Explorations in Instructional Leadership: The science of reading

Throughout my career I have worked in Kindergarten through post secondary school. I have always tried to keep up with educational research and instructional trends, for my own knowledge and information, and when working with others to determine site or district focus areas. Before I started my current job, I spent about 4 years working in a secondary district. When I moved into this role, I transitioned back to elementary and had to get my head back into the world of K-6th grade. I started with math instruction, because that was a focus that had already been started in my district. Just as I was beginning to dive into some reading research, COVID-19 hit, and my instructional leadership took a backseat to all of the pandemic management that became necessary. This is all a long way of saying that I haven’t been following “the reading wars” very closely over the last 6 years or so, but I’ve recently jumped in to the mess.

A few months ago I read The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix it by Natalie Wexler. While I appreciated her overall message (we need to do better with reading instruction in America), I didn’t appreciate how the author attacked what we have been doing. She specifically called out Lucy Calkins and Fountas and Pinnell, three educational leaders I learned from in my early teaching career. Since the author is a journalist and not an educator, I read the entire book with a lens of mistrust. Too often non educators want to tell us what we are doing right and wrong without any lived experience in the jobs we do every day with students. However, she did share some compelling research, enough that I knew I wanted to learn more. 

A very passionate Kindergarten teacher met with me recently to discuss “the science of reading” and what she hopes to see our district do more and less of in the coming years. She recommended the podcast Sold a Story and the book Reading Above the Fray: Reliable Research-Based Routines for Developing Decoding Skills by Julia B. Lindsey. Because I respect this teacher and was looking for other sources, I happily dove into both. The podcast shook me like the Wexler book, because again there was a serious bashing of Fountas & Pinnell and Lucy Calkins, as well as their publisher. There were also some seriously wild examples shared in the podcast of teaching reading that sounded like nothing I have ever seen in a classroom. However, there was also a lot of research cited, including why the 3 cueing system (using context to figure out words) is not the appropriate way to teach reading and why explicit instruction in decoding matters. 

As a district leader I want to make sure that I am well-versed in the latest scientific information, and the most current resources that would support student learning. I want our teachers to have the best resources and professional learning possible. In order to make decisions about professional development and curricular resources, I am currently working with our Educational Services team to dive even deeper into this research, looking at it through multiple lens and with the perspectives of our experience, knowledge, and current context. It’s an interesting place to be, feeling like what I know and how I taught may no longer be the best way or even the correct way, especially in the area of reading. We are so used to quick and frequent changes in the field of technology, but reading has been around forever. It’s important to recognize that as our science and technology have improved, so has our ability to study how good readers operate and what matters in the teaching of reading. I look forward to expanding my knowledge, challenging past paradigms, and learning to recognize my own bias when it comes to new research.

This post is part of a series called Explorations in Instructional Leadership. I plan to use this series to dive into some of the topics that are rising to the surface in my work, topics that I am researching for future study, and topics that impact student learning and pedagogy.

Introduction to Explorations in Instructional Leadership

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Explorations in Instructional Leadership

In 2023 I am adding a new series to my blog entitled Explorations in Instructional Leadership. I plan to use this series to dive into some of the topics that are rising to the surface in my work, topics that I am researching for future study, and topics that impact student learning and pedagogy.

I use writing as a way to reflect and yet I haven’t used this blog to support my own instructional leadership work in the last few years. One of the reasons for that is that it’s hard to write about a current challenge – sometimes details cannot be made public, sometimes information is tied to a person and I never want to write about other people without their permission, and sometimes when you are in the thick of something it’s hard to know which way is up. However, that is often a good time to write about an issue.

Some of the issues I hope to explore this year include:

  • Scope and sequences and pacing guides
  • Teacher autonomy
  • Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) in math
  • The science of reading
  • Coaching

I’d love to hear what topics have risen to the top in your instructional leadership.

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A Year of Reading: 2022

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am an avid reader! 2021 was my best reading year in decades, and I had so much fun getting into new reading podcasts and building out my never-ending TBR list. This year I added an amazing reading tracker in the form of a spreadsheet created by Katie, one of the hosts of the Currently Reading podcast, in addition to my monthly blog summaries. I appreciate that the spreadsheet tracked so many parts of my reading this year including, but not limited to:

  • number of pages read
  • genres
  • publishers
  • how long it took to read each book
  • ratings
  • own voices stats

While I don’t read just to see a number at the end of the year, it is interesting to see how my reading changes across years.

  • 2021:146
  • 2020: 71
  • 2019: 89
  • 2018: 55
  • 2017: 59
  • 2016: 69
  • 2015: 44

Last year I read an INSANE amount of books (thanks to a 6 week medical leave!) and I didn’t think I would ever come close to that number again. In my mind, I set a goal to try to reach 100 books this year, but thought it might be a stretch. It turns out that wasn’t a stretch because in 2022 I read 127 books, which was over 40,000 pages read in 365 days! The amazing spreadsheet I used tracked some incredible statistics that I want to share for my own record keeping. So if you are a data nerd, enjoy! If not, skip ahead!

My 2022 STATS

  • 75% fiction and 25% nonfiction
  • 48% in print, 29% digital, 24% audiobook
  • 30% published in 2022 and 70% were backlist
  • 38% Own Voices (as authors and/or protagonists)
  • My Ratings:
  • 2.5 stars: 2.4%
  • 3 stars: 12.4%
  • 3.5 stars: 6.5%
  • 4 stars: 52.8%
  • 4.5 stars: 11.4%
  • 5 stars: 24.4%
  • My genres:

One of the stats that I tracked this year for the first time ever was the country of origin of the authors I read- it’s not very diverse so this is a 2023 goal for. I would also like to read more essay and/or short story collections.

Overall, I had a phenomenal 2022 reading year! I know what I like and I’m good at picking books that I will enjoy, based on my mood. My book club has brought in titles I wouldn’t have read otherwise, which expands my horizons. Tracking with this detail has also allowed me to see the trends I lean towards, so I can branch out as well. I would like to read the growing stack of books I own in my own, thanks to the Book of the Month club and the Indie Press List purchases I have been persuaded to buy because of the Currently Reading podcast. I am looking forward to another great year of cozy books in 2023!

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My Word of 2023

For the last eight years I have spent every December reflecting on the year that was and looking ahead to the year to come. Instead of setting resolutions I choose a focus word, a word that I want to drive my personal and professional life. Sometimes the word finds me, like in 2020 when I knew GRACE would be my word long before the pandemic even hit. Other times I have to do a lot of journaling and searching to find what feels right. Even after I choose, some years I tend to have laser-like focus on my word all year and other times I forget what it is or don’t feel connected to it.

In 2022, my word was CONNECTION. I was seeking more personal connections with family and friends, and lots of connecting flights to expand my travel. It was so nice to be connected to people and places I love throughout the year!

In 2021, my word was DARING. This word felt like a challenge to my introverted self, but also like something I needed after a year of grace and masks and isolation. I was ready to be daring in some big and small ways in my life.

In 2020, my word was GRACE. This word found me long before we knew what 2020 would bring to the world. I needed to leave space for grace for myself and for others as we lived through a global pandemic.

In 2019, my word was SHINE. My goal was to shine personally and professionally, and I did that through a new job, a published book, and a sunflower tattoo 26 years in the making!

In 2018, my word was POSSIBILITY with a supporting phrase of Adventures that Stretch. This idea helped me looked differently at what was possible if I shifted my viewpoint. I also enjoyed some incredible adventures that did help me stretch in new ways.

In 2017, my word was CHALLENGE, and it served me personally, professionally, and on a global scale. I love new challenges and appreciated the permission I gave myself to rise to some new challenges and to say, “I’m not going to take this on,” to other challenges.

In 2016, my word was REJUVENATE, with a more internal, physical focus that I needed.

The first time I chose a focus word was 2015, and my word was MINDFULNESS. This proved to be a fulfilling year of learning to be more present, learning to mediate, and to enjoy each individual moment.

Back in November someone used the word impact at work and it struck a chord with me. I want to do work that impacts student and adult learners, and the community at large. That is my leadership vision, but I already work with that in mind. I decided that I didn’t need that as my word because it is already a core part of who I am. Instead, I am leaning in a different direction.

As someone who walks, talks, reads, and works exceptionally fast, I found a word that might help me slow down once a while. A word that might remind me to be kind, to show more empathy, to be more delicate in challenging situations… a word that I want to be with others and also with myself. My word of 2023 is GENTLE.

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December 2022 Reading Update

After a great reading year, I ended with a fizzle. I was all ready to read a lot over my winter break – I checked out a big stack of books from my library! Then I got sick and my fuzzy head was way too tired to read… for a week! I’m slowly catching up, while still fighting off the winter sickness. This month I read:

  • The Golden Season by Madeline Kay Sneed – Emmy was raised in a small town in West Texas where football and church are the two most important things in everyone’s lives. Emmy decides to come out to her divorced parents as she prepares to head off to the end of her college years. Both of her parents react poorly and stop speaking to her, her mother out of shock, and her father because he cannot support her eternal damnation. We then folloing both Emmy and her father Steve throughout the next year, as she grapples with new love without her family love and as he realizes a lifelong dream of becoming head football coach. This story had beautiful touching moments, and also such sad moments. The author was able to bring to life the struggles between evangelical faith and the lived experiences of those on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.
  • A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (Gamache #12) – I love this series so much and this was one of my favorites! Because the author’s latest book in the series just came out this month, I’ve heard her in a few interviews and I love how invested she is increating the heartwarming little village of Three Pines, in the snowy woods of Canada. In this story, Gamache, recently injured and then retired, has take anew job as the head of the police academy, so he can clean up the mess left within. When a professor is murdered on campus, everyone wants to investigate and everyone is a suspect. I appreciate the deep connections between the characters and how they were explored in this story.
  • We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker – What a bittersweet story! The two main characters are Walk, a small town police chief, and Dutchess, a 13 year old whose primary goal in life is to take care of her younger brother through all of their life troubles, which are dark and rough! None of the characters are happy in this story, and it is not a happy story, but boy was it powerful. I was so sad for Ducthess and her brother Robin, as one bad thing after the next happened to them, causing pain and lonliness. Meanwhile, Walk was working so hard to solve past and current crimes to save his oldest and dearest friends, while hiding his own secrets. Even though it sounds so depressing, it was such a sweet story to see that inspite of all the darkness, there was still love hidden amongst this group.
  • On a Quiet Street by Seraphina Nova Glass [audiobook]- This was a fun mystery to listen to on audio, as I attempt to move from only listening to non fiction and/or YA books. On this “quiet” street it seems that all the neighbors have secrets. Paige believes that one of her neighbors killed her son in last year’s hit and run. Cora believes her husband is cheating on her and is determined to catch him. Georgina won’t leave her house. As we switch narrators amongst these three women, we learn about them and how they perceive the world around them. The story speeds up as major secrets are revealed and the ending was fast-paced and fun!
  • The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian – One of my colleagues loaned me this book after they heard I had just returned from safari in Africa. I’m glad I didn’t read this right BEFORE my trip, as it was exciting but horrifying! A famous Hollywood actress, Katie, takes a group of 7 Americans on a safari as the second part of her honeymoon. Each chapter is narrated by a different character and with each new voice the plot moves forward and we learn the backstory of each person on the trip. When the group is basically attacked and kidnapped by a group of Russians, they are split up and have to fight for survival. This was gruesome, bittersweet, and still full of the beauty of Africa, with a clear love and respect for the people and the wildlife who belong there. This was such an interesting story, well told!
  • Glass Houses by Louise Penny [Gamache #13] – I love returning to the peaceful village of Three Pines, even though it’s never peaceful for long. When the cobrador, a Spanish debt collector in a costume like Death, comes to haunt the village, everyone freaks out. When someone is murdered, the lies begin to explode. As Gamache is trying to save the police force from the inside, there is trouble all around and he goes to extreme measures to do what he must.
  • Comfort Me with Apples by Catherynne M. Valente – This was a creepy novella! I remember when Currently Reading first recommended it, it sounded interesting. Sophia knows she was made for her husband, and the perfect life they have. But is it so perfect? In this short short Sophia’s world unravels as she discovers things that don’t make sense. I don’t want to give anything away, but if you read it, let me know so we can discuss!
  • The Last Housewife by Ashley Winstead – I’m ending my reading year with another creepy book! This starts out weird and just gets more bizarre and dark as you learn more. When Shay learns that her college best friend died in what looks like a suicide, she decides to travel back to NY to uncover what has happened in the 8 years since they last spoke. We learn about Shay’s marriage and her past while she is discovering who her BFF, Laurel, had become. While this was a fast-paced thriller and I stayed up late to finish it, it was also graphically disgusting and horrifying as well.
  • Never Look Back by Clare Donoghue (DI Mike Lockyer #1) – I love finding a new mystery series! DI Mike Lockyer is a crime detective in London. Along with his assistant detective Jane, he is chasing down a serial killer who is hunting young woman who look like his own daughter. At the same time, a stalker case catches Mike’s interest, causing a conflict of interest. I enjoyed the characters and the writing style and look forward to continuing to read more in this series.

Favorite book(s) of the month

Fiction: We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker


My favorite books of 2022

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Blogging Trends of 2022

December always feels like a good time to look back on the year, reflect on successes and challenges, and consider what you want to carry with you and leave behind as you end the new year. My word of 2022 was CONNECTION and I feel like that brought me exactly what I needed this year – the permission and reminder to reach out to friends and family, near and far, to spend time together; the opportunity to meet new friends; and the hours spent in airports while waiting for connecting flights (which I did all over the world this year!). This year I traveled to:

Each year I like to look back at what I hit publish on and what resonated with readers in this little spot on the internet. Looking through my blog statistics are fun for me at this time of year.

My most read blog posts from this year (aside from my monthly reading blogs):

The month in which I published the most posts:

  • January – I always start off strong!
  • April

The top countries where my blog readers live (outside of the US):

  • Phillipines
  • Canada
  • India
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • China
  • South Africa

New terms people searched that helped them arrive at my blog this year:

  • Elena Aguilar – this is such a compliment since she is one of my EDU-HEROES! I love everything Elena writes and have blogged about all of her books A LOT, so I’m not surprised that my blog comes up when people search for her.

Before I started looking back at my stats for the year, I felt like I didn’t really write many blog posts at all this year, except for my monthly reading updates. Compared to previous years that is true, but I still wrote 28 posts and over 28,000 words in 2022 and that is no small feat. I was asked to turn a few of my blog posts into articles for the AASA magazine, and because of all of my reading I was also asked to submit book reviews for the magazine. I still enjoying sharing myself on this blog and will continue to do so. Looking ahead to 2023 I have some ideas for additional posts that capture some of the instructional leadership work that I have finally been able to return to, now that COVID is not the primary topic on every agenda! And as I wrap up a year of CONNECTIONS I am looking forward to finding my new word… stay tuned!

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Day in the Life as an Assistant Superintendent

Back in 2015 I wrote three posts detailing a day in my life as a Director of Educational Services. In 2016 I moved to a new position, in a new district and documented one of my early days on the job. Since then, I have changed jobs again (3 years ago now!), but have never captured a day in the life of this job. I love looking back at the previous posts (linked below) because they are a fun way to reflect on past work, what was taking up my time, and how I chose to spend my time.

Here is a day in my life as an assistant superintendent, in December of 2022.

7:00 AM – This week my morning [and afternoon] commute has been spent listening to a podcast recommended to me by a few teachers. I don’t listen to a lot of educational podcasts, because I do so much reading in the field and I like my podcasts to cover non-educational topics for my entertainment. However, when this was recommended more than once, and around the topic of the science of reading, I had to listen to it!

7:30 AM – I arrive in my office, where I know I will only be for a short while this morning. It was 37 degrees this morning, a rarity for San Diego, so I blast my space heater and check my email and my calendar to ensure I know where I’m going all day.

8:00 AM – Our AMAZING Superintendent (who also happens to read this blog!) hosted a winter social for our district office, treating everyone to donuts and hot chocolate as we work our way to the final days before break. It’s so fun to see people from all different departments come together to socialize and enjoy connecting with one another. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay very long before I had a previously scheduled site visit to get to.

8:15-9:40 AM – I visit each of our nine sites regularly to meet with principals, visit classrooms, and discuss teaching and learning. I’ve set a goal each year to visit every single classroom in our district. I haven’t met this goal yet, but I am well on my way to meeting it this year! These visits fill my teacher heart and my instructional leader soul, as we get to witness fun student learning and powerful pedagogy, and then discuss coaching moves as leaders. In fact, we were so into our discussions today that I stayed too late and got behind on my schedule! Today we saw 4th graders finalizing the board games they designed around Spanish explorers, as part of their history work. I learned a lot about the explorers and they had some creative designs!

9:55-11:15 AM – I raced over to another school for a second site visit of the day. This principal and I were able to celebrate lots of positive growth in her school community! She took me into her school’s library, which was set up to host over 100 families coming to receive winter gifts of love! This generous community had donated enough items so that each child invited would receive a new jacket, a new lego, a toy, a soccer ball, and more – it was overwhelming and so heartwarming to see it all ready for the families and to talk to the PTA parent who organized the incredible event!

11:30-12:30 – This was an extra special time on my calendar today! I went to visit a classroom at another school (my third today!), with a wonderful teacher who used to be part of the TOSA team in my department. I wanted to visit her and her class and she happily welcomed me in and asked if I would share a little about my recent trip to Namibia. You don’t have to ask me twice to share pictures and stories from that amazing trip! I loved seeing the 3rd graders’ reactions to each new animal picture I shared, and to hear them tell me the animals they have seen in the wild and in our local zoo. Then I was able to see their dress rehearsal for a class play they are performing tomorrow, all about electricity!

12:30-1:30 PM – On my way back to the office I picked up a snack to eat for lunch since I didn’t do my usual grocery shopping this week and have run out of lunch foods! As soon as I return from site visits, I try to write my emails to all of the staff I observed right away, to capture my notes of appreciation. I sent an email to each person, including the principal who was with me during the visit. In the messages, I honor/ appreciate something I saw happening that was good for students (I try to be explicit and specific as I’m modeling this instructional feedback for principals while also celebrating good pedagogy), and this week I closed off with warm wishes for a happy holiday season and a well-deserved break for all. I make notes in my spreadsheet where I keep track of all the classrooms I have visited (only 2 rooms left to see in the first site I visited today and I will hit my goal there!).

1:30-2:30 PM – My small but might TOSA team arrives for our bimonthly meeting. I work with three incredible TOSAs who bring positive energy and a range of different strengths and assets to our team. They are preparing for our second round of grade level professional development sessions that will start up at the end of January. Our first round, this fall, was a big success so we want to be responsive to all the feedback we received from teachers and push our instructional work forward with a deep dive into writing calibration, which is very new for our system! We are nervous and excited about the work ahead. Some of the things I love about this team is that they are self-directed, supportive of one another, focused, and purposeful in their work. I am so grateful for each of them!

2:30 PM – I had a check in meeting with a colleague. We are working on a project together and have scheduled weekly check-in’s to keep ourselves accountable for getting our parts done on time. She is one of my favorite people to work with, because we can be laser-focused on our tasks and then laugh ’til it hurts as we share personal stories!

3:00- 4:30 PM – The end of my day is unschedule, which is nice after the busy morning I had visiting three school sites. I get an unexpected phone call with some questions from the president of our teachers’ union. I need to make another call, to a school site staff member, to determine the answers so I can call back the original caller and clarify some misconceptions. I appreciate that because we are a small district this can all be done with personal conversations between people that I have built relationships with. I am caught up on my emails to the teachers I visited today, and my inbox is as clean as it can be before I leave for the day. I had some time to catch up with a few staff members in my department this afternoon, and we enjoyed some laughs together, which was much-needed.

I work with an exceptional group of people in a place I love. I am so grateful for this job and the culture in our district. People love one another and truly love coming to work and you can feel that all over! No two days are the same, but this was a fun one to capture because it included time in classrooms, time with colleagues, and celebrations of team work!


Day in the Life at Work

Yet another day in the life {summer edition}

Another day in the life

A day in the life of a district administrator

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My Favorite Books of 2022

As someone who travels a lot, one of the questions that I dread the most is, “Where is your favorite place?” Similarly, as an avid reader I always have a hard time answering, “What is your favorite book?” because I love so many books for different reasons! Last year was the first time I ever attempted to summarize some of my favorite books that I read in 2021. This year, in each of my monthly reading roundups, I tried to capture my favorite fiction and nonfiction books from the month, to help me with this post for 2022. Based on those monthly posts, I loved 15 fiction and 10 nonfiction books. Even though it feels like Sophie’s choice, I’m going to narrow that group of 25 down to my top… 12. That’s the best I could do!


Rather than share the summary I shared the first time I wrote about each of these books, I am linking them to the original post and making a note of their publication year. I want to share how these ended up on my favorite list for 2022. For me, what makes a 5 star read or a top book is that I love the reading experience so much I can’t put the book down (and hate taking a break for things like work and sleep!), I want to share it with people as soon as I finish it, and it’s memorable after I put it down. A book that I am still thinking about months after I read it is one that has had an impact on me.

As I consider this list I notice a few things. First, everything on this list was published within the last two years, though I read many books that were older than that this year. If asked, I would say that my favorite genre to read is mystery, but this list includes literary fiction, science fiction, historical fiction, and mystery. Most of these books are #OwnVoices, which for these particular books means that people of color, people who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and people living with disabilities, are the central characters and the authors as well. I have worked hard to expand the representation in what I read and I’m glad that these stories rose to the top this year. Even though I am someone who forgets what I read, I can still remember so many details from each of these books. The stories challenged my thinking, made me consider different perspectives, had me guessing, laughing, or crying, and still resonate in my mind. These are all signs of a great read for me!


When I reflect on my nonfiction list it is a little different than the fiction picks for the year. It’s hard to LOVE some nonfiction when it’s telling the graphic stories of a serial killer or the brutal truths of the enslavement of African Americans or even the way society has ignored the voices of women and people of color for centuries. However, the first three books on this list cover these topics with beautiful storytelling, rich descriptions, and writing styles that often felt like literary fiction. When I read nonfiction I want to learn and grow. All of these books helped me do that. The last book on the list pushed me as an educator and has been part of many discussions I’ve had around our equity work over the last year.

Have you read any of my favorites this year?

What were some of your favorite books of this year?

What books are already on your TBR (to be read) list for next year?

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November 2022 Reading Update

November is often referred to as “Non fiction November”. I usually read 1-2 NF books a month, and this month was no exception. Because November included a two week vacation in Namibia, my reading was a little different. I downloaded a ton of books on my Kindle so I would have options when in the desert without wifi, but my top reading priorities were the books about Namibia.

This month I read:

  • Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing by Matthew Perry – I remember pre-ordering this book the day I saw Matthew Perry post about it on Instagram many months ago. Chandler Bing was always my favorite on Friends, and I have loved Perry from afar for years. I used to joke with one of my friends that if I just met him, we could be friends and I would have been a helpful sober companion for him Little did I know how bad his addiction truly was, how many rehab stints he had, and how many sober companions he has literaly gone through on this many decades long battle into sobriety. This was hard to read, as I was often so sad for the little boy, the stunted young man, and the gifted actor with demons. It is amazing how much detail he shared, and how much he just wants a family of his own. I hope he finds that and remains sober.
  • The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean – I bought this because The Currently Reading podcast hosts sold me on the idea of the plot. It was slow to start off, but I did get sucked into the bizarre story and was racing along to finish it by the end. Devon is a book eater, born into a long line of non-humans who eat books to survive. All genres have different tastes! Girls are quickly married off to other royal families to procreate and are then forced to leave their children and move into another marriage. It’s a rough life, especially if a child is born with issues (such as being a brain-eater instead of a book eater!). The storyline flashes back and forwards as we follow Devon’s life. It was a wild ride!
  • Mama Namibia by Mari Serebrov – Before I left on my two week vacation to Namibia, Africa, I looked for books that took place there or that were about the land and the people. This is the first fiction book I found, based on true events. In 1904 the Germans conducted a genocide of the Herero and Nama people in what was then South West Africa, now Namibia. Reading the story of Jahohora, a young girl who has to fight to stay alive during this genocide after losing her family, trying to find food, water and shelter in an inhospitable desert lang, was harrowing and hard to read at times, but also inspiring. I loved seeing the country and meeting Herero and Nama people while I was in Namibia, knowing more about their history thanks to this beautiful, bittersweet story.
  • The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny (Gamache #11) – I have loved getting deep into the Three Pines mystery series, and really loved the last few I read, so this was a bit disappointing. I still loved reading about my favorite characters, Gamache and his wife, Ruth, Jean Guy, and the entire town of Three Pines. However, the storyline felt a little too out there for me. A young boy is killed after claiming to have found a huge weapon in the woods. Turns out the weapon is one that could create mass destruction and was built in secret and hiddle for decades. There were too many outside characters involved in this, from scientists to inventors to spies, none of whom were likeable or trustworthy.
  • We Are Unprepared by Meg Little Reilly – This is another from my new favorite sub genre, Climate Fiction. Ash and Pia move up to rural Vermont to slow down and appreciate life. Soon there is talk about the big storms coming to America. Pia goes into survivalist mode, joining prepper meetings and planning for fringe life, while Ash works with the townspeople to find ways to prepare. As everyone gears up for the superstorm, the best and worst in people come out, and the town is fractured. I really enjoyed this!
  • I Kissed Shara Wheeler by Casey McQuiston [audiobook] – I have loved McQuiston’s other books, but this was more disappointing. I listened to the audio version and it was very teen-drama angsty romance without many redeemable characteristics, until the end. Three students who are not friends end up trying to solve the mystery of where Shara Wheeler disappeared to after they each kissed her and are led on a scavenger hunt. Their precarious friendship comes together and apart as they each learn about themselves, their identities, and about Shara. This has positive LGBTQIA+ representation, which I appreciate.
  • Rewind by Catherine Ryan Howard – I love Catherine Ryan Howard and her Irish crime stories! This is one of her older ones and I enjoyed it more than I expcted to! There are multiple narrators and multiple timelines that flash us forward and backward as we learn about Natalie, an Instagram influencer who has gone missing, and the random shore town she ends up in. This is dark and twisty, with some predicatability in it, but a good quick read!
  • Namibia: Conquest to Independence: Formation of a Nation by Godfrey Mwakakigile – While I was in Namibia, I wanted to learn more about the country’s history. When I heard that Namibia’s independence from South Africa only occurred in 1990, making it a very new country still, I was curious what happened after the German genocide in 1904, which I read about above and again in this, and before the independence. This book is a very detailed account of the history of Namibia. I’m sad that I never knew that the tactics the Germans used in the Holocaust to exterminate the Jews were founded in what they did to the Herero people in Namibia. They created concentration camps, torture, and extermination there due to their desire to colonize the area and their beliefs that Black people were savages and not equal to whites. South Africa fought the Germans for control, and then was fighting with various African countries to maintain Apartheid throughout the 1900’s. The United Nations stepped in to support what was South West Africa, now Namibia, for decades, but it was the Cuban support in Angola that finally pushed the South Africans out of Namibia. The independence there led to the end of apartheid in South Africa. The author is from Tanzania so there are embedded case studies comparing Namibia’s goal to create unity amongst diversity to the success Tanzania has had to eradicate tribalism and racism in favor of nationalism. Namibia’s 12 tribes all speak different languages, and when they chose to make English the national language, they alienated most people around the country. Even today, many educators are not fluent enough in English to help the country make significant communication progress, which is an on-going challenge.The country of Namibia is beautiful, vast, partially uninabitable, and as I covered many dirt and few paved roads in a bumpy bus, I was amazed by the ever-changing landscapes and I’m glad to know more of the history.

Favorite Books This Month (this was hard to say!)

Fiction: We Are Unprepared & Mama Namibia

Nonfiction: Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing

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Visiting Namibia ~ A Bumpy Adventure

Almost a full year ago a friend texted me and asked if I would be interested in going on a travel tour of Namibia, Africa with an all women’s group. I must admit, I had to look up where Namibia was (in south west Africa, next to South Africa and Botswana). Once I did that, and watched an introductory video about the tour, I was in! My travel buddy and I love to find fun places to travel that are new to both of us and this was definitely one neither of us had ever visited. I spent two weeks in South Africa in 2016 and loved my safari drives and my shark cage diving adventures. She spent time in Ethiopia, South Africa and a few other places just this past summer. We were ready to see something new!

Before I left for the trip, I looked up books about Namibia, because I thought it would be interesting to read fiction set in the place where I was going to be for two weeks and I wanted to learn more about the country. I am so grateful that I found and bought two books that I read during my trip specifically about Namibia, as I learned so much about the people, the traditions, and the history of this beautiful and often uninhabitable land.

I read Mama Namibia first, a fictionalized story based on the true events that took place during the German genocide of the Herero people in what was then South West Africa, now Namibia, in 1904. I knew nothing about this history, which was the breeding ground for the horrors that would be perpetuated during the Holocaust. This story was beautiful, in its love of the Herero culture and the land of Namib desert, and it was horrifying in the retelling of a brutal war that wiped out 80% of one of the 12 tribes of Namibia. When I met our local tour guide and driver, and I learned the tribes they were from (Dama and Herero), I had very specific knowledge of some of their past and their traditions, and they appreciated that I had read this book and wanted to learn more.

The nonfiction book is a history of Namibia, from the time under German rule, to the time under South African apartheid, to the support from Angola and Cuba and the UN to gain independence in 1990 (it’s still a new country!). I learned how the choice to make the country’s primary language English was to avoid the languages of the oppressors, but was still controversial because each of the 12 tribes speak different languages and only children to go to school are guaranteed to learn English. Learning so much about a place while I was there made me regret not having done this for so many of the places I have travelled to in the past, and determined to read up on future places.

During our 12 day tour of Namibia, we spent a LOT of time in a very bumpy bus. You get to see a lot of a country this way, but just imagine a group of American and Canadian women in a bus with no working air conditioning, on roads that are unpaved most of the time, driving through ever-changing desert landscapes for hours on end. We did our best not to be crabby, and to be grateful for each spot where we could use an indoor bathroom and purchase bottled water. While my eyes and throat stung from the dusty roads blowing into our open windows during this hot summer time, every day I turned to my friend and said, “I can’t believe how different each place looks.” From the dry, brown deserts to the fields of green trees, to tumble weeds and small brush, to cactus, to red sands of the Kalahi Desert, to canyons, to the place where the desert meets the sea, where the Skeleton Coast begins, you never knew what we might see outside of that bus. We saw giraffes on the way from the airport to the first hotel, and many other days after that!

Some of my favorite days were when we were able to enjoy safari game drives, in the Kalahi, Etosha National Park, Twyfelfontein, and Okonjima. I could watch animals all day every day, especially in their natural environment! I kept an on-going list of all the animals we saw on the trip and it is staggeringly long! Pictured below is an oryx, the national animal of Namibia, zebras, spring boks, and a leopard.

I also saw animals on a whale watching cruise, where both a seal and a pelican literally jumped up on to the boat and sat next to me!

In addition, we enjoyed a hot air balloon ride over the Namib Desert, which was stunning! We also had the very personalized experience of a cooking class and dinner in someone’s private home, where the people there taught us about three of the local tribes by sharing their clothing, food, and some customs with us. We also bought bulk groceries to a private Himba Village, where through translators, we were able to speak to the local tribeswomen who generously showed us some of their traditions. These included how they crush up red red ochre and mix it with an oil to spread over their hair and body 2-3 times a day for beauty, skincare and sun protection. These are a group of people who do not bathe with water to clean themselves, but rather they heat up the camphor plant and create a steam in which to “bathe” themselves for a clean fragrance. The people we met were kind, caring, and happy, yet surprised that so many of our all women’s group were unmarried. One woman asked me, “Where are you from? Are there no men there?” 😉

I am so grateful for a job in which I am able to take vacation time for such a trip, with colleagues who helped me plan ahead to ensure the work was covered in my absence. I’m grateful that my job and my life provide me with the time and means to save up for such a unique, adventurous vacation. I appreciate my travel buddy Sue, who I have known since our first day of freshman year of college, when we were both 17 year old know-it-alls from New Jersey! I’m grateful to know so much more about one of the youngest country’s in Africa and its rich history. I wish more people could learn about foreign lands through both reading and traveling, as my life is better for both experiences.

Note the rainbow (there were actually 2) and the lightning strike captured!
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