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A Look on Books what's your story?

Created by Karen Li

Featuring Nicholas Neese, Shannon Vakili, Susan Wilson and Randy Berner

Nicholas Neese, World History & Economics/US Government teacher
[Books] tend to be my escape from technology and a way to turn my brain off into a more imaginative space rather than being so rigid and focused.

As a kid, Neese said he read frequently and enjoyed series such as "Harry Potter" and "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

Neese's Childhood Reads

Neese said that even now, the important idea of community that he received from reading Harry Potter stays with him, and he strives to incorporate it to create a safe space in his classroom.

I advocate to my students a lot about building a strong community of people, and I think that’s more valuable than a lot of other things because sometimes you need people to support you. Remembering the books, any time they [the characters in "harry potter"] didn’t have community was when they had the most problems.

Neese said he mainly enjoys historical books, meaning either historical fiction with an interpretation of historical events, or nonfiction to explore deeper into historical topics.

Cat's Cradle

by Kurt Vonnegut

A satirical science fiction novel about the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.

Neese said he first read this book for a college assignment, where students could choose from a list of options to relate to the Cold War in US history specifically.

It shined a light on how greedy and negative some people were in that process and how [it] led to the Cold War. I think it’s reflective of what’s happening today – how different governments or different people can choose things that help them but ultimately hurt other people.

White rage

by Carol Anderson

Nonfiction book that describes the history in different parts of black America that were impacted by white hatred towards the black people who lived there. It takes different periods from post-slavery and Reconstruction to the Great Migration, the civil rights movement and even modern times.

Neese said he especially enjoys the raw, honest portrayal of the ugly parts of American history.

I like that it calls out history for what it is.

Neese said he likes that these books provide a deeper, more comprehensive and thorough access to information that may not necessarily come through other mediums.

textbooks, while relevant and important, don’t focus as deep as I might want on certain issues and topics, so I enjoy those books because I can get a fuller story and really capture what was happening at the time from a perspective that’s not my own.

A Case for Audio Books:

Finally, Neese spoke his mind on the merits of audio books and their validity as medium of reading and receiving information.

I would argue [that] yes, audio books should be considered real books. As a teacher and – I would imagine – as students who are busy all the time, having an audio book, you can just pop it in. You don’t always get to retain it as easily, but it’s a good way to interpret new information that someone put together. I have audio books that I listen to on the way to work, because I have 30 minutes, so why not listen to a chapter of a book?
Shannon Vakili, Librarian
[I like] stories that demonstrate the importance of compassion. We’re so complex and it’s really important to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes or think of things from outside your own perspective, which isn’t easy to do. [One thing] in stories that resonate with me is the idea that there are a lot of different sides to stories.

Vakili said she enjoys realistic fiction because she feels that she can easily relate to the characters and situations in those books. She especially likes books told from multiple perspectives for their illustration of empathy and compassion.

Reading can be really fulfilling – intellectually but also emotionally.

As a librarian, Vakili said that though she has always enjoyed reading, doing this job has greatly expanded her awareness of the valuable role that books play for everyone. In addition to her personal enjoyment, working in the library has expanded her appreciation of the importance of books and stories.

A Place for Us

by Fatima Farheen Mirza

A story of an Indian-American Muslim family, who gathers to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia's wedding. The youngest of the siblings, Amar, reunites with his family after three years of estrangement, forcing the family to confront the identity conflict between loyalty to culture and tradition and a commitment to authenticity.
It’s a really good story about love in different types of relationships: between parents and children and siblings. There’s exploration of identity and culture and the immigrant experience.

All We Have Left

by Wendy Mills

A story told from the perspectives and different time periods of two girls, Jesse and Alia, who were impacted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Alia was 16 during the event, when she was trapped in a building when the planes hit. Jesse lost her brother to the attacks, and as a 16-year-old in the present day, she is still dealing with the grief and pain of the aftermath.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

Set in late 17th century England, Katherine "Kit" Tyler leaves her home in the Caribbean to live with her relatives after her parents' death. She struggles to fit into the constraints of the strict Puritan community and instead finds friendship with an old Quaker woman who is known as the Witch of Blackbird Pond.

Growing up, Vakili said she first read this book in 7th grade for her history class and fell in love with it, going on to reread it periodically throughout different points in her life. To this day, it is one of her favorites.

Vakili especially admires the main character in the story, Kit Tyler, and believes that Kit's strength of character is one of the main reasons she continues to come back to this story, even as an adult.

She’s young and doesn’t fit in but tries to. She’s growing and learning and kind and open and seeking truth for her friend. That spirit she has can’t be crushed and her desire to seek justice and truth... she’s unwavering and courageous.

The Book of Unknown Americans

by Cristina Henríquez

After Maribel suffers a near-fatal accident, the Riveras move to America in hopes of a brighter future. Mayor Toro's family moved from Panamá fifteen years ago. Love begins to blossom between the two, but beyond a love story, it is a story of the immigrant experience and what it means to be American.
Stories connect us to each other and we can find stories to relate to that can be really helpful in our own lives. If we can open ourselves up to thinking from other people’s perspectives, it will help us connect with each other more and forgive ourselves and others more for things that people do and may not be aware of.
Susan Wilson, World Literature teacher
Since you can’t time-travel or journey everywhere, books give you a window to the world.

Wilson considers herself a "self-professed book pimp" due to her lifelong love for books (since she started reading at age 4!) and enthusiasm for helping others find their love for reading. In her World Literature classes, she assigns an individual book report to students, requiring them to choose a book to read and write a book report about per semester. She loves helping her students find a book that will hopefully reinforce their love for reading or introduce them to the pleasures of it.

Over the past 5 years, students and I brainstorm ways to unplug from technology and social media, put themselves in a bubble, and get engrossed in a book. It’s getting harder for us all – even bookworms like me – to carve out time for books, turn off our phones, and make appointments with ourselves to read.

What is your favorite book of all time?

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

Set during the Ethiopian Civil War, the story follows Marion and Shiva Stone, twin brothers born from a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon and orphaned by their mother's death and father's disappearance. Both share the same passion for medicine and go on to become rival doctors.

What book do you think everyone should read?

Educated by Tara Westover

In this memoir, Westover recounts her journey of self-discovery and independence from her family in a beautifully relevant coming-of-age story that emphasizes the importance of taking control of your own life.

What book have you reread the most?

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Set in New England during the Civil War era, the story covers the journey of the March sisters: headstrong Jo, warm Meg, stubborn Amy, and frail Beth. They are devoted to each other as sisters and navigate life together.

What book has had the deepest impact on you?

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

As a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to defend those most in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children. Walter McMillian, a young man receiving the death sentence for a murder he insisted he didn't commit, was the subject of one of his first cases.

What is a book that made you cry?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Set in Afghanistan throughout the Soviet invasion to Taliban reign to post-Taliban recovery, this gripping tale follows Mariam and Laila, two women who are married to the same husband. Brought on by their struggle to survive and find happiness, they form a beautiful bond amidst suffering and turmoil.

If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

In antebellum America, Huckleberry Finn recounts his adventures with runaway slave Jim as they travel down the Mississippi River.

What is a book you couldn't stop thinking about after finishing it?

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

In this memoir, former marine and Yale Law School graduate J.D. Vance shares his experience growing up in Kentucky with his family's Appalachian values, offering insight on the struggles of the white working-class in America.

Wilson invites you to swing by her classroom anytime to check out her bookshelf !

Randy Berner, Librarian
I think it’s important for people to read so that they can use their mind to create an escape, rather than have a motion picture or TV create that for them. When you’re reading a story, either fiction or nonfiction, you have to conjure all that up, and I think that’s important for us all.

Berner said that his mom has always been a big reader, so he grew up in a house filled with books. In his house in Idaho, he has a library with a collection of books he's acquired largely from thrift stores. When he vacations there, he enjoys spending time making his way through these books that fill his library.

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. (goodreads.com)

Berner claims this as his favorite fiction book of all time. He said that after reading it for the first time back in high school, he's kept it around as his go-to book to reread on occasion. When he graduated from college, he and a friend biked around in Europe for three months. Because they figured it would be difficult to find English books to read there, they both brought a few paperbacks with them, and Berner brought The Grapes of Wrath. When the weather was bad or they were stuck in one place, that was the book he read.

I think it’s such an important moment in our country’s history, when people were really struggling. There’s a lot of that that’s still happening today but at the same time our world is so different than when so many people were suffering so much and trying to keep their family together. Most of that book has to do with family, which is really touching for me.

Having reread this book at several different points throughout his life, Berner said he finds that his perspective of the story has shifted with his changing definition of family. Now, as a parent of two daughters rather than a high school student, he identifies much more acutely with the situation of the characters in the book.

As you grow, family is always important, but your concept of family changes greatly from being a child to someone who’s left the nest as a young adult and then as a parent. As a parent, it’s so hard to imagine being in that situation where you have kids and the idea that you might not make it.

The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906

by Philip Fradkin

The first indication of the prolonged terror that followed the 1906 earthquake occurred when a ship steaming off San Francisco's Golden Gate "seemed to jump clear out of the water". This gripping account of the earthquake, the devastating firestorms that followed, and the city's subsequent reconstruction vividly shows how, after the shaking stopped, humans, not the forces of nature, nearly destroyed San Francisco in a remarkable display of simple ineptitude and power politics. (goodreads.com)

Berner said he used this book to write his Master's thesis, which focused on the segregation of Japanese-American students following the earthquake, and so this book has remained close to his heart since.

Looking for Alaska

by John Green

Berner said John Green is one of his favorite YA authors.

Miles "Pudge" Halter heads to the Culver Creek Boarding School in pursuit of adventure to break up the monotony of his safe but boring life at home and finds it in Alaska Young.

It was a poignant story about friendship and being a teenager and finding your identity.

Room on the broom

by Julia Donaldson

Berner's favorite bedtime story to read to his two daughters.

It’s all in verse and very funny. The kids used to love [me and my wife] making the noises of the different animals in the story.

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Karen Li
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