A Winter Break Reading List for Every Mood

Topics: Education Policy

The best part about lazy vacation days? Reading. If you disagree, I will somewhat accept Netflix/Hulu/Amazon Prime/name-your-favorite-platform marathons, but for the most part, I will still think you’re a little wrong. In light of compromise—hello, upcoming presidential election year—I’ve added one mini-series to my list of winter reading. While last year’s list focused heavily on education reads, this year’s list takes a broader, social policy approach and includes options for the whole family. Finally, from one book lover to (hopefully) many others, do what you do best and send me your recommendations.

If you want an education drama.

the-prize The Prize, Dale Russakoff

A little more than a year and a half ago, The New Yorker published a fascinating piece by Dale Russakoff on the attempt at reforming Newark’s schools, supported by Superintendent Cami Anderson, Senator Cory Booker, and Governor Chris Christie, and bankrolled by Mark Zuckerberg to a tune of $100 million. I was thrilled when I learned that she went on to publish a book on the topic earlier this year. If it’s anything like the New Yorker piece, it’s a deep dive into the background of Anderson, Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg and the circumstances that led to what many see as an epic failure.

Read if you need a refresher on how money and good intentions alone don’t transform complex systems.

If you want to challenge yourself.

between-the-world-and-me Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

I first heard about Ta-Nehisi Coates when I began my long and unfinished journey into better understanding cultural competency, identity, and institutionalized racism, three areas that, interestingly enough, I anticipate are likely drivers behind the struggles seen in numbers one and three on this list. Coates’ work has challenged me and led me through some powerful self-reflection, not to mention lively dinnertime conversations. In fact, I recommend taking a time out from reading this immediately to Google any of his work. Written as a letter from Coates to his son, this National Book Award winner arrives at a timely moment in our country’s history.

Read if you want to better understand how race and identity shape our experiences.

If you want to learn about something new.

Show-Me-A-Hero Show Me a Hero, HBO

Nearing the top of my list of shows to binge watch is the six part miniseries Show Me a Hero, a miniseries set in Yonkers, New York, based on Lisa Belkin’s non-fictional book (See? Books really are where it’s at.) about the tension between a white middle-class neighborhood and a newly mandated public housing development. While I spend my days neck-deep in education policy, I also know that there are so many social policy issues that are directly linked to this field. I don’t often have the luxury of digging into the stories behind those issues, so even though this will only begin to scratch the surface of the complexity of housing policies, it’s a good step out of my edu-comfort zone.

Watch if you never thought you would willingly learn about housing policy (because if you would, you’ve probably already seen it).

If you want a feel-good story.

zen-shorts Zen Shorts, Jon Muth

The last two on my list take a significant turn to the light-hearted. What’s better than a story about a panda named Stillwater gently imparting life lessons on his new neighbors? That’s right, nothing. Don’t shy away just because it’s a picture book! Back when I was teaching, I loved reading this one just as much as, if not more than, my students.

Read if you want a story about the importance of kindness and generosity that won’t get the Grinch’s theme song stuck in your head.

If you want something adorable. 

the-mitten The Mitten, Jan Brett

Let’s be honest, this needs no explanation; The Mitten is the perfect book for winter. If you’ve read it, I’m willing to bet just seeing the cover gives you warm fuzzies. If you haven’t, just wait for the excruciating cuteness and the surprise twist at the end.

Read  if…seriously, just read it. It takes less than five minutes.


Cue the countdown and get those library holds ready for some lazy (and hopefully at least a little snowy) vacation reading!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!