It’s Officially Summer!

And with that comes summer reading lists. Even though that might seem to be a daunting task, we’d like to make it a bit easier for you and give you some ideas for where to get started.

Elementary School

Mama Does the Mambo  by Katherine Leiner

Following the death of her Papa, Sophia fears that her Mama will never find another dancing partner for Carnival. This book is sure to make you smile in spite of its sad parts, and by the end it’s sure to get you dancing on your own feet!

Love to Langston by Tony Medina

Fourteen poems offer young readers an exciting glimpse into the life of Langston Hughes, one of America’s most beloved poets. Each poem explores important themes in Hughes’s life — his lonely childhood, his love of language and travel, and his dream of writing poetry. Color illustrations throughout and extensive notes at the back of the book expand upon the poems, giving a broader picture of Hughes’s life and the time in which he lived. It’s a really fun read, and it’s written by one of our favorite authors!

My Feet Are Laughing by Lissette Norman

Sadie likes living in her grandmother’s brownstone, where she has her own bedroom and a backyard to play in. She’s full of thoughts and has lots to say about her family and friends, her home, her hair, and her laughing feet that can’t keep still. And when she grows up, she plans on being a poet.
This collection of sixteen exuberant poems in the voice of a young Dominican-American girl and energetic, bright paintings celebrates Sadie’s family and the city around her.
Old Penn Station by William Low
Old Penn Station follows a very specific piece of New York City history, but it’s not just a New York book.  The author’s research carefully addresses the whole history of the building, from construction to destruction, ending with an acknowledgment of its lasting legacy in terms of historical preservation. Spaces can be powerful, and Old Penn Station honors one particular powerful space which is sure to engender discussion about other historical buildings and monuments all across the nation.

Middle School

Howard Thurman’s Great Hope by Kai Jackson Issa

Born in segregated Daytona, Florida, in 1899, Howard Thurman grew up dreaming of a better life a life where his mother and grandmother would not have to cook and clean for other people; a life where he could become a college man, honoring his late father’s wishes and his own dreams. Through hard work, perseverance, and the support of friends and family, young Howard transcends the limits on Negro education in Daytona and earns a scholarship to an out-of-town high school. A moving testament to the bonds of community and the power of faith, Howard Thurman’s Great Hope illuminates the early life of the man who became a seminal civil rights leader and an inspiration to the nation.

Ship of Souls by Zetta Elliott

When Dmitri, an 11-year-old bird watcher and math whiz, loses his mother to breast cancer, he is taken in by Mrs. Martin, an elderly white woman. Unaccustomed to the company of kids his own age, D struggles at school and feels like an outcast until a series of unexpected events changes the course of his life. This book is gripping, and will surely hold your interest until the end!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery. If you aren’t already captivated by this description, then you surely will be when you open the book and find all kinds of fantastical black-and-white illustrations.

High School

Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam edited by Tony Medina and Louis Reyes Rivera

This is a groundbreaking collection, capturing the best new work from the poets who have brought fresh energy, life, and relevance to American poetry. It is as culturally diverse as the nation from which it comes. If you have a soft spot for slam poetry, this is definitely the book for you. The writing is real and raw, and its authenticity makes it all the more moving.

Efrain’s Secret by Sofia Quintero

Ambitious high school senior Efrain Rodriguez dreams of escaping the South Bronx for an Ivy League college like Harvard or Yale. But how is his family going to afford to pay for a prestigious university when Moms has to work insane hours to put food on the table as it is? And Efrain wouldn’t dare ask that good-for-nothing father of his who has traded his family in for younger models. Left with few options, Efrain chooses to do something he never thought he would. He embarks on a double life—honor student by day, drug peddler at night—convinced that by temporarily capitulating to society’s negative expectations of a boy like him, he can eventually defy them.

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Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun: A Personal History of Violence in America by Geoffrey Canada

In his candid and riveting memoir, Geoffrey Canada relives a childhood in which violence stalked every street corner. He was a small boy growing up scared on the mean streets of the South Bronx. His childhood world was one where “sidewalk boys” learned the codes of the block and were ranked through the rituals of fist, stick, and knife. Then the streets changed, and the stakes got even higher.

When Skateboards Will Be Free by Saïd Sayrafiezädeh

Saïd’s Iranian-born father and American Jewish mother had one thing in common: their unshakable conviction that the workers’ revolution was coming. Separated since their son was nine months old, they each pursued a dream of the perfect socialist society. Pinballing with his mother between makeshift Pittsburgh apartments, falling asleep at party meetings, and longing for the luxuries he’s taught to despise, Said waits for the revolution that never, ever arrives. “Soon,” his mother assures him, while his long-absent father quixotically runs as a socialist candidate for president in an Iran about to fall under the ayatollahs. Then comes the hostage crisis. The uproar that follows is the first time Saïd hears the word “Iran” in school. There he is suddenly forced to confront the combustible stew of his identity: as an American, an Iranian, a Jew, a socialist, and a middle-school kid who loves football and video games.

As always, if you’re looking for more help with finding something to read, you can check out our Goodreads page. There, you can find a list of books we’ve read – and loved!

All pictures and descriptions have been taken from their Amazon pages, and have been slightly altered for our purposes.

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Victor LaValle Visits Weil, Gotshal & Manges

by Jenna Danoy, Social Media Marketing Intern

Yesterday, author Victor LaValle visited the interns at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. Victor’s visit kicked off this summer’s Law Firm Reading Series, a program Behind the Book has coordinated for the past four summers. Our Law Firm Reading Series has offered several New York law firms a unique opportunity to engage their employees while supporting literacy in low-income New York City public schools. In the past, we have worked with such firms as Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, and brought in authors like Colson Whitehead, author of The IntuitionistJoshua Ferris, author of The Unnamed;  Jennifer Egan, author of Pulitzer Prize winner A Visit from the Goon Squad;  Karen Russell, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist Swamplandia!Amy Waldman, author of The Submission; and Jim Shepard, author of Project X. This summer, we will also be working with Meg Wolitzer, author of The InterestingsTéa Obreht, author of The Tiger’s Wife; and Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.

The visit included a reading by the author, a question-and-answer session, and a chance for the law interns to get their books signed.

Mr. LaValle read one of his short stories, and then took questions. The piece was of particular interest to his audience – the main character had avoided paying her student loans, and was finally made to pay them back.  He provided answers to questions about writer’s block and the amount of discipline necessary in the writing process.

“Sit down every day and write for one hour,” Mr. LaValle advised. “It is better to have five hundred terrible words that get you somewhere than to have none at all.”

Finally, Mr. LaValle signed their copies of his latest book, The Devil in Silver, and chatted with those who had more questions.

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The Behind the Book Law Firm Reading Series is also a gateway for young professionals to learn more about getting involved with our Young Executive Board. The YEB is an opportunity for young professionals to support literacy, meet other like-minded professionals, and gain experience being on a board without having to make the same time or financial commitment as a regular board member would. If you are, or someone you know would be, interested in getting involved with our Young Executive Board, please contact Mica at micaela@behindthebook.org.

If you are interested in hosting a reading at your place of employment, women’s group, parents’ group, or other group within your firm or corporation, please contact Jo at joumans@behindthebook.org.