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Back in July, beach chairs gave way to backpacks on store shelves since many students start school in mid-August, bringing summer “learning loss” to a halt. Here is an array of books for students, teachers, parents and concerned citizens. Topics range from first-day jitters to trenchant analyses of, and prescriptions for, improving how students learn in this country.
Creative schools : the grassroots revolution that’s transforming education by Ken Robinson – This book is a revolutionary reappraisal of how to educate our children and young people by Ken Robinson, the New York Times bestselling author of The Element and Finding Your Element. Robinson is one of the world’s most influential voices in education, and his 2006 TED Talk on the subject is the most viewed in the organization’s history. Now, the internationally recognized leader on creativity and human potential focuses on one of the most critical issues of our time: how to transform the nation’s troubled educational system. At a time when standardized testing businesses are raking in huge profits, when many schools are struggling, and students and educators everywhere are suffering under the strain, Robinson points the way forward. He argues for an end to our outmoded industrial educational system and proposes a highly personalized, organic approach that draws on today’s unprecedented technological and professional resources to engage all students, develop their love of learning, and enable them to face the real challenges of the twenty-first century. Filled with anecdotes, observations and recommendations from professionals on the front line of transformative education, case histories, and groundbreaking research—and written with Robinson’s trademark wit and engaging style, Creative Schools will inspire teachers, parents, and policy makers alike to rethink the real nature and purpose of education.
The smartest kids in the world : and how they got that way by Amanda Ripley – How do other countries create “smarter” kids? In a handful of nations, virtually all children are learning to make complex arguments and solve problems they’ve never seen before. They are learning to think, in other words, and to thrive in the modern economy. What is it like to be a child in the world’s new education superpowers? In a global quest to find answers for our own children, the author, a Time Magazine journalist, follows three American teenagers who chose to spend one school year living in Finland, South Korea, and Poland. Kim, fifteen, raised $10,000 so she could move from Oklahoma to Finland; Eric, eighteen, exchanged a high-achieving Minnesota suburb for a booming city in South Korea; and Tom, seventeen, left a historic Pennsylvania village for Poland. Here the author recounts how attitudes, parenting, and rigorous teaching have revolutionized these countries’ education results. Through these young informants, the author meets battle-scarred reformers, sleep-deprived zombie students, and a teacher who earns $4 million a year. Their stories, along with research into learning in other cultures, reveal a pattern of startling transformation: none of these countries had many “smart” kids a few decades ago. Things had changed. Teaching had become more rigorous; parents had focused on things that mattered; and children had bought into the promise of education. This is a book about building resilience in a new world, as told by the young Americans who have the most at stake.
How we learn : the surprising truth about when, where, and why it happens by Benedict Carey – In How we learn, award-winning science reporter Benedict Carey sifts through decades of education research and landmark studies to uncover the truth about how our brains absorb and retain information. What he discovers is that, from the moment we are born, we are all learning quickly, efficiently, and automatically; but in our zeal to systematize the process we have ignored valuable, naturally enjoyable learning tools like forgetting, sleeping, and daydreaming. Is a dedicated desk in a quiet room really the best way to study? Can altering your routine improve your recall? Are there times when distraction is good? Is repetition necessary? Carey’s search for answers to these questions yields a wealth of strategies that make learning more a part of our everyday lives – and less of a chore.
The teacher wars : a history of America’s most embattled profession by Dana Goldstein – In The Teacher Wars, a rich, lively, and unprecedented history of public school teaching, Dana Goldstein reveals that teachers have been embattled for nearly two centuries. She uncovers the surprising roots of hot button issues, from teacher tenure to charter schools, and finds that recent popular ideas to improve schools — instituting merit pay, evaluating teachers by student test scores, ranking and firing veteran teachers, and recruiting “elite” graduates to teach — are all approaches that have been tried in the past without producing widespread change. The Teacher Wars upends the conversation about American education by bringing the lessons of history to bear on the dilemmas we confront today. By asking “How did we get here?” Dana Goldstein brilliantly illuminates the path forward.
That crumpled paper was due last week : helping disorganized and distracted boys master the skills they need for success in school and life by Ana Homayoun – Missed assignments. Lack of focus and enthusiasm. Falling grades. For too many boys and their frustrated parents, these are the facts of life. But they don’t have to be. Top academic couselor Ana Homayoun has helped turn even the most disorganized, scattered, and unfocused boys into successful young people who consistently meet their personal and academic challenges. She does this by getting back to basics- -starting with a simple fact: most boys needs to be taught how to get organized, how to study, and – most important – how to visualize, embrace and meet their own goals.
As a student in my high school and college English classes, I often wondered why so much value was placed on classic literature. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to appreciate the timeless novels and beautifully written words as meaningful stories that can touch anyone at any time. Adding classics to my reading list has added a wonderful balance to contemporary literature. Here are a few of my favorites.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – Set in Puritan Boston, tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an adulterous affair with an unnamed man. Branded with a scarlet letter A and isolated in a strict conformist community intent on pushing her to the fringes of this wild and emerging country, Hester struggles to forge a new, dignified existence with her daughter. Then a mysterious individual arrives, intent on unmasking her companion. The Scarlet Letter‘s themes of hypocrisy, women’s role in society and the destructive power of guilt are as relevant as ever, making Hester Prynne a classic heroine with a great deal to say to the twenty-first-century reader.
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane – The novel is told through the eyes of Henry Fleming, a young soldier caught up in an unnamed Civil War battle who is motivated not by the unselfish heroism of conventional war stories, but by fear, cowardice, and finally, egotism. However, in his struggle to find reality amid the nightmarish chaos of war, the young soldier also discovers courage, humility, and perhaps, wisdom. Although Crane had never been in battle before writing The Red Badge of Courage, the book was widely praised by experienced soldiers for its uncanny re-creation of the sights, sounds, and sense of actual combat.
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde – In this story, Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this a unique novel.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – William Golding’s compelling story about a group of very ordinary small boys marooned on a coral island has become a modern classic. At first, it seems as though it’s all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious & life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic & death. As ordinary standards of behavior collapse, the whole world the boys know collapses with them—the world of cricket & homework & adventure stories—& another world is revealed beneath, primitive & terrible. Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was 1st published in 1954.
Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in the Reference Department.
Castles are beautiful and fascinating. The architecture, the feelings of walking through halls immersed in history, apprehension of spirits and excitement of romance all intertwined!
Here are some suggestions:
The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart – Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater living in the Tower of London, who manages the Queen’s menagerie of exotic animals and lives among eccentric yet charming neighbors. A lot of the story takes place within the maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases. The characters are very much at home in this unusual setting which is fun to imagine.”>The Tower, the Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart – Balthazar Jones is a Beefeater living in the Tower of London, who manages the Queen’s menagerie of exotic animals and lives among eccentric yet charming neighbors. A lot of the story takes place within the maze of ancient buildings and spiral staircases. The characters are very much at home in this unusual setting which is fun to imagine.
Murder at Hammond Castle – Rockport native Gunilla Caulfield’s second mystery takes place at Gloucester’s Hammond Castle. It mentions the “Moonie” cult and lots of Gloucester landmarks. Plus the protagonist is a librarian who solves the mystery – what more can you ask for?!
Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – In this novel, biographer Margaret Lea becomes immersed in the strange past of British novelist Vida Winter, who spent her childhood in a gothic castle-like estate. There are many twists, turns, and subplots, and maybe ghosts….
The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory – This is the second in The Tudor Series by Philippa Gregory, but it is my favorite! I enjoy historical fiction and learned so much about the Tudors, King Henry VIII and the politics of royal court life, especially from a different perspective, the “other” Boleyn sister.
The Hammond Castle Cookbook by Corinne B. Witham: Besides tons of recipes, this book tells the history of the castle and lots of interesting facts about the Hammond family and their famous guests. Plus, how cool is it that Gloucester has a castle?!
Valerie Marino is a library assistant at Sawyer Free Library.
The literary genre of bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, has a rich tradition. The young character, learning about the world and themselves, gives the author a perfect vehicle to explore themes and comment on the world and its values.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – A towering epic of a story told from a viewpoint of an 8-year-old. Set in the small Southern town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Depression, the novel tells about three years in the life of the narrator Scout Finch, her brother, Jem, and their widowed lawyer father. In the small and simple world of childhood adventures, Scout innocently thrives, but soon the ugly face of racism, hate and injustice seep in. Through the strength of character that Scout sees in her father Atticus, and the love that she finds among her family and friends, she comes to understand what her father means when he tells her “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – A 14-year-old girl haunted by the memory of accidentally killing her mother, Lily Owens and her father live an uneasy existence on their South Carolina peach farm in the early 1960s. When their black housekeeper Rosaleen gets beaten trying to register to vote, Lily decides it’s time to find out what her mother’s strange possession of a image of a Black Madonna, with the words “Tiburon, South Carolina” scrawled on the back means, and takes Rosaleen with her. Lily’s quest leads her to the Boatwright sisters. The sisters take in the two in, and slowly it is revealed the connection with Lily’s mother. The power of female friendship and love help Lily heal and find her own strength.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – In this most adult-like young adult novel, two teenagers with terminal cancer find each other, find love and find the essence of life in a funny, dark and moving story. Hazel Grace Lancaster, 16, goes to a cancer support group and meets Augustus Waters. Both become fascinated with a novel about cancer called An Imperial Affliction. In attempt to answer the questions left by the ambiguous ending, Augustus arranges for the pair to travel to Amsterdam, where Imperial’s author, an expatriate American, lives. The journey there and its aftereffects shade the their budding romance and their inevitable outcome. Realistically heart-rendering without becoming oversentimental, the novel resonates long after being read.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – Francie Nolan is a young, intelligent girl growing up poor in early twentieth century Brooklyn. Her father, a romantic dreamer, fills her head with fanciful thoughts and her heart with love and hope. Her mother, forced to shoulder the lion-share of family responsibilities, seems hardhearted and to favor Francie’s younger brother. But as Francie becomes more aware of the circumstances of life, her perceptions and ideas shift. As she blossoms into young womanhood, she becomes as resilient as the Tree of Heaven growing in the courtyard.
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman – 12-year-old Cecelia Rose Honeycutt’s life is no picnic: her mother, Camille, has severe mental illness and CeeCee has to cope alone, since her travelling salesman father Carl is often absent. When her mother is struck and killed by an ice cream truck, CeeCee starts living with her great-aunt Tootie and her wise African American housekeeper and cook, Oletta. CeeCee finds the womanly supports she needs in her new circle of somewhat eclectic women friends in Savannah.
Helen Freeman is the Technical Services librarian.
There’s nothing like a great read that takes you away to another place and time. I’ve always been a fan of both history and travel. Stories that indulge my need to sail away to a bygone era have long since been my favorites. Add a little romance and it’s even better!
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
Alessandra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel walls in the family’s Florentine palazzo. A child of the Renaissance, with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the painter’s abilities. But their burgeoning relationship is interrupted when Alessandra’s parents arrange her marriage to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, Florence is changing. Dunant brings alive the history of Florence at its most dramatic period, telling a compulsively absorbing story of love, art, religion, and power.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon – The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743. Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant – Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah’s voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood–the world of the red tent. Dinah’s story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past. Deeply affecting, The Red Tent combines rich storytelling with a valuable achievement in modern fiction: a new view of biblical women’s society.
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett – This epic set in twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the lives entwined in the building of the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known—and a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, brother against brother, and lover against lover.
Lisa Ryan is a Librarian working in the Reference Department.