Literary Highlights: 5 Standouts and Notable Mentions of 2023

In the famous words of Julius Caesar, “I came, I saw, I conquered” my New Year’s reading resolution of 2023 of reading two books per week. With a new year approaching, here’s a recap of a few of my favorite reads: 

Note: I’ve chosen to highlight a particularly memorable read from the genres I typically read (history, parenting, memoirs, self-improvement, and fiction).

History- The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote (Elaine F. Weiss)

I may be fitting the “history-nerd” stereotype here, but The Woman’s Hour was a can’t-put-it down thriller for me. Even though I knew the outcome (women got the right to vote), Weiss’s reconstructing of the intense political struggle for suffrage had me on the edge of my seat. It was both a broad overview of the women’s movement and a detailed account of the culminating ratification vote in Tennessee.

Her meticulous research brought to life the complex dynamics between suffragists, anti-suffragists, and politicians. She captivates readers by highlighting the intersectionality within the movement, the complexity of various strategies utilized, and the tireless efforts in the face of opposition. Overall, The Woman’s Hour is an insightful and compelling read about the relentless pursuit of women to attain voting rights that I recommend especially for history teachers looking to improve their coverage of women’s history.

Similar to: Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All (Martha S. Jones)

Runner-Up: Desk 88: Eight Progressive Senators Who Changed America (Sherrod Brown)

Parenting: French Kids Eat Everything (Karen Le Billon)

This year, I’ve enjoyed books that explore Americans raising children abroad or immigrants navigating parenthood in America. I have found the cultural differences in parenting to be fascinating, freeing, and empowering in my parenthood journey. In my all-too-typical struggle to get my toddlers to try new foods and eat anything green, this title grabbed my attention.

I learned from Le Billon’s practical approach and description of the mostly unwritten rules around food in France and enjoyed reading about her faux pas as she navigated French culture as a transplant. When I implemented some of her tips, including Taste Training, and scripts for when I changed our eating habits, I felt more confident in my approach and my kids adapted fairly quickly. Overall, French Kids Eat Everything is an interesting read about how parents in France instill healthy attitudes about and habits around food and is recommended for parents hoping to raise adventurous eaters.

Similar to: Bringing Up Bébe (Pamela Druckerman)

Runner-Up: Good Inside: A Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be (Becky Kennedy)

Memoir: Solito (Javier Zamora)

As someone who tries to stay apprised of current events, I attempt to be intentional about inserting humanity back into the onslaught of the difficult and disturbing news cycle. The political debate over American immigration issues is extremely contentious and I find that the data flaunted and antagonistic rhetoric has often left me feeling overwhelmed and numb to the crisis.

 I picked up Solito when my local library did a community book club reading event. Zamora recounts the story of his traumatic migration from El Salvador to the United States. His poetic style of writing drew me in as I learned of the difficulties he faced along the journey. Overall, Solito is an emotional read about a young boy’s attempt to reunite with his parents across the U.S. border and is recommended to those hoping to understand the impact of border crossings on the individuals pursuing a better life.

Similar to: A Thousand Miles to Freedom: My Escape from North Korea (Eunsun Kim)

Runner-Up: Angela Davis: An Autobiography (Angela Davis)

Self-Improvement: How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be (Katy Milkman)

In the self-help category, I can be a little critical of books that promise quick-fixes or solutions guaranteed to increase productivity and achievements. However, Milkman’s How to Change, provided strategic science-based methods to overcome the obstacles of impulsivity, procrastination, and forgetfulness.

The inclusion of case studies were so memorable that I found myself regularly sharing the information I gleaned with my friends and family. Overall, How to Change would be a great read for those looking to kickstart their new year with habits that will actually stick.

Similar to: Atomic Habits (James Clear)

Runner-Up: The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System- And How to Fix it (Natalie Wexler)

Fiction: The Reading List (Sara Nisha Adams)

I have always enjoyed reading books where the chapters alternate between the perspectives of different characters. In The Reading List, Adams touches on topics of loneliness and community, grief and joy, and friendship that transcends typical boundaries.

A list of books turns up in various places around a London suburb. Readers are injected into the lives of Mukesh, a recent Indian widower, and Aleisha, a part-time teenage librarian, as they navigate many personal and familial struggles. Overall, The Reading List is a unique novel that would be enjoyed by those looking for a heartwarming story about the ways that people can support each other through difficult times.

Similar to: The Sentence (Louise Erdrich)

Runner-Up: Glass Houses (Louise Penny)

If you are like me and are considering setting a New Year’s reading resolution, I hope this roundup of my favorite reads was helpful as you make your reading choices for 2024.

For more book recommendations, check out our Executive Director, Zach Cote’s top 5 books from 2022.

New Resource Alert: Quantitative Analysis

Today’s blog comes to us from Annie Jenson, Thinking Nation’s Director of Curriculum, who has been hard at work this summer creating a variety of resources for our teachers:

We’ve all heard some iteration of this quote by Mark Twain, “Facts are stubborn little things, but statistics are pliable.” And in an era where stats and data are so easily accessible and then disseminated, the role of the historian and educator has become even more integral to a functioning democratic society.

Our mission at Thinking Nation may be simple – “To cultivate thinking citizens” – but our work is complex. Part of developing critical thinking skills in students must include education and practice in analyzing data. 

Over the summer, we have created a tool to help teachers do just that. We are calling it our “Quantitative Analysis Formative Assessment.”

Our newest resource is a 15-30 minute activity in which students are first exposed to data. After a brief analysis, students evaluate the accuracy of conclusions based on the information provided in the data. To conclude, students justify their answer.

We utilize “Weighted Multiple Choice” (WMC) in this assessment in which there is only one incorrect answer and the other options are ranked. As described by historian Bruce Vansledright, WMCs allow us to “retain some scoring efficiencies while assessing much more complex ideas and interpretations. These items also do improved justice to the [history] domain’s complexity…” 

The inclusion of WMCs in the classroom not only does “justice to the domain’s complexity” it also fuels increased classroom discussion. As answers are correct to a differing degree and students must justify their answer, there is ample opportunity for debate. Rather than a student feeling embarrassed from choosing an incorrect answer, they feel motivated to defend their choice.

In these discussions, we have witnessed democracy in action. Students make claims, use evidence to support their reasoning, and provide counterarguments to the assessments of their peers. And this is how students become both empowered and capable of engaging in meaningful dialogue outside of the four walls of a classroom.

There are so many ways to misinterpret data. From considering the collection of data, to analyzing whether the data is sufficiently representative, to generalizing information, it is no wonder that the exact same graph can yield wildly different conclusions.

In our Quantitative Analysis Formative Assessment, students are exposed to both accurate conclusions and data misunderstandings. Through this practice, they will become more attuned to the critical way in which statistical information should be evaluated. 

The most polarizing conversations in our nation lately have been political in nature. And there are abundant recent examples of both the misinterpretation and misuse of political data presented. Thus, we especially focused on creating Quantitative Analysis Formative Assessments for students in an American Government course.

In one of our formative assessments (Linked here!), students have the opportunity to consider the balance between civil liberties and national security. The graphs depict American attitudes from 2004 to 2015 on how the government has handled terrorism.

In our WMC, one conclusion states, “Age is the only factor that impacts one’s opinion on U.S. efforts to protect civil liberties.” This is a classic example of misinterpretation. Just because age is the only factor represented, it does not mean that it is the only factor involved. For students who choose this answer, they would receive “0” points, however, the weight of the lesson learned is immeasurable. These students will be much more critical in the future as they consider what data is represented and what data is not included.

We are excited about this new offering to our partner schools as we are continually seeking ways to support the efforts of cultivating thinking citizens!