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WestportCURATES March 2018: Rebecca Marsick


Reading has always been a passion of mine. As a child, my parents read me every Dr. Seuss book, including Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?, which, as family legend goes, has a character who was named after my father. Growing up, I read every Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins book, all of Judy Blume, and many Choose Your Own Adventures. My world has always been one of books, and I am constantly amazed at the depth of material that is currently being published for children and teens, especially compared to my own adolescent reading experience.

For the past 18 years, I have been teaching in the Westport Public Schools, but I also grew up in Westport. After starting my career in Brooklyn, I moved back to Westport and have taught 5th-12th grades, currently serving as a secondary literacy coach at Staples High School, my alma mater. No matter who or what I have been teaching, I have always been passionate about helping students find a like, if not a love, of reading.

In 2014, I co-authored a professional text published by Scholastic called Stretching Beyond the Textbook, which gives teachers strategies for using books instead of textbooks in the content area classroom. Currently, I help lead both the PTA and Staples Community book clubs, and I am working with the Westport Public Library in a joint effort with the Westport Public Schools to launch the first annual Saugatuck Story Festival next October. (Stay tuned for details on this!)

The collection I have curated spans picture books through adult, in all different genres. I believe deeply in reading and recommending books by diverse authors as this is the best way to build understandings of others, so I have tried to choose authors from diverse backgrounds as well as some classics. While many of these books are marketed to a specific age group, I have purposefully left this out of my descriptions as I think it is important for adults to read what children and teens are reading, not only because they are wonderful stories, but they can help us understand one another across ages as well. Finally, there are stories published in different media forms because, in our technologically expanding world, everything is a text.

I hope you find something new as well as revisit a title you might have once loved but forgotten. I publish everything that I read on Instagram under @marsickreads and Staples students and teachers share their reading lives on this platform with #staplesreads and #shsreads. I hope you will consider joining and extending my community of readers.

Rebecca's Selections

Published in 2017, this nonfiction book tells the story of two teens, Sasha who is white and identifies as genderqueer, and Richard, who is black and male, and their fateful 2013 meeting on the 57 bus in Oakland, CA. A journalist, Slater  details the outcome of Richard’s impulsive decision to light Sasha’s skirt on fire. This book masterfully describes gender identity, our dysfunctional penal system, and the power of compassion from reading this book.

This Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner is a great example of What if? What if the underground railroad had been a literal railroad that ran between the North and South, shuttling slaves to freedom? The story chronicles Cora’s life escaping from the brutality of life as a slave to the brutality of constantly being on the run because she is never really free.

I rarely see this book on any “Best Of” lists, but I think it belongs there. After Jakob is rescued by a Greek geologist from hiding in mud in his war-torn Polish city in 1940, readers follow him on his journey over the course of two decades as he develops from a shocked and traumatized child into an artist who uses his experiences to create. Pure poetry.

When I read about this book in which a gentleman is jailed in a grand hotel in Moscow for decades, I wondered what could possibly happen that would be engaging for a reader. However, Towles’s story of Count Alexander Rostov’s arrest in 1922 and subsequent decades behind the walls of the Metropol is a gripping tale about what it means to really live life.

When Justyce, a teenager whose goal is to attend Yale, is unfairly arrested by the police because he is a black male in a predominantly white neighborhood, he begins writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to try and understand how to deal with his anger. Stone’s portrayal of dialogue among the teenagers in discussing affirmative action, police brutality, interracial relationships, and issues that I often hear in the halls of Staples is masterful.

This is on my list as both a book and an audiobook. Read by the author, Reynolds’s voice is powerful and haunting as he narrates the 60 seconds Will spends on an elevator. The author uses verse to describe the various people who enter the elevator on each floor, all of whom Will knows and who give Will insight into whether he should carry out his plan to kill the man he believes has recently killed his brother. You will want to read this and listen to it more than once.

A year ago on a snow day, I read this 464 page book in one sitting. Thomas’s debut novel addresses issues of race, class, family dynamics, and relationships through Starr, a black teenager navigating her life between her community and a wealthy private school where most of the students are white. This book is a force; it is no wonder it has spent months on the New York Times bestseller list.

Shortlisted for the National Book Award, Grann conducted extensive research on an often forgotten period in American history. While horrified, I could not put down this depiction of the systematic and subversive killing of the Osage tribe, who, in the 1920s, were wealthiest people per capita in the world due to oil.

Growing up in Westport, I had never heard about the crisis of eviction that is playing out in cities across the country. Desmond’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction follows eight families in Milwaukee who are caught in a vicious cycle of debt and eviction, one that often is out of their control.

I first read this book my sophomore year at Staples. Since then, I have returned to it at least five times. Yes, it is controversial as to how true and unbiased Capote’s nonfiction novel really is, but the story of two men who murder a family in Texas, the ensuing manhunt, and their eventual death sentences is still gripping and beautifully written.

Morrison’s debut novel is one of the most important ones that I read with my Staples students. Set in the 1930s in Ohio, it follows the story of Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl who is convinced that if she only had blue eyes, the ridicule and abuse she suffers from her parents, classmates, and the town, would end.

Larson has written many narrative nonfiction books, but this is his first and one that I often recommend, especially in this new age of weather patterns. Through the story of the 1900 hurricane that left 6000 dead and devastated the city of Galveston Texas, readers learn about the founding of the National Weather Service and how Mother Nature trumps human arrogance.

I read this when I was a sixth-grader at the old Bedford Middle School on Riverside Ave. I reread it as a teacher at the new Bedford Middle School on North Ave. As a student, I missed the magic of Smith’s story about Francie coming of age at the turn of the 20th century and the precision of her words in describing her journey.

I read this book when it first came out in 2003, and rarely have I found a book that I have loved as much. And honestly, the first line of this Pulitzer Prize winner sells it best: "I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of l974. . . My birth certificate lists my name as Calliope Helen Stephanides. My most recent driver's license...records my first name simply as Cal."

Not one of his more famous novels, this one is rooted in Marquez’s journalistic training. I could not put down this detailing of Pablo Escobar’s decision to kidnap 10 well-respected Colombians in 1990, the survivors’ stories, and, ultimately, the way the drug trade impacted Columbian culture, politics, and people.

This is a book to read as both a kid and an adult. The story of Stanley Yelnats’s struggle digging holes in the hot Texas sun as punishment for a crime he didn’t commit due to a curse that started years before with his great-great-grandfather has multiple layers, and I have found that each time I read it, I notice more of Sachar’s brilliance.

This is one of the most incredibly complex and beautifully written books on my list. The story begins in 18th century Ghana with the birth of half-sisters who never meet. It continues for 300 years by following the ancestral lineages of each sister, one through Ghana and the other who is sold into slavery in America.

Maniac Magee is an orphan who runs away from his aunt and uncle, and just keeps running until he reaches a racially divided small town where his legend begins. In my first year of teaching in Westport, I read this book with my fifth graders who loved this story about a boy who accomplishes incredible feats while bringing a divided town together.

Often on the top of the banned books list, this picture book is a beautiful tribute to family. Through words and pictures, readers learn about the true story of Ray and Silo, two male penguins who became a couple at the Central Park Zoo, and the zookeeper who gave them a baby named Tango.

You may find the items listed above on the WestportCURATES display on the main floor of the library next to the circulation desk. Please ask for assistance in locating items.