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Back to School: Essential Reading

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This month, as our children—and some of us—head into the classroom, our Essential Reading picks focus on teaching, education, and some of our best-loved classroom stories to share with the kids.

Violeta Garcia-Mendoza, in Literary Reflections, writes "Michele Morano's Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain, is a collection of personal essays about her time as an English teacher in Spain. I first saw it excerpted in the Best American Essays 2006 last October and anxiously awaited its release. I can honestly say that it's one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read, and one which particularly spoke to me. Each of Morano's essays deals with making a life in a foreign country, becoming intimate with the subtleties of another language, and letting these inform the way we tell and understand the evolving stories of our lives."

E-zine editor Shannon LC Cate has "been reading The Disciplined Mind: Beyond Facts and Standardized Tests, the K-12 Education That Every Child Deserves by Howard Gardner. Gardner is probably best known for his theory of multiple intelligences. This book is somewhat more personal, as Gardner lays out his vision of what a good school and a good curriculum might look like. He chooses the theory of evolution, Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro" and the Holocaust as examples of lessons that can teach students to understand "truth, beauty and the good." Considered too liberal by some and too conservative by others, Gardner's ideas are compelling because they hew to no one's agenda but his own, which is an excellent education for all children and a responsible, thoughtful national culture.

Susan Ito, Fiction Co-Editor and columnist, recommends "A Hope in the Unseen: An American Odyssey from the Inner City to the Ivy League by Ron Suskind. It's powerful, moving, sad and hopeful. Two thumbs up."

Kate Haas, Creative Nonfiction Co-Editor, writes, "One of my very favorite school-related books is E.L. Konigsberg's 1997 Newbery Medal-winner, The View From Saturday. On the surface, it's the story of Mrs. Olinski, who returns 
to the classroom in a wheelchair after a terrible accident, and her sixth grade Academic Bowl team. But it's really about friendship, love of learning, courage, loss, families, and the 
importance of a good tea party. There is something so triumphant and joyful about this novel, and it's written with Konigsberg's usual sly, dry wit and deep compassion. Most 
readers my age associate Konigsberg with our old childhood favorite, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. But she's only gotten better with time."

Suzanne Kamata, Fiction co-editor, offers a slightly subversive pick: "My crush on Sheila Kohler began with Cracks, her novel about a group of women looking back on their days as 12-year-old girls at a boarding school in South Africa. This book has been compared to Lord of the Flies, so you can guess that it's not all about sugar and spice. Kohler writes beautifully about dark and sinister subjects."

And what's a back-to-school reading list without Judy Blume?! Columnist Deesha Philyaw reminds us to read Blume, but also a pair of less familiar writers: "Alongside everything Judy Blume ever wrote, especially Are You There God? It's Me Margaret and Then Again, Maybe I Won't (which is kinda like Margaret from a boy's perspective), I would add a lesser known title, Daddy Was a Number Runner by Louise Meriwether. In one little novel, we get a coming of age story set in Harlem in the 1930s, numerous history lessons, unforgettable characters, and a compelling story. James Baldwin wrote the intro to the book, comparing and contrasting it with another coming of age story (also with a main character named Francie), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a good read, but Daddy Was a Number Runner is the one that keeps me coming back, even as an adult. Rosa Guy's The Friends is another one I revisit, also set in Harlem but in the 1970s."

Caroline M. Grant served on the editorial board of Literary Mama for over ten years, including five as Editor-in-Chief. She is currently Associate Director of the Sustainable Arts Foundation, which provides grants to writers and artists with children.

She is the co-editor of two anthologies: The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat (Roost Books, 2013) and Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life (Rutgers University Press, 2008). Her column, Mama at the Movies, ran on Literary Mama for six years; she has published essays in a number of other journals and anthologies.

She lives in San Francisco with her husband and two sons; she writes about food and family on her blog and at Learning to Eat. Visit her website for more information, including clips from her radio and television events.

Caroline is former editor-in-chief for Literary Mama.

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