm and Praise. Each part of the cycle gets its own chapter, with examples, details, and a note-taking guide for coaches. I appreciate the depth that she goes into, as this would be a great resource to someone new to coaching. I also appreciate that she acknowledges that this is not linear – a coach may move in and out of each of these phases while working with a teacher, based on the needs that arise. Overall, this is a useful book for those new to coaching and mentoring and a good refresher for more experienced coaches.
  • Upgrade by Blake Crouch – I LOVED this book! I also loved the other Crouch book I’ve read, and I need to go back and read more of his backlist. I often say I don’t like Sci-Fi, but some of my top-rated books each year are always Sci-Fi. In this, Logan is poisoned with something that upgrades his DNA so that he is stronger, smarter, faster, and better at everything. We follow him as he goes on an adventure to figure out what happened to him, the science behind it, and what he can do to help the world recover from the disasters people have created.
  • The Menopause Manifesto: Own Your Health with Facts and Feminism by Jennifer Gunter – I heard this Ob/Gyn doctor speak on Glennon Doyle’s podcast, and wanted to dive into this book. I am doing research in preparation for the menopause transition and appreciated the depth of information shared in this book.
  • Rick by Alex Gino [audiobook]- I loved George/ Melissa by Gino and knew I would enjoy this middle grades story. Melissa is a character in this, but Rick is our main character. As Rick begins middle school, he is exploring who he is, who is friends are, and how to support different identities when you aren’t sure what your own identity might be. This is a sweet story about inclusion, acceptance, and diversity, with strong LGBTQIA+ (or Quiltbag+) themes.
  • Design for Belonging: How to Build Inclusion and Collaboration in Your Communities by Susie Wise – My friend and equity mentor Fabi, recommended this quick read to me. This is a great look into the importance of belonging and how we, as facilitators, can create structures and situations that can help people feel a greater sense of belonging. Reading this and Elena Aguilar’s PD Book in the same summer gave me lots of ideas for ways to enhance meetings that I facilitate (with big and small groups) in more purposeful ways. I appreciated the assortment of people the author highlighted in this book (from authors to scholars to local leaders of DEI work) as a way to teach into the difference between belonging and othering and why it matters.
  • The Liar’s Girl by Catherine Ryan Howard – I love Catherine Ryan Howard. Her books are always propulsive and fun! This is an early book (maybe her first?) and it’s not as great as the more recent ones, but it’s still so good! The story is told by Allison in the present and Allison in the past (when she was a Freshman in college, falling in love, then finding out that her boyfriend was a serial killer). We follow as she wonders if she ever knew him or what really happened, when she is forced to return to the scene of the crime.
  • Unpack Your Impact: How Two Primary Teachers Ditched Problematic Lessons and Built a Culture-Centered Curriculum by Naomi O’Brien & Lanesha Tabb – I LOVED this professional book and highly recommend it for all primary teachers, equity leaders, and elementary site and curriculum leaders. These two educators take typical Kinder and 1st grade lessons and thematic units and flip them upside down in order to engage students with authentic questions and exploration tied to STEM and History/ Social Science while ensuring they provide representation across all texts. The rationale set the stage for the importance of creating educated citizens and fun learning. The ideas go from very small tweaks a teacher could make to huge shifts in planning thematic units that provide greater access for all students and acknowledge all identities. This was a phenomenal, easy to read book with ideas that can be implemented immediately.
  • Answers in the Page by David Levithan -[audiobook] I LOVED this LGBTQIA+ affirming middle grade story. When a 5th grade teacher selects a class book with one line that could be interpreted to mean that the two main characters are gay, uproar ensues. Donovan’s mother puts in a complaint about the book. So Donovan and his friends want to finish the book so they know what the big deal is. At the same time, we are reading a separate timeline where Gideon and Roberto meet and fall in love while working together on a school assignment. The book ends when the Board votes on whether or not to ban the book, with parents and students speak for and against it. This was a beautiful story that is really a love letter to good teachers, good books, and positive representation.
  • Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Some Kids Struggle and Others Shine by Michele Borba, Ed.D. – I received a copy of this book through a professional organization in which I am a member. The author came to speak at one of our virtual meetings, but I was unable to attend. Summer was a good time to pull this off the shelf. While there was nothing surprising or new in it, this book summarizes the significant importance of educating the whole child, of character education, and Social Emotional Learning, all of which are priorities in my school district. Borba outlines seven character strengths that our children need to be taught in order to thrive in this stressful world: Self-Confidence, Empathy, Self-Control, Integrity, Curiosity, Perseverance, and Optimism. Each chapter details the value of this strength, how to model it and teach it for kids, the role parents play in developing these skills, and words from kid interviews that highlight why we need this right now more than ever.
  • Frankie & Bug by Gayle Forman [audiobook] – I think I heard about this from a Listener Press on CR, but I’m not sure. I wanted another middle grades book for a quick audio this week and this was fun. Set in the 80’s Bug is living in Venice during the time of a serial killer in town. Her upstairs neighbor, Phillip, has his nephew visit for the summer. Frankie and Bug start off rocky, but join forces to solve the mystery of the local criminal. Along the way, we learn secrets about people and find how to love ourselves and one another.
  • Carmen San Diego The Sticky Rice Caper – One of my nephews asked me to read this graphic novel when I was visiting. He and I then watched the first episode in the series on Netflix. It’s cute for kids! I can’t get the original song out of my head, from the 90’s TV show!
  • Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots- This was a fun read! This is a world of super heroes and villains. When Anna, a spreadsheet nerd who works as a temp for villains, is injured by a famous Super Hero, she decides to calculate the damage that super heroes do. This leads to her helping take down the heroes, in epic battle after battle. It was more violent and dark than I expected.
  • Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell – I knew I would enjoy this book, because I love a good cult-gone-bad story! I appreciate how the author dives into the language that cults use to create a sense of belonging, a community, where people are more likely to do outlandish things to continue to belong. She explores the history of religion in cult-development, the fitness craze of America (Soul Cycle) and social media influencers. It’s interesting to see the way she breaks down language use in all of these areas, and the commonalities and extreme examples. In the end, it’s also great to hear her say that it’s not bad to want a community, to want to be a part of something (just not a cult!).
  • Reclaiming Personalized Learning: A Pedagogy for Restoring Equity and Humanity in Our Classrooms Second Edition by Paul Emerich France – I believe I got this book as part of one of my professional memberships. I’m not sure, but it was sitting on my work bookshelf and I decided to pull it out this month. I’m so glad I read it! The author shares his experiences as a teacher, including when he worked at a tech-start-up charter school, why personalized learning is not about technology apps or individual students interests, but rather engaging students in interesting and purposeful work, and more. I appreciated his specific examples, the lesson and unit plans he shared, and his personal stories that, while sad, highlight the significance of equity work and the importance of representation in our schools and classrooms.
  • You Sound Like a White Girl: The Case for Rejecting Assimilation by Julissa Arce – I heard Julissa speak at this year’s SDCOE Equity Conference and she was so impactful. I loved this book. She combines her own history (of growing up illegally in the US, in Texas, just across the border from her Mexican family) and the history of Latinos in America. I really appreciated her discussion of the problems with Hispanic being an Ethnicity and not a race and how the census makes it hard for people of Latino descent to be counted accurately.
  • A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny (Gamache #7) – I am so glad I’m deep into this series now. I love the detectives Gamache and Jean Guy. I love most of the quirky townspeople of Three Pines. In this story, I HATED Peter, Clara’s husband who just can’t be happy for her and her late-in-life art success. He is awful, while Clara is just humble and lovely and kind. I’m so glad she got a solo art show, but sad her childhood best friend was murdered at her after show party. It was a cozy mystery for sure.

I was so sad to read the news that Stuart Woods passed away last week. He was one of the first authors that I found whose series I could jump into anytime I needed a pallet cleanser, a reset on my readerly life, or just a fun, outlandish, rich adventure. The Stone Barrington series has been my go-to for YEARS. I’m glad I still have about 5 left to read in the series, and there are still two more he already wrote that will be published this year, but it’s sad to see the end of his writing.

Favorite book(s) this month

Fiction: Upgrade by Blake Crouch & Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson
Nonfiction: Unpack Your Impact: How Two Primary Teachers Ditched Problematic Lessons and Built a Culture-Centered Curriculum by Naomi O’Brien & Lanesha Tabb & All In: An Autobiography by Billie Jean King

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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