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Educators suit up for their own summer reading

By Cynthia McCabe

Murder! Vampires! Escaping financial ruin! Taking a peek at NEA members’ summer reading lists offers ample evidence that they are in need of a vacation. What better (and cheaper) place to find it than in between the front and back covers of a good book?   

While we hope most folks know by now that educators don’t necessarily have a summer free of other jobs and professional responsibilities—you’ve got to love that myth—there is usually more free time than during the school year to crack open some pleasure reading.

When we asked our teachers and support professionals what they want to read, their answers were as diverse as they are, with everything from escapist mysteries like blockbuster suspense writer James Patterson’s upcoming and seasonally named Swimsuit to works on Zen meditation topping their lists. Fiction rules the day, though.

That puts them right in line with the general public as summer approaches, says Anthony Loum, who coordinates an adult summer reading program for the Brooklyn, New York City, and Queens public libraries that now boasts 20,000 participants.

“Seventy percent of our summer reading list is fiction because that’s where the strongest interest is,” says Loum.

But that fiction encompasses a variety of genres. “No one size fits all,” he says.

New adult summer reading programs like Loum’s are popping up from Seattle to Orlando this summer as libraries try to woo adults with programs modeled on traditional youth summer reading activities.

For the grown-ups, there are recommendation lists, book discussion groups, and author talks. A quick Web search should indicate if your local library offers one.

Abingdon, Massachusetts, high school art teacher Mary Lee already has something challenging and creative on tap for the warm months ahead.

What are you going to read this summer? See more of your colleagues’ recommendations and join the lively conversation on this topic at by searching “NEA Today.”

Her summer reading list is at 10 books, and there’s not a piece of chick lit in sight, she says proudly. “Something related to the creative process, a bio on a particular artist, a thought-provoking novel, art magazines about contemporary art,” says Lee. “Definitely something I can’t get to during the year.”

Missy Rudd of Crawfordville, Florida, is going to do as her students do, literally, by delving into the school’s summer reading list. “We chose exciting, award-winning books from different genres,” says the ninth-grade reading teacher.

That way “I can be familiar with what my students are reading, plus they are great books!”

And for some there’s no guiding principle other than pure enjoyment. “I read anything that looks interesting to me,” says Melissa Colella-Brown, a first-grade teacher in Waterloo, New York. “There really is no rhyme or reason. I will also read something that is recommended by someone.”

Since NEA members know better than anybody that no one size fits all, they’ve got their eyes on a variety of titles for the summer. Here’s a peek at their picks:

 Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey
Julie Sadowski Le Cluse, ESOL paraprofessional, Port St. Lucie, Florida

Books on mindfulness meditation. Ahhhh...Also planning to dig into John Updike's collection—I tried to read him too early—I was young and didn't care about middle-aged, married suburbanites' issues.

Now I am a middle-aged, married suburbanite so I might appreciate him.
Camille Napier Bernstein, high school teacher, Boston, Massachusetts

I intend to reread Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand!!
Monica L. Mixon, instructional assistant paraprofessional, Landsdowne, Pennsylvania

Looking forward to reading Stiff: The Curious Life of Cadavers by Mary Roach.
Melisa Gilbertson, student member, Scandia, Minnesota

I am looking forward to reading Lisa Scottoline's new book Look Again.
Kathy Connelly Chance, school bus driver, Atco, New Jersey

The Shack is one I’m hoping to be able to get through. Heard it's kinda heavy. I recommend the Twilight series. Teaching in middle school and having teenagers at home, I get to hear a lot about what's being read.

Twilight was flying off the shelves at my school with waiting lists a mile long. Then I heard it was a “vampire story” which turned me off. My own daughter corrected me, [saying] it was a love story. Bingo! That caught my interest and the rest, as they say, is history.
Suzi Figueroa , middle school Spanish teacher, Cave Creek, Arizona

My wife and I are really enjoying Twilight. I thought the students were crazy when they said it was addictive. Turns out it is!
—Dustin Olsen, teacher, Thermopolis, Wyoming

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, and maybe find out what the whole hype is over Twilight.
Shelley Kernan-Sinner, high school special education teacher, Clarkston, Washington

A book written by one of my students as her final project. It’s a point-counter point book on many issues in American Government today. She will have 20 controversial issues.

For each issue she wrote one argument and then needed to find a person that disagreed with her to write the opposing side.
Joshua Brown, middle school civics teacher, Des Moines, Iowa

I am looking forward to James Patterson’s new one that comes out in June! His books are a fast read and are soooo suspenseful!
Melissa Colella-Brown, first-grade teacher, Waterloo, New York

After reading teen novels all year, the Drake Sisters series is an escape for me. [Author] Christine Feehan blends romance, fantasy, and suspense around smart, savvy heroines.
Missy Rudd, high school reading teacher, Crawfordville, Florida

The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson. I love sushi and Japanese food and the art of making it! I also will read Sideways by Rex Pickett (I have seen the movie at least five times and want to go back and read the book!) American Legend: The Real Life Story Adventures of David Crockett by Buddy Levy.

I love adventurers, pioneers, and stories of the American West.
Mary Lee, high school art teacher, Abingdon, Massachusetts


Even the fluffy stuff can be beneficial, says Loum, because reading, “is the best habit that one can develop,” he says. “Reading is continuing education. It helps your critical reading and thinking skills. You learn about other cultures.”

So relax. There’s no need to hide that Candace Bushnell book in the bottom of your beach bag!


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