Favorite books read in 2018

Over on Library Twitter, many people identified their favorite books published in 2018 with the hashtag #Libfaves18. I participated as well, but I read many books I loved in 2018 that were published in previous years. Here they are (for reviews, click through to my LibraryThing catalog):

Picture Books

This is a long list, but I read a LOT of picture books this year and there were so many that were excellent. There’s something here for every mood and for every audience, whether it’s one-on-one or a storytime crowd. These books have humor, heart, whimsy, mischief, sweetness, bravery, creativity, and beauty.

Chirri and Chirra by Kaya Doi
The Class by Boni Ashburn
Dear Substitute by Audrey Vernick
A Different Pond by Bao Phi
Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle
Flyaway Katie by Polly Dunbar
The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson and Helen Oxenbury
Grumpy Pants by Claire Messer
Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel
Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski
Hoodwinked by Arthur Howard
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Just Add Glitter by Angela DiTerlizzi
Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t!) by Barbara Bottner
Puffling by Margaret Wild
Shake A Leg, Egg! by Kurt Cyrus
Sleep Like A Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski
Sloth at the Zoom by Becker
Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller
Solutions for Cold Feet and Other Little Problems by Carey Sookocheff
The Steves by Morag Hood
The Sun Is Kind Of A Big Deal by Nick Seluk (nonfiction)
There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi and Laurel Molk
Tinyville Town Gets to Work by Brian Biggs
Toys Meet Snow by Emily Jenkins and Paul O. Zelinsky
The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith

Middle Grade

I read less YA than usual this year but way more middle grade, and I love it. The characters are at such an interesting age, when a lot of (often painful) growth happens, relationships change, and they are tackling real problems, often on their own. For realistic fiction, I’m now a devotee of Sharon M. Draper and Lynda Mullaly Hunt; on the magical side of things, I was blown away by Lauren Oliver’s Liesel & Po.

Dear Sister by Alison McGhee
Drama by Raina Telgemeier (also: Smile, Sisters, and Ghosts)
Hunger by Donna Jo Napoli
Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin, and Giovanni Rigano
It Wasn’t Me by Dana Alison Levy
Liesl and Po by Lauren Oliver
The Marvels by Brian Selznick
The Night Diary by Veera Hiranandani
One for the Murphys and Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper
Refugee by Alan Gratz
The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

YA/Teen

Fewer titles than usual this year, but still some standouts, and a cluster of stellar realistic romance books.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

Realistic romance: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman, Puddin’ by Julie Murphy (see also: Dumplin;, book and movie), The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things by Carolyn Mackler, Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Adult Nonfiction

Some important books here, particularly Evicted, which I read for a Community Reads committee (we didn’t choose it, but not because it isn’t 100% worthwhile; it is). Rebecca Solnit is always worth reading; she’s brilliant, measured, and incisive.

Educated by Tara Westover
Evicted by Matthew Desmond
Call Them By Their True Names by Rebecca Solnit (2018)
I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell (2018)
When They Call You A Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Women & Power by Mary Beard

Adult Fiction

A lot of speculative fiction this year, but The Great Believers is the one I’ve been recommending to everyone. It is absolutely crushing. 

The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower (first two books of the Winternight trilogy) by Katherine Arden
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (2018)
The Fifth Season, The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth trilogy) by N.K. Jemisin
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
Transcription by Kate Atkinson (2018)
An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

Favorite Books Read in 2017 (First Half)| Favorite Books Read in 2017 (Second Half) | 2018 Reading Wrap-Up

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Step Into Storytime, February 11

Picture books on a chair with a donkey puppet

We had another large bunch today, with fewer regulars than usual and some kids on the younger and older ends of the spectrum. While I don’t usually do a theme, we did one valentine book and one book with heart shapes (as well as a valentine craft), and talked a little about colors and shapes. I also tried clustering books and songs a little more than I usually do (i.e. two books and then two songs instead of book/song/book/song). Lots of kids were in a wiggly, singalong mood today.

  • Welcome and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL from Jbrary
  • Name song (we had about 11 kids at this point, more came throughout and some left before the end)
  • Here Comes Valentine Cat by Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda: This one is a little long (lots of pages, not too many words), and the illustrations aren’t big and bright, but it’s such an unusual, funny book – not the usual Valentine’s fare – that I wanted to try it.
  • Song cube: “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Where Is Thumbkin?”
  • Green Is A Chile Pepper by Roseanne Greenfield Thong and John Parra: This has one or two Spanish words incorporated into the text on each page, as well as a translation of the color. For each color, I asked if anyone was wearing that color or sitting on that color mat.
  • Yoga cube: Instead of doing three static poses like usual, we did three and then cycled through them: mountain pose to forward fold and back to mountain pose, then tree pose. Some of the little ones have great balance! We always try standing on each leg – sometimes one side is steadier than the other.
  • My Heart Is Like A Zoo by Michael Hall: I used the flannel board for this (I’ve made the penguin, owl, frog, crab, and clam), and said we would be making our own animals out of hearts as our craft at the end.
  • Song cube: “Shake Your Sillies Out” (with egg shakers)
  • The Steves by Morag Hood
  • Perfect Square by Michael Hall
  • Yoga (mountain pose, forward fold, tree pose, seated forward fold)
  • Hooray for Hat by Brian Won
  • The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and Katz Cowley
  • Craft: Colored paper hearts, crayons, googly eye stickers. For two- and three-year-olds this is simple, but it could be scaled up for older kids: add glue sticks and hearts of different sizes, and they can make animals like in the book, or invent their own.

Paper heart with googly eyes

 

We Need Diverse (Picture) Books

Recently a parent friend of mine asked me for book recommendations for her kid’s upcoming third birthday, and she specifically requested diverse books. I loved the question, and wanted to share the list I came up with. I’ve written about #WeNeedDiverseBooks before (here’s the official WNDB site), and I’m also mindful of #OwnVoices, i.e. diverse characters written/illustrated by diverse authors (as opposed to, say, a white author writing a Black character). For this list, I’m including books that feature characters that are something other than straight, white, cisgender, upper/middle-class, and non-disabled.

With one exception (And Tango Makes Three), these books have human characters. A tremendous number of picture books have animal characters; they often have wonderful, inclusive messages, but I feel that they don’t quite fit the description.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are books my daughter (also about three years old) and I have enjoyed repeatedly over the past year or so. Many are award winners, and I’ve included the names of the awards so that you can find other past winners and honor books.

Alma And How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal: Alma Sofia Esperanza Jose Pura Candela has a very long name, which she doesn’t like, until her father tells her where each part came from; in this way, Alma finds something in common with each of her ancestors and takes new pride in her name. (Caldecott Honor, School Library Journal Best Picture Book)

And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole: Here’s the animal book exception. Roy and Silo, two male penguins at the Central Park Zoo, hatch an egg and raise Tango as their own chick. (Nonfiction)

The Class by Boni Ashburn, illustrated by Kimberly Gee: Twenty different children get ready for the first day of school, when they become one class. The rhyming text and the illustrations work together to show the broad range of personalities and backgrounds coming together; it’s a light and lovely first day of school book.

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James: A joyous celebration of the confidence a new haircut gives a young Black boy. (ALA Notable Book, Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award, Kirkus Prize)

A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illustrated by Thi Bui: A young Vietnamese-American boy goes fishing with his father very early in the morning – not for fun, but to have food to eat. This whole book has the feeling of a starlit, predawn hush, as the boy enjoys the time with his father even as he learns about the family’s tragic history. (Caldecott Honor, Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Charlotte Zolotow Award)

Dim Sum for Everyone by Grace Lin: A little girl goes to a dim sum restaurant with her parents and two older sister; each person orders their favorite dish and they all share. A simple story, but an excellent introduction into another culture via food. (See also: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by the same author.)

Don’t Touch My Hair by Sharee Miller: A young Black girl, Aria, loves her hair – but doesn’t like when other people touch it without asking permission. A strong and necessary message about consent.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales: A mother brings her infant son to the U.S. from Mexico; a public library helps them feel welcome, and inspires the mother to create her own books. (Pura Belpre Award)

Hanukkah Hamster by Michelle Markel, illustrated by André Ceolin: Edgar, an Israeli taxi driver in a U.S. city, finds a hamster in his cab and cares for it while he tries to find the owner. (Maybe not the best choice for a March birthday, but keep it in mind for December. See also: All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky [Sydney Taylor Book Award], and The Little Red Hen and the Passover Matzah by Leslie Kimmelman, illustrated by Paul Meisel.)

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall: A young Black boy goes to the pool with his father and little sister, ready to jump off the high diving board. His bravery wavers, and his dad gives him both encouragement and an easy out. Ultimately, Jabari jumps. (ALA Notable Children’s Book, Charlotte Zolotow Honor)

Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love: Julián loves mermaids, but when he dresses up as one, how will his abuela react? She takes him to what looks like the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. (Stonewall Book Award)

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson: CJ takes a bus through the city with his grandmother to help at a soup kitchen. (Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor, Coretta Scott King Honor, ALA Notable Book) Note: This author/illustrator team also produced Carmela Full of Wishes, and pretty much everything that Robinson illustrates could be on this list; I particularly love School’s First Day of School (with Adam Rex), When’s My Birthday? (with Julie Fogliano), and Rain.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington: Mae Jemisin was the first African-American female astronaut and the first African-American woman to go into space, and it started as a childhood dream – one that her parents encouraged, but her white teachers and classmates didn’t. (Biography)

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts: The story of second-grader Rosie, great grand-niece of Rosie the Riveter and a passionate inventor – in secret, because she’s afraid of being laughed at. When Great Aunt Rose comes to visit, she brings an encouraging message: “Life might have its failures, but this was NOT it.
The only true failure can come if you quit.
” (See also: Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones, illustrated by Sara Ogilvie, and Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen.)

Want to Play Trucks? by Ann Stott, illustrated by Bob Graham: Two little boys – one white, one brown – meet at a playground; one likes dolls and twirly dresses, another likes trucks. They find a way to play together easily; in the background, the moms chat. (Bob Graham also wrote and illustrated Let’s Get A Pup, Said Kate, in which Kate’s parents are casually tattooed and pierced.) Deftly pierces stereotypes about “boy” and “girl” toys and preferences.

As I said, this is just the tip of the iceberg – there are so many incredible, diverse picture books out there, with more being published every year. Check out other award winner or honor books, or the publisher Lee & Low (“About everyone, For Everyone”). The titles above are just a few I think are worth checking out of the library or adding to your personal collection. Happy reading!

Step Into Storytime, February 4

Storytime books and scarf

I’ve been thinking lately that I’d like to ask storytime attendees for feedback with a short survey, and while I mulled over what questions to ask, I wrote down all the elements I bring to storytime aside from books: early literacy tips (for the grown-ups), scarves, shaker eggs, other musical instruments, flannel board, the song cube, the yoga cube, stuffed animals and puppets, various arts and crafts activities, bubbles, and music. I don’t use all of these in every storytime, of course, because that would probably be sensory overload, and it’s good to change things up; while the overall pattern of the program is the same each week, some elements are familiar and others are new. If you have a storytime program, do you evaluate it? What questions do you ask, and how? A quick search turned up a useful blog post from storytime goldmine Jbrary.

Here’s what we did today, with a group of about ten kids, including a couple of four-year-olds (welcome, because we had a couple of books that required sharp eyes – Sophie Johnson, Unicorn Expert and Where’s Walrus? And Penguin? – and the older kiddos are great at spotting the hide-and-seek characters).

  • Hello and announcements
  • “Hello Friends” song with ASL (from Jbrary)
  • Name song (“____ is here today…”)
  • I Wish It Would Snow by Sarah Dillard: I had planned to hand out scarves for this one, but I forgot. We talked about how we haven’t had very much snow yet this year. The adults were particularly engaged during this storytime – thanks, grown-ups! I also brought out one of our rabbit puppets, which I invited kids to come pat after the story.
  • Yoga cube
  • Sophie Johnson, Unicorn Expert by Morag Hood and Ella Okstad: This has a bit of hide-and-seek to it, so I passed out scarves for this one instead. The littler kids had fun with the scarves, and the four-year-olds spotted the real unicorn right away.
  • Song cube: “Row Row Row Your Boat” and “Shake Your Sillies Out” (with scarves)
  • Spots in a Box by Helen Ward: This is a new favorite of mine. I like the rhyme scheme and the art. On the final page, the dots are textured, so I invited kids to come up and feel the book.
  • Yoga cube
  • There’s Nothing to Do! by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt: This completes our quartet of frog books…until they write some more!
  • Song cube: “Where is Thumbkin?” Everyone loved this. Even the littlest kids have the fine motor skills to do a thumbs-up! I sang the Cambridge Public Library version, which omits the traditional “sir.”
  • Pouch! by David Ezra Stein: This late in the storytime lineup, I like books with less text, and this one is perfect. To start, I asked which animals had pouches, and the kids said “kangaroo!” I told them that all animals with pouches are called marsupials. Word of the day!
  • Yoga cube
  • Where’s Walrus? And Penguin? by Stephen Savage: Again, my observant four-year-olds were quick to spot the escaped zoo animals.
  • “Goodbye Friends” song with ASL (from Jbrary)
  • Clean up mats, color with crayons

Before and after

Instead of putting down blank butcher paper, I drew a few outlines of circles of different sizes before our program. That way, kids could color inside those circles, or make their own, or draw anything else they wanted. I even saw a yellow snowman…

Step Into Storytime, January 28

Stack of six books, spines out
Hello Hello, I Don’t Want to Be Big, Where is the Green Sheep?, Bark Park!, Where’s Walrus?, Lots of Dots

Today we had a big group – at least 15 kids but I think closer to 20, including a couple of older and younger siblings, plus the grown-ups of course. I had a little bit of a cold so I explained that my voice was not going to be as loud, and on we proceeded as usual. Many helpful grown-ups who bring their kids regularly helped out with the familiar songs – thank you!

  • “Hello Friends” with ASL
  • Name song (“____ is here today, ____ is here today, let’s all clap our hands, ____ is here today”) (at this point we had 11-12 kids but more continued to trickle in throughout)
  • Hello Hello by Brendan Wenzel, one of my favorite lead-off books. It’s simple but visually interesting and there are lots of opportunities for movement (wiggling like an octopus, etc.).
  • Yoga cube (three poses)
  • I Don’t Want to Be Big by Dev Petty and Mike Boldt: We did I Don’t Want to Be A Frog three weeks ago and I Don’t Want to Go to Sleep two weeks ago (last week was a Monday holiday). These books are great, but they don’t have any textual indication of who’s speaking (e.g. “Dad frog said…”) so I sometimes add those in or at least point to which character is speaking as I read aloud.
  • Song cube: “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”
  • Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek: I made felt sheep for this story a while ago, so I put the yellow, pink, and blue sheep on the flannel board and hid the green sheep behind it. It worked out that one of my regulars spotted it, so I let her pull it out of hiding and stick it on the board at the end of the book. Perfect!
  • Yoga cube (three poses)
  • Bark Park! by Trudy Krisher and Brooke Boynton-Hughes: a newer book and a great simple one for storytimes, especially for the younger kids. I got everyone to “Bark, bark, bark!” with me at the appropriate times.
  • Song cube: “Shake Your Sillies Out” (with shaker eggs)
  • Where’s Walrus? by Stephen Savage: I wasn’t sure how well a wordless, hide-and-seek book would work at storytime, but this one definitely did! The walrus isn’t too hard to find on each page, and there isn’t a lot of visual clutter, plus I had two kids on the older end of our range, who always pointed right away.
  • Yoga cube (three poses)
  • Lots of Dots by Craig Frazier: Our library’s copy has had a page ripped out since I last used it, but other than that blip, this is always a good one – we always look around the room for polka dots and buttons on clothing, and it ties in to the dot craft.
  • “Goodbye Friends” with ASL
  • Clean up mats
  • Spread butcher paper on the floor and tape it down, put down a bowl of glue sticks, and throw a bowl of colored paper dots in the air! Commence gluing dots. Ask for grown-ups to help keep track of caps.

Goodnight, Everyone: Books for Bedtime

 

Reading before bedtime is a wonderful way to wind down after a long day: cuddling close over a book and talking a little bit before settling down to sleep. The books don’t have to be sleep-themed, of course, but here are a bunch that are:

Classic bedtime books

  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann
  • Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
  • Time for Bed by Mom Fox

Amusing

  • How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? by Jane Yolen
  • I Don’t Want to Go to Sleep! by Dev Petty
  • Good Night, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
  • Everyone Sleeps by Marcellus Hall
  • Goodnight Already! by Jory John
  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late! by Mo Willems

Role Reversal

  • How to Put Your Parents to Bed by Mylisa Larsen
  • Beep! Beep! Go to Sleep! by Todd Tarpley
  • The World Champion of Staying Awake by Sean Taylor
  • Monster Needs His Sleep by Paul Czajak
  • If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega and Zachariah Ohora

Animals and the World

  • Goodnight, Everyone by Chris Haughton
  • Sleep Like A Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski
  • Sleep Tight Farm by Eugenie Doyle
  • A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na
  • A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes
  • All the Awake Animals Are Almost Asleep by Crescent Dragonwagon

Gentle/Sweet

  • City Moon by Rachael Cole
  • You and Me, Little Bear by Martin Waddell
  • Goodnight, I Love You by Caroline Jayne Church
  • Time for Bed, Sleepyheads by Norman Chartier
  • Grandfather Twilight by Barbara Berger
  • Sweet Dreams, Little Bear by Tim Warnes

Cars and Trucks

  • Twinkle Twinkle Little Car by Kate Dopirak
  • Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker

Not Specifically Sleep Themed, But Good for Bedtime

  • I Love You As Big As the World by David Van Buren
  • Mommy Hugs/Daddy Dreams/Mommy Snuggles by Anne Gutman
  • You Are My I Love You by Maryann Cusiano Love
  • Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes
  • Where the Wild Things Are -and- In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
  • Beekle by Dan Santat
  • Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead and Erin Stead

Related: Board books for babies and toddlers (June 30, 2017)

Note: Reading at bedtime might not work for every family. Babies, especially, might be too fussy in the evening to be able to focus on looking at pictures or listening to a story (though there are some board books that have song lyrics as the words, like What A Wonderful World and Baby Beluga, so those are worth a try). Read to/with kids at whatever time(s) of day work best for them and for you; in our house, we read at the table, as well as between meals, and before bed. There’s no wrong time to read (unless that time is “never”).

What are your favorite bedtime books?

Hampshire College thoughts

On Tuesday, January 15, I received a message from Hampshire College president Miriam (Mim) Nelson with the subject line “Important Message from Hampshire College.” In it, Mim wrote of “our intent to find a long-term partner that can help us achieve a thriving and sustainable future for Hampshire” and said “As we embark on this process we’re also carefully considering whether to enroll an incoming class this fall.” (See additional FAQ.) [Edited to add, new FAQ, 1/21/19]

1923470_504686557158_5679_nWhat? I was aware, of course, that Hampshire’s endowment is paltry compared to the other schools in the Five College consortium (Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and UMass), and that Hampshire tends to produce alumni with strong dedication to social justice causes; we’re more likely to become scientists, teachers, or documentarians than investment bankers. Thus, in addition to having a much smaller alumni base than many other liberal arts schools (Hampshire was founded in 1970), the alumni it does have don’t have the deepest pockets.

I forwarded the e-mail to some fellow alums, two of whom immediately and independently made the same joke(?) about Hampshire being acquired by Amazon. More likely, we thought, we’d be folded into UMass somehow, but there hasn’t been any indication of that. (Amherst’s president Biddy Martin released a statement saying, “I hope it will be possible for Hampshire to identify a positive way forward for its community and the greater good. The college has a valuable history of experimentation in teaching and learning and a longstanding relationship with our college.” ‘K, thanks. Smith’s president, Kathleen McCarthy, released a statement that said even less.)

News outlets picked up the story quickly; I saw it in Inside Higher Ed, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. The Globe ran a more detailed piece about the history of the college on January 19, “Protests, Frisbees, and Deep Thinking – Hampshire College Has Carved an Offbeat Path.”

Sunset at HampshireThe news also galvanized discussion in the Hampshire Alumni Facebook group, which also includes some current Hampshire staff (they graduated from Hampshire and now work there). No one has much more information, except that enrollment has been falling slightly – a problem many small liberal arts colleges are facing, as demographics change and high school graduating classes are smaller – and tuition is expensive. This is also true of many other schools, but Hampshire is particularly sensitive to even small fluctuations because its endowment can’t provide much of a cushion.

There are complaints about the PR, and how the announcement was made, but there have also been sensible responses to those complaints: chiefly, that the president and the board are being honest about Hampshire’s financial situation and are being proactive in seeking out a “strategic partner” now. Also, accepting an incoming class when it’s uncertain that Hampshire will be the same in four years necessities consideration from an ethics standpoint. (It’s true there have also been personal remarks and conspiracy theories. I don’t see a reason not to take Mim and the board at face value; the idea that anyone is working to bring down the college from within is ludicrous.)

First snow, Hampshire treesI don’t believe there is one single perfect college for anyone; if you’re college-bound, there are probably plenty of places, or at least more than one, where you can learn and thrive and be happy. There are a lot of things that I learned and experienced at Hampshire that I would have found elsewhere too: meeting people from different places and backgrounds, discovering new music, exploring a different area of the country, maybe even frisbee (yes, I played ultimate) and slam poetry.

Any good education introduces you to new ideas and encourages you to remain open-minded enough to accept them; any good education should prod you to think critically, dig deeper, do your own research, question the answers, question authority. I don’t know the extent to which other schools do this, as I didn’t go to them (except, I did take classes at Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, and UMass; all Five College students can take classes at any of the other colleges, and I definitely took advantage of this. Those classes were academically rigorous – mostly – but more straightforward, more like high school).

4pm sunset at HampshireHere’s what I got at Hampshire that I don’t think I would have gotten elsewhere: I learned to take the initiative and be persistent – good qualities to have in a job search or when doing a job. I learned to make connections where there didn’t at first appear to be any, and that I didn’t necessarily have to narrow my field of study if I could just make these connections; my thesis combined literature, history, and photography. I learned that I could write a thesis over 100 pages long, guided by a committee chair who mostly listened, then asked the crucial one or two questions that guided my next week’s worth of work (thank you, Aaron Berman).

I also met such interesting people who were incredibly passionate about what they were studying. No one had to jump through hoops for two years before they got to learn about what they were really interested in; you started right away. In high school, lunch conversation might be about the homework for this class or that, but at Hampshire, no one was ever doing the same thing: one person was studying math so far beyond my comprehension that now I just remember it had something to do with shapes (maybe?); someone else was welding metal in the shop; someone was building bicycles (and that wasn’t a class, that was just on the side); someone was taking a trip to the desert to study some kind of lichen(?) that grew on the rocks there; someone was writing, directing, and starring in a play; someone was studying the history of the AIDS crisis; someone built a telescope.

So I’m not surprised that “two-thirds of our graduates earn advanced degrees. And even as the world knows us by the success of our distinguished alums in the arts, the National Science Foundation ranks us among the top fifty schools whose graduates receive a PhD in science or engineering.” Hampshire students are intelligent, determined, fierce, funny, political, passionate. We’re curious in more than one sense of the word. (Yes, we also play frisbee and wear tie-dye and have all the hippie bumper stickers. I can always recognize a Hampshire car). But as Sig Roos, Hampshire alum and past board chairman, said in the Globe piece, “It seems like a time politically when people should be beating Hampshire’s door down to get in.”

Hampshire turns out problem solvers, free thinkers, people who have found their voices; in other words, precisely what the world needs right now.

View from the notch

All photos in this post were taken by me during my years as a student at Hampshire, 2003-2007.

Updated 1/27/19: See also “Cost Disease, the Demographic Cliff, and Hampshire College