Inside SFS

Headspace: Summer Reading

As the last days of school edge closer - less than two weeks! - it is hard to not start peeking toward the summer months. It is around this time every year that the SFS faculty and staff usually picks a summer reading book or books to enjoy collectively. With the diverse range of curriculum work and development we are planning for this summer, we decided not to choose a mandatory read for our staff, but to instead put forward some options that our community might want to delve into without the stress of “required reading.”

With this in mind, I looked to what the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) President, Donna Orem, is recommending (full list here) as well as what our recent Professor-in-Residence, Miguel Lopez, shared with us in the past (two different full lists here and here). As you may remember, Donna spent a day visiting our community earlier this year, and Miguel spent two-and-a-half years partnering with and advising our staff, helping us strengthen our equity-oriented literacy curriculum across the grades, and developing additional integrated PK-8 curriculum centering around social justice.

Based on a broad list of recommendations that Donna recently shared with all NAIS members, here are a few of the books that we feel are most relevant to SFS now. We hope that families will find inspiration in this list.

  • Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant. This is a research-based approach to nurturing creativity, looking deeply at lesser-understood aspects like the hours of practice and hard work behind innovation, and why creativity is as much about the execution as it is about the idea. This book has some fascinating data about why traits we foster at SFS - curiosity, exploration, persistence - are such valuable qualities in the workplaces of the future.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning novel takes an alternate-history approach to the story of two slaves escaping via the Underground Railroad, which is imagined as a literal railroad in this case. Through the use of magical realism, the book leads the reader to reflect not only on the terrible institution of slavery itself, but also the myriad of ways that equally entrenched racism continues to run throughout American society.
  • The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey. An educator, parent, New York Times and Atlantic writer, Lahey reflects on the importance of parents allowing their children to experience failure, make mistakes, and form a genuine, stable sense of self-worth that serves them not only in school, but in life.
  • The Girl With the Brown Crayon: How Children Use Stories to Shape Their Lives by Vivian Gussin Paley. In her final year of teaching, Paley captured the story of one of her students, Reeny, making important discoveries about race, gender, and her own identity, first through her drawings and later through literature studies such as one about author Leo Lionni. While on its surface it’s a memoir of a teacher and student’s journey together, it ties in crucial points about how the ideas of “diversity” and “multiculturalism” can play out in a school setting.

And, of course, we’d never forget the kids! Here are a couple of choices for students in each division to check out. As always, you know your child’s reading and comfort levels best, so please make sure to peruse any book before giving it to your child!


  • Frederick by Leo Lionni. Frederick the mouse may not have the same talents as his friends, but when winter comes, his stories warm their hearts and imaginations. A great reminder of the value of creativity, and that wonderful contributions can come from outside-the-box thinking.
  • Nadia’s Hands by Karen English. Nadia is asked to be a flower girl at her Auntie Laila’s wedding and is thrilled to participate in her Pakistani family’s traditions. When it’s time to return to school, she worries about what her friends will say about the beautiful mehndi on her hands - but learns that being proud of one’s traditions is the most important thing of all. 


  • Shrinking Violet by Cari Best. This story about a shy child who ends up saving her school play is a lovely testament to quiet resilience, and the choice to show compassion.
  • How Many Days To America by Eve Bunting. A realistic fictional account of flight from an island country and immigration to America by boat, through the eyes of a child, with an optimistic ending that will be a good match even for younger readers.
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell. A graphic novel memoir, El Deafo tells the story of Bell losing her hearing at a young age, going to school with a bulky hearing aid strapped to her chest, and starting the search for a true friend.
  • La Mariposa by Francisco Jiménez. In this autobiographical story, Francisco is an immigrant from Mexico trying to adjust to life in an American first grade classroom. He is scolded by his teacher for not speaking English, and feeling overwhelmed, his mind drifts to anything…the caterpillar spinning a cocoon in the corner, or his father picking lettuce to support their family. 


  • My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson. Luke leaves his Iñupiaq name behind when he leaves his Arctic village and travels hundreds of miles with his brothers to boarding school. There, speaking his - or any - native language is forbidden, and students of all backgrounds struggle to find common ground.
  • The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers. Award-winning young adult novelist Myers writes a compelling account of Ali’s childhood as Cassius Clay, his rise to fame as a boxer, his political and civil rights activism, and his battle with Parkinson’s disease.
  • The Day of the Pelican by Katherine Paterson. Meli’s family are Albanians living in Kosovo, and suddenly find themselves homeless and refugees. Their long and arduous journey continues when they’re brought to America by a church group, and find themselves as the only Muslims in a small Vermont town, set against the backdrop of the events of 9/11.

Posted May 28, 2018