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Linda Nathan: An Educator's Summer Reading

Award-winning educator Linda F. Nathan founded the Boston Arts Academy in 1998. She consults and speaks She consults and speaks on educational issues nationally and internationally, and teaches a graduate course at Harvard on building democratic schools. Nathan is the author of The Hardest Questions Aren't on the Test: Lessons from an Innovative Urban School.

Book cover for The Hardest Questions Aren't on the Test by Linda NathanEvery year we ask all of our students and faculty to select a book from our Literature Circle book list to read. In the early weeks of September we divide the entire school into book groups to discuss their book of choice. Here are some of my favorites from this year’s list:

Edwinge Danicat’s Krik? Krak!, Caucasia by Danzy Senna, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I’m excited to talk about all of these books with my students and colleagues, and I’ll be interested in hearing their reactions. I also read a few other books that I both hope will make next year’s Literature Circle book list and are now on my “recommend to others” list. They are: City of Thieves by David Benioff and The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, each compelling in its depiction of life during or just after war. I also enjoyed Allegra Goodman’s The Cookbook Collector. But at the top of my list is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: History of African-American Migration. This is not a feel good book, but it is a page turner. I am still furious at how our nation treated its own “immigrants.” I just saw Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess directed by Diane Paulus, and I’ve been transposing that musical onto Wilkerson’s book and characters. I want to discuss with others how we see and enter into our history, and I want to ensure that my students are exposed to both of these brilliant works.

My mentor and dear friend, Vito Perrone, died this August. I always like to re-read his books before the school year begins. A Letter to Teachers and Teacher with A Heart are books that help me re-energize and re-focus each year. I know that Vito would have liked to have discussed Wilkerson’s book and that he would have pushed me to describe the connections that I saw with Warmth of Other Suns and Porgy and Bess. He would have helped me develop those generative questions to guide difficult discussions. I know he would have come and sat in our literature circles, too. He would have wanted to hear how books captured my students’ imaginations and passions. When I am at my lowest about the state of schools and education policy, Vito would inspire me to “recommit ourselves to a wide-awakeness on behalf of our students, schools, and communities, to a greater understanding that we are about democratic work. Our schools are not yet as good as they should be (Teacher with a Heart, intro p xi).” I hope I can take that wide-awakeness into this new school year. 

Books mentioned in this post:

Book cover for Krik? Krak! by Edwidge DanticatCaucasia by Danzy Senna Book cover for The Help by Kathryn StockettBook Cover for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootBook cover for City of Thieves by David BenioffBook cover for the Tiger's Wife by Tea ObrehtThe Cookbook Collector- A Novel by Allegra GoodmanBook cover for The Warmth of Other SunsLetter to Teachers by Vito PerroneTeacher With a Heart by Vito Perrone