As we step into summertime, it’s easy for students and educators to fall out of our routines with so much free time and so many distractions. I spent many summers as a child lost in books that were too “grown up” for me and I’m thankful that I had access to books and a passion for reading at a young age. But I didn’t always understand the true power of reading and literacy. Reading had started out as a huge challenge for me in the first grade, it took my grandma only 6 months to ensure that I would become a great reader by encouraging me, working with me, and reading to me. Her love and patience helped me to become a great reader by the end of the 1st grade.
Once I got the basics of literacy down, I began to realize the power of those words that were printed on the pages. They weren’t just words, they were vehicles that could transport me to another world, separate from what I was living and going through as a child. As I got older, I found books which not only brought me into the writer’s world, but also helped me to expand my mind and become a better person because of the knowledge contained on their pages. Long before music, books were my first love.
For this column, I’m going to highlight 3 books for mid-high-level readers as well as a bilingual children’s book series. Three out of the four were originally written in a language other than English. Many of you may already be familiar with them. If so, I highly recommend revisiting them from time to time for the soul food that they can provide. While your students will benefit from their knowledge, we can all take away from the social and personal gems that they offer. Each of these books offers perspective into ourselves, our consciousness, and a path to living a more fulfilled life. Here are my picks for the summer:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
At just 167 pages, the messages in The Alchemist were able to have an incredible impact on my life. Originally written in Portuguese by famed author Paulo Coelho, this international bestseller has been translated into over 80 different language and holds the Guinness World Record for most translated book by any author who is still living. In my mind, having your work requested to be translated into another language, so that others can receive the powerful messages, is one of the greatest honors that any book or author could receive.
This Alchemist is about love, perseverance, letting go of “what isn’t right,” and finding a way to fulfill your “personal legend”. The book takes us on Santiago’s journey across Southern Spain and Northern Africa. While first content to live the simple life which he had been accustomed to, a series of seemingly random events takes Santiago on the voyage of a lifetime. In the process of this journey and his search for treasure, love, and destiny, Santiago learns much more than he expected. This book changed the way I perceived my life and the challenges I was facing at the time. It’s definitely worth revisiting, no matter how many times you’ve read it.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
This book centers around changing our mentality in how we view ourselves and the world around us. Originally written in Spanish and based on ancient Toltec wisdom, Don Miguel Ruiz lays out the four foundations for living a more fulfilled life. In doing this, he asks us to shed the layers of crud that society and the world have lumped upon us. The book deeply addresses how we internalize so much of the actions of others, when, in reality, they are living through their own battles, struggles, and emotions. I had already unknowingly adapted many of these agreements to my school presentations, but reading this particular book helped to validate what I try to convey to students.
Without going too much into the detail of the book, The Four Agreements are based on these four pillars:
- 1. Be Impeccable with Your Word – While the standard English definition and understanding of impeccable is to be faultless, Don Miguel goes deeper in this first agreement. It literally means, don’t use your words to hurt others or hurt yourself with negative self-talk. He addresses how powerful our words can be on those who we care about, on ourselves, and on those we may come across on a daily basis.
- 2. Don’t Take Anything Personally – We’re all going through a struggle. Each of us have fears and doubts that have been attached to us since early childhood. It’s in our societal nature to internalize and take things personally. Our ego demands it of us. But each of us live in our own “dreams”, our own worlds. How someone treats you is not a reflection of you, but of what they have going on in their own minds.
- 3. Don’t Make Assumptions – Assuming things can be devastating. It causes our minds to race through many potential possibilities, and depending on how we feel about ourselves, it can often go straight to the negative. We accomplish nothing, waste an incredible amount of brain power, and hurt our relationships with others when we assume.
- 4. Always Do Your Best – No matter what, always do your best. As long as you do your best in any given scenario, then you can be content and keep the monster of negative self-talk out of your mind and heart. You can only do what you are actually capable of in that moment, as long as you do that then not only will you feel better, but you will continue to strive to do your best in whichever scenario or life struggle that comes your way.
While this is a basic synopsis, the book does a great job of giving us the tools to implement them into our worlds. This isn’t a one-and-done book, it’s one that should be read over and over as we find our way to embodying The Four Agreements into our daily lives.
1491 by Charles C. Mann
1491 was recommended to me by an immigrant rights activist for whom I have a great deal of respect. The year 1491, while being the year before Columbus stumbled across the Caribbean Islands, is an analogy for everything indigenous before the arrival of the European colonizers. It offers deep insight to indigenous peoples and practices while going beyond the stories that many of us are told in school. It addresses the massive civilizations that existed and how so many people lost their lives, and the ability to tell their truths, upon the arrival of the Europeans. This 470-page book of research is deep in its analysis of finding the truth of how the Indigenous peoples of the Americas were able to survive and thrive long before the arrival of the first Europeans.
As the struggle to revive and keep indigenous languages alive is sweeping across the US and Canada, it’s important to understand the reasons of why colonization is intent on destroying language and culture. 1491 offers a fresh historical perspective of Indigenous life in this entire hemisphere while also being quite blunt about the ways in which white supremacy has permeated and distorted the scientific, archaeological, anthropological, and educational communities. This, in turn, has led to the many myths of indigenous peoples being pushed upon our students and society in general. 1491 helps to continue the process of setting the record straight.
The Avian Kingdom book series by Karen Chacek
Originally written in Spanish and interpreted into English, this Pre-K to grade 4 award-winning children’s book series by Mexico City native Karen Chacek combines kindness, family values, environmental stewardship, and dual literacy all in one package. There are currently 6 stories in the series, with each of the six having a Spanish and English counterpart, for a total of 12 books.
In the Avian Kingdom world, the feathered children of Captain Eagle, Dr. Hoots, and the other characters are put into situations where they must make decisions based on the morals which they had been taught. Each story touches on a different theme which many children are experiencing today. Throughout their adventures, the birds and their families face many challenges in a way that makes it easy for students to analyze and decide about what they would do in the given situation.
The books also come with games, cut-outs, and a codex for interpreting the Avian Kingdom language and alphabet. The codex of the bird language helps students to stay connected to language learning and code breaking while being drawn into the plots. I have worked with the makers of the series during their live presentations while reading to children in Texas border towns and hospitals. The students are drawn to the characters and their stories and can critically discuss the decisions and outcomes that are presented in the books. For a knockout children’s combo centered around values, discussion, fun, language, and the environment, the Avian Kingdom is at the top of my list of summer reading suggestions for younger students.
Finding time to maintain our summer reading habits can be quite challenging. Each of these books, while on various levels of the reading spectrum, will have you and/or your students asking for more and looking for other works which fill you with the same spirit. Knowledge is power, dual literacy is power, and these books are a few of the spaceships which propel us into other worlds and new ways of knowing. Much love and have a great summer! —GL