Reading gives us a chance to travel in time, experience cultures, join adventures elsewhere, or meet real or imaginary people—all without leaving the comfort of what we consider home. Make no mistake: this habit is not about escaping reality, but it is about allowing ourselves to reflect deeper into our lives.
We are continually being inundated with excessive and rapid information online, especially about the outbreak situation the world is facing recently. In uncertain times like this, it is apt that we turn over a new leaf and move forward to see a fresher perspective.
We have asked several teachers and staff members for their essential reads at a time when many remain with their families at home. Some of the books listed below are about health, while other recommendations introduce philosophical ideas. If you are longing to set out on a journey, there are several novels that you can devour too.
Middle School Teacher-Librarian
While we pay attention to the COVID-19 situation in the country, we should also look to the medical staff on the frontlines of containing the virus, as well as the patients and their families living in Wuhan City. These people may just be a number in the daily outbreak statistics or even a footnote in a news report. But behind the numbers, there are numerous stories of grief, resilience, and joy. Caixin Weekly magazine focuses on the ordinary people who form a significant part of the story of the outbreak. We should strive to know what is going on and give the affected people whatever help we can. Let’s hope that one day we will have "freedom from fear."
A Planet of Viruses
By Carl Zimmer
Available in Chinese
Do you know the difference between viruses and bacteria? Why does the flu still infect millions of people every year despite having a vaccine? Did you know that about 8 percent of a person's genes come from a virus that infected them? Since a lot of children are now at home, they can take this period to learn more about medical knowledge. A Planet of Viruses is a great resource to start with.
Has an elder member of your family disagreed with you whether or not to use a face mask when going out during this period? Or did you try to debunk a misleading virus prevention article in your family group chat—but to no avail? Perhaps the most challenging gap people experience is the difference between our family members. Families are akin to havens, but sometimes, they are also the source of prejudice and constraints. Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover, tries to look at that challenge and hopes that people can draw strength from the book to get out of their own way.
Truth: How the Many Sides to Every Story Shape Our Reality
By Hector Macdonald
Available in Chinese and accessible via Amazon China
What changes have happened in society after the SARS epidemic 17 years ago? Besides the increasingly sophisticated medical technology, the biggest change we face today is the way people access information. No longer a television or a newspaper is the sole source of information today; the Internet is a tremendous resource available to anyone connected. But the need to filter information, analyze and judge its reliability and value, and guide our actions is now greater than ever and has become almost every modern man's compulsory homework. Truth: How the Many Sides to Every Story Shape Our Reality is an essential read to reinforce information and media literacy skills of students and adults, especially in a period when disinformation, misinformation, and fake news dominate the discussions online and offline.
Theory of Knowledge Teacher
What a Good Life Is: Doing It in the Right Way《何为良好生活－行之于途而应于心》
By Jiaying Chen陈嘉映
The outbreak has caused panic for some people. The situation, however, is an opportunity for growth and reflection.
Author, philosopher, and professor Jiaying Chen writes, "Ethics explores the problems and the meaning of life." Ethics itself is an urgent issue that we face in the era of postmodernism. Professor Chen also hopes people can look into that theory to understand how they can see the gains and losses in life without ignoring their own nature. In What a Good Life Is: Doing It in the Right Way, Professor Chen shares short stories to guide everyone to think about the meaning of their lives.
Dr. Maureen McCoy
Head of Middle School
Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
Available in Chinese on Douban
This award-winning non-fiction book shows how even the best intentions can be corrupted by greed and ambition. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup is a true story of how Elizabeth Holmes’ Theranos company was a hollow fake, even though she convinced so many people of her flawed dream that it was worth USD 4.5 billion.
The Corpse Reader
By Antonio Garrido
This novel, written by a Spaniard, is about how the science of forensics started in the Song Dynasty. This field of work is applied during criminal investigations and is popularized by the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation TV drama series.
The Forty Rules of Love
By Elif Shafak
Turkish author Elif Shafak wrote this “novel within a novel.” Parallel stories of an unhappy housewife in Massachusetts and the 13th-century Persian philosopher Rumi come together in this very satisfying story that is both heartwarming and heartrending.
At Home: A Short History of Private Life
By Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson is an excellent investigative journalist whose books are so insightful that they stay with you long after you have put them down and have moved onto something else. As Bryson notes in this book, “It is always quietly thrilling to find yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before.” Bryson is fascinated by everything and his curiosity is infectious. This history book is essentially an inquiry into life at home—a place where most of us have been spending a lot of time recently.
Bream Gives Me Hiccups: And Other Stories
By Jesse Eisenberg
Available in Chinese
You may have seen American actor Jesse Eisenberg playing Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Did you know that he’s also an accomplished author? He penned Bream Gives Me Hiccups: And Other Stories, a collection of stories of an adult who sees the world from a young boy's perspective. The protagonist tries to tell stories in a variety of ways, from scripts to letters and sends "early warning" emails to Gmail users. He even calls the email accounts “a panoramic prison.” Expect that you will get something good out of these naughty stories!
Andy Penafuerte III
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life
By Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles (both from Spain)
“What is the meaning of life? Is the point just to live longer, or should I seek a higher purpose?”
When Penafuerte was starting in his career, he encountered a four-sphere Venn diagram whose center is marked “purpose (in life).” The chart is a Japanese concept called ikigai, which roughly means “the reason that wakes you up in the morning.” It has intrigued him ever since because he thought, “Ikigai encapsulates some valuable ideas in life.” Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is written by two Spaniards who went to a “Blue Zone” in Japan to interview its inhabitants—a community of Japanese centenarians. The authors also look at why ikigai can reduce stress and slow down aging.
Theory of Knowledge Teacher and Communications Specialist
The Travel Essay Collection of Haruki Murakami (Chinese Edition)
By Haruki Murakami
Only in Chinese
We are trapped at home, yet we are reaching the last days of “not leaving home.” Have you been unable to hold back the mood of going out? Are you fantasizing about seeing the world again once the outbreak is over? The Travel Essay Collection of Haruki Murakami provides a spiritual consolation during this time. You can follow Murakami’s thoughts, simple yet direct to the heart and reflect on his feelings during his journeys.
Language Support Teacher
The Usborne Complete Book of Art Ideas
By Fiona Watts
Three volumes available in Chinese
This inspiring guide has a lot of step-by-step examples of artworks for children. They don’t even need to have a solid art foundation to create their art! The Usborne Book of Art Ideas has nearly 80 easy-to-follow tips with clear illustrations. It also has a lot of ideas on how you can use everyday home items such as rubber bands, kitchen sponges, salt bars, toothbrushes to paint with watercolors, acrylic paint, crayons, or oil painting sticks.
The Most Beautiful Chinese Fairy Tales
By Hansheng Magazine (Taiwan)
Only in Chinese
The Most Beautiful Chinese Fairy Tales, first published by Taiwan's Hansheng Press in 1982, is based on the most time-enduring Chinese folklore and fairy tales saved by many previous scholars in the war.
The entire collection has 36 volumes, with three books for every month as the stories are sorted according to the Chinese lunar calendar. This makes the book a great bedtime story, enough to last an entire year.
Beyond stories, The Most Beautiful Chinese Fairy Tales also shows children vivid and dynamic illustrations of the essence of traditional Chinese culture and art. The book makes use of various techniques such as pen and ink drawings, traditional painting, paper-cutting art, shadow puppets, embroidery, murals, carving, and more.
Deputy Head of Primary School
By Ningyao Xiao
Only in Chinese
Recent news about the outbreak shows a disproportionate number of cases in every province in China. There are various reasons for that, but the closely related ones are geography, economic development model, and local customs. For example, some cities are provincial capitals. Many are tourist spots and others are prosperous; some function as a transportation hub. Some towns are located on a plateau with inconvenient transport systems. All of these are important factors to look at in the context of disease outbreaks. Hello, China! Is a book about geography, written primarily for primary school students so they can learn more about China’s magnificent landscapes, splendid culture, and history. After reading this series, children may be able to analyze the reasons for the difference in the level of the outbreak in each city.
Ten Methods to Make Mom Angry
By Sylvie de Machus
Only in Chinese
Ten Methods to Make Mom Angry, yes, you’re reading it right! Many parents and their children are staying at home during this period. This is an opportunity for kids to see that even if parents do not “work,” they are still busy. Ten Methods to Make Mom Angry is a fun picture book where parents and kids can swap roles. Children can try to read this book to their mom to see how they will react to ten ways of getting her angry. Upon finishing the book, kids can then check with their mom and see if the methods are really “effective.” This sudden outbreak may mean an extended holiday, so Wang encourages kids to embrace and show love to their parents.
By Wenzhong Sun
Ancient Chinese was a book recommended to Wang by a teacher when she went to university. When Wang opened her copy, she saw her notes from the past, which instantly transported her back to time. “The book is like a space-time shuttle, and it let me talk to myself from 20 years ago.”
“Look, isn’t it wonderful? It is the same book, read at different times, with different reading experiences and feelings. It’s a beautiful and magical thing to meet the books you’ve read and find yourself on the page.”
Wang recommends your most beloved book that is already on your shelf, a read in which you have had several dialogues to develop yourself or a material that has made you joyous or left a lasting mark on you. In her case, it is Ancient Chinese. “For example, when we were young, we read a fascinating story. When you reread it, you admire the characters. When you revisit it sometime later, you wonder how the author can write such a wonderful story or what experience does the author want to tell me through this story?”