Shelf Life: Teachers Reveal Their Favorite Books

As students, families, and faculty prepare to head back to school, educators from Huntington Union Free School District reflect on the value of reading, both in and out of the classroom.

First up is Dianna Cazzalino, who is entering her ninth year of teaching English at Huntington High School.

Q: What book are you most looking forward to teaching this year?

I’m most excited to explore Refugee by Alan Gratz. It’s going to be my first year teaching it.

Q: What recent books would you recommend students read on their own/for fun?

With To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway, Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is what I’d recommend. This is especially relevant, since all the freshmen in Huntington read To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s a great read for students and adults.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing students take away from reading?

Compassion for others.

 

Ken Donovan is also set to begin his ninth year at Huntington High School. His primary course is AP United States History, while he occasionally teaches other classes on American history or government as well.

Q: What is a book you read as a child or young adult that stayed with you?

While in college, I read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Richard Wright’s Native Son. Both books—along with my life experiences, US/world politics, and other reading at the time—caused me to fundamentally rethink the way I viewed and approached the world. For two books written in the 1930s, it was like they were both written for the moment I was living. Both books changed who I was and, in some ways, even reoriented the course my life was on.

Q: What recent books would you recommend students read on their own/for fun?

The number one recommendation I’ve been giving to students (or anyone looking for a good book) over the last few years has been Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. While I have a particular interest in race in US history, this book is for anyone. It’s a mixture of memoir and reinterpretation of the American exceptionalist narrative and essential to understanding race in America. My description cannot do the book justice. Suffice it to day it is an incredibly moving narrative and one that should provoke readers to seriously reflect on the nature of our country and our own individual role in America’s racial injustice. I took the step this year of assigning it for the summer in AP US History because I’ve been wanting to read and discuss it with students for a while.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing students take away from reading?

I’m not sure I can pick on valuable thing, though I think my top two might be that reading allows people to experience other worlds—other places, time periods, and lives—and that books have the ability to challenge or disrupt one’s world view. Sometimes these two aspects of reading work together; the exploration of another world causes the reader to rethink their own ideas about the world. I think reading is fundamental to personal growth, understanding the world around us, and self-actualization. And let’s not forget that in our increasingly noisy world, a book can be a quiet but energizing refuge (and way more fulfilling).

 

Victoria Geier is entering her 11th year at Huntington High School. This year, she’s teaching AP English Language and Composition, as well as a senior elective on science fiction and fantasy literature.

Q: What book are you most looking forward to teaching this year?

This year I am undertaking a brand-new senior elective for Huntington, called “Science Fiction/Fantasy.” I helped build the curriculum, so I’m very proud of the course and can’t wait to tackle something new. For that particular class, we will work mostly on short stories, so I’m very excited to teach “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” by Ursula K. LeGuin. I’m Also excited to teach “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain,” by Neil Gaiman; “Robot Dreams,” by Isaac Asimov, and “Before I Wake,” by Jim Cort.

Q: What is your go-to book recommendation for students? For adults?

I don’t think any student should leave school without reading Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. I know that sounds like a generic answer because it so often is taught in high school, but that’s for good reason! It really discussed the human condition, good vs. evil, nature vs. nurture, and a slew of other thought-provoking topics.

For adults and students, I’d recommend Flight by Sherman Alexie. It’s told from the perspective of a troubled teenager and can be very heavy at times; however, I think it’s worth it for adults to step back and remember the difficulties of being young, and for teenagers to hear a narrator who sounds just like them.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing students take away from reading?

I’m a big believer that fiction transports us to incredible places and increases our imagination—whether it’s to space, back in time, or simply standing in someone else’s shoes. But I also think that nonfiction can be equally powerful, and the AP course has really taught me that. That kind of reading broadens our vocabulary, increases our knowledge of history, and improves our own writing.

 

Susan Graber spent 13 years teaching elementary general music in the district, and now teaches chorus at Finley Middle School.

Q: What recent book would you recommend students read on their own/for fun?

A book I read recently for young adults that I loved was called Things not Seen, by Andrew Clements. It is about a boy who wakes up one morning with a disease and how he, with the help of friends and family, overcomes challenges and searches for a cure.

Q: What is a book you read as a child or young adult that stayed with you?

I really enjoyed The Giver by Lois Lowry as a kid, as well as World War II fiction and historical fiction (books about Anne Frank, American Girl’s Meet Molly series, etc.).

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing students take away from reading?

When I’m reading, I look for a book that fit my mood or what’s going on in my life. Sometimes I just want a quick read of something fun. Other times I’m looking to learn new things or need a humorous book about life’s challenges. I keep a “Goodreads” account to remember books I’ve heard about and get new suggestions. Remember that reading for fun is supposed to be fun, so find something that makes you feel something.

 

HUFSD chairperson of humanities, Joseph Leavy has taught social studies in the Huntington school district since 1997. He also anticipates teaching a course in philosophy this fall.

Q: What book are you most looking forward to teaching this year?

Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder. It surveys the history of Western thought through the eyes of a young Scandinavian girl whose mind develops along with the ambiguous questions she is posed through a mysterious teacher. We will use this mystery text in the philosophy class as my students and I grapple with understanding what is good, right, and real.

Q: What is a book you read as a child or young adult that stayed with you?

As a young adult, I read The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas and the book’s theme of redemption stuck with me. However, when I subsequently read Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy the same message of redemption was refined as the thread of revenge dissipated.  I am re-reading Resurrection now to rediscover that message: personal redemption devoid of—or in spite of—negative motivation.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing students take away from reading?

Traveling beyond the present—to the future, or past—through another person’s lens to experience perceptions and realities with the potential of moving us to a better place in ourselves, with our closest relationships, and with our community and world.

 

Patrice Monks, is entering her 22nd year as a fourth grade teacher in the Huntington school district. She currently teaches at Jack Abrams STEM Magnet School.

Q: What book are you most looking forward to teaching this year?

I teach using a series called Journeys, which has many stories in it. Each selection gives the children a taste of different types of writing, text structure, illustrations, sentence structure and genres. I look forward to introducing them to wonderful stories that will inspire them to read similar stories on their own.

Q: What recent book would you recommend students read on their own/for fun?

I absolutely love Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea. It’s a wonderful book to read with your class or your 10-14 year-old child because of the potential for many deep and meaningful discussions on issues that are relevant to older children and young adults. Hearing the events in the story as told through the perspective of various characters is what helps my students understand that the same event can look very different through the eyes of a different person. An incredibly valuable life lesson! I have never had a student who didn’t love this book when I read it aloud to my class.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing students take away from reading?

Reading allows students to enter a new world, a world they may never have the opportunity to experience in reality. It provides children with time to be on their own, with nothing but words to entertain them. No technology, no games, no flashing lights and sounds. Just words. I’m finding that it’s harder and harder for students to get lost in the simplistic, yet fascinating world of a book. For some students, independent reading time is pure torture—they’d rather do anything other than read a book, even though the quality and quantity of book choice is so vast these days. I hope that my students always take with them the feeling they get when they don’t want me to stop reading to them, or when they find a book that they love and they can’t put it down. I hope they find the book series that takes them away and leaves them wanting more. Reading opens up their world. The most valuable thing is that they discover that!

 

As Kristina Morell enters her fifth year with the district, she will teach 10th and 11th grade English, as well as AP Research, at Huntington High School.

Q: What book are you most looking forward to teaching this year?

One of my favorite books to teach is The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. I have the kids act out the play and they really get into the different characters. They’re always surprised that the Salem Witch Trials are a real part of our history!

Q: What is a book you read as a child or young adult that stayed with you?

When I was in 10th grade, I read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. It taught me how to appreciate the little things in life. I also had a unique connection to the book because at the time my Grandma had ALS and was dealing with many of the same things as the main character, Morrie.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing students take away from reading?

Empathy and understanding. In today’s world, more people need it! The ability to connect to what they’re reading and either feel like they’re not alone or really learn and understand someone else can change how they treat other people. I love talking about literature with my kids. I love listening to their stories about how they connect to characters or how they feel about decisions that were made.

 

Cindy Tietjen teaches library in Jefferson Elementary and Southdown Elementary schools. In her over 20-year career she has worked in three districts. She will retire at the end of this year.

Q: What book are you most looking forward to teaching this year?

I always look forward to starting the school year with a book called Rain School, by James Rumford.  It is about a school in Africa that the students have to rebuild every year due to the rainy season. It highlights all the learning that takes place using real world skills—measuring, planning, working as a team; truly inspirational!

Q: What are your goals in introducing students to books and the school library?

My goal has always been to give students a love of the written word.  I tell them if they don’t love reading it is because they haven’t found the right medium, genre, author. There is something for everyone. As my students become proficient readers, I introduce them to some of my favorite chapter books. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, The One and Only Ivan, Wonder, Charlotte’s Web… there are so many.

Q: What do you think is the most valuable thing students take away from reading?

Students gain a knowledge of the global world without leaving the confines of the room through reading.  Even if you are unable to travel, your mind takes you to the far reaches of the planet.  Readers are also writers, increased vocabulary and fluency come with practice. I am with Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” It can be digital, paper bound or even a book on tape—they all stimulate the mind and encourage learning!

 

HuntingtonNow.com supports literacy efforts. If you have book-related information you’d like to share, email Molly Prep.

Shelf Life: Lynn Hefele, Literature to Exercise Body and Mind

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.