What’s on Your Summer Reading List?

KIPP students reading outside of KIPP Bridge Academy in Oakland

By Dave Levin, KIPP Co-Founder

When I was asked to write a post about a summer reading list – I smiled. My love of books started at age 17. Before then it was a very different story.

I learned to read late. No one had to tell me that I was struggling – I was reminded of it every time a teacher asked me to read out loud or when I labored by myself to finish things my classmates seemed to race through. In fourth grade, I began working with a special education teacher, Dr. Jeanette Jansky.

Dr. Jansky changed my life. The most obvious thing she did was teach me to read. The more subtle and profound lesson she taught me was to love the uniqueness of how I learn and that it was possible to get good at things even if they started off hard to do – even very hard to do.

In the summer of 1987, I was a junior in high school and read Crime and Punishment. It changed everything. I loved it. Reading now equaled fun. Something clicked and ever since I’ve usually had a least two books going – one generally work related and one my escape from work. I’m currently reading Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinksy and the mystery Suspect by Robert Crais.

To the reading list. It’s always risky making a short list of books because invariably you’re leaving off something you love and something that represents a deep interest. Also, please note this list reflects my personal choices and not the choices of the KIPP Foundation. With these caveats out of the way, I asked my son Max to pick a number between 1 and 10. He chose 9. I chose some directly related to teaching and others less so. Books are in no particular order.


Summer Reading List

  1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    I try to re-read this book every couple of years and will be doing so again this summer. One of the all-time best-sellers, it follows a young boy on a journey to find his inner voice.
  2. Brain Rules by John Medina
    Dr. Medina’s awesome book about neuroscience altered the way I think about living and teaching. It touches on topics ranging from the effect of exercise and stress on our brains to how to improve people’s attention and memory. Dr. Medina uses everyday examples and accessible language to teach us about 12 essential “Brain Rules.”
  3. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
    So much has been written about this classic – the strength of the individual, the impact of materialism, the battle between good and evil, Ms. Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, etc… The only thing I’ll add is that when we were starting KIPP, we often asked ourselves (and only partly in jest), “What would Howard do?”
  4. Faces at the Bottom of the Well by Derrick Bell
    Professor Bell combines facts and fiction to challenge the way we think about race in America. Many of the essays find Professor Bell vigorously debating Geneva Crenshaw, a fictional civil rights lawyer. Published in 1992, one of the most famous stories, Space Traders, finds aliens offering the United States government unlimited natural resources in exchange for all of its Black citizens.
  5. Maus: A Survivors Tale by Art Spiegelman
    This graphic novel is a great resource for learning and teaching about the Holocaust. It is also a deeply moving memoir. Mr. Spiegelman transforms his family’s story into comic book form. He portrays the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, and the Americans as dogs. Maus was the first graphic novel to win the Pulitzer Prize.
  6. On Beyond Zebra! by Dr. Seuss
    Surprisingly this is one of Dr. Seuss’s less well-known books. Nonetheless it is a standard in many KIPP schools and inspired one of our slogans – going beyond Z. One of the all-time great messages is summed up by Conrad Cornelius O’Donald O’Dell’s friend:
    “In the places I go there are things that I see
    That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.
    I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends.
    My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends.”
    The last three books are the foundational texts for KIPP’s character work:
  7. Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
    Learn about how your explanatory style can determine how you interpret the events of your life. Dr. Seligman introduces us to the 3P’s of our explanatory style – personalization, permanence, and pervasiveness. The book contains a fun “self-test” to determine where you fall on a pessimistic to optimistic scale. Other great resources can be found at www.authentichappiness.org.
  8. Mindset by Carol Dweck
    Do you believe that intelligence and talent is a fixed quantity or can be grown through effort? Dr. Dweck’s research proves the latter. Parents and teachers interested in the concept of a growth mindset and how we can cultivate it in our kids should pick up this book. Throughout, Dr. Dweck weaves in every day examples with her research.
  9. A Primer on Positive Psychology by Christopher Peterson
    Dr. Peterson’s book provides a comprehensive overview of the key findings of positive psychology ranging from the research on character strengths to flow to the creation of positive institutions.  There are tons of interesting practical exercises that people can do to increase their overall sense of well-being.


We’d love to see your set of nine reading selections and hear your thoughts about the above books. Email me or reach out to me on Twitter (@Dave_KIPP)!