2020 was such a dark year.
For me, the announcement of the Pfizer vaccine created a pinprick of light at the end of a very long tunnel. Finally, I found hope. And what a lift it gave my soul!
That glimmer of light helped me navigate a heavy holiday season diminished by the missing traditions of large extended family gatherings full of unmasked laughter, giant bear hugs, and white elephant gift giving shenanigans.
I felt like I could breathe a little bit easier. My chest literally expanded deeper with each breath and at night, when I awoke, my mind was not always filled with anxious thoughts about those I love most.
I began looking forward. I started thinking about traveling again someday (not too soon, but someday is closer than maybe never again). I imagined the simple act of meeting friends for lunch, taking in a movie with my husband, and hugging my dad.
While January is still winter in my part of the world, we have passed the Winter Solstice, and the days are inching toward the longer daylight hours of summer. Literally and figuratively, I feel the same way in my mind and heart.
That glimmer of hope shifted something profound in me.
As it did, I sought out books to read that nourished that feeling and kindled that spark.
Literature holds such power. Especially when the words are crafted by authors with a gift for stringing together words into powerful sentences, powerful sentences into can’t-wait-to-turn-the-page chapters, and can’t-wait-to-turn-the-page chapters into deftly woven novels that pull all the right pieces together to bring the reader joy and triumph and authentic deep feelings.
Literature has the power to help us see things in a new light, to unveil ideas and feelings we may never have considered or felt before. Of course, each reader brings their own life experiences to the interpretation of the words, and in that sense every person takes away something slightly different, but I believe that a talented author uses words to evoke universal human connection.
As we push through these next few months of pandemic precautions, holed up in our Northern hemisphere homes for the winter, I offer this list of books that nurtured my belief in the basic goodness of humanity. Some brought me to tears, others got me laughing. But all of them were good for my soul.
If you’re looking for a bit of true inspiration, this is the nonfiction picture book to take you there. Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848, freed when she was 15, married and a mother by 20, and she learned to read when she was 116.
Message of hope: It’s never too late to learn something new.
In times when we may feel isolated and alone, this stunningly illustrated and beautifully told story of how one little boy’s big idea changed his neighborhood landscape reminds us that there’s great power in community and plenty to be grateful for.
Message of hope: Coming together has the potential to open our eyes to the beautifully diverse community that surrounds us, and that by working together, we can create amazing things.
Need a chuckle, a giggle or an all-out belly laugh? Dog Man is just the ticket. In my elementary library, I cannot keep these on the shelf, so when Winter Break was upon us, and I was taking home a stack of must reads, I grabbed one that had just come out of quarantine and tossed it in my bag. Layered with humor that pleases everyone from the second graders to adults, this one is guaranteed to release those endorphins!
Message of hope: Laughter is good for the soul.
A graphic novel addition to the “Wonder” stories, which tells the powerful tale of how Julian’s Grandmère hid from the Nazis during World War II in occupied France. Throughout the story, unexpected kindnesses offer Sara the chance to live, and Palacio unwraps the story of the powerful friendship between Sara and Julien, the boy who was once a target of bullies but became Sara’s best friend during her years in hiding.
Message of hope: “Kindness becomes a miracle. It becomes that light in the darkness… the very essence of our humanity. It is hope.” White Bird, p.186
I love a great fantasy story, but I find myself drawn into those worlds even deeper when the underlying theme is steeped in justice and the power of coming together to right the wrongs. A Wish in the Dark delivers all of that as it follows the story of Pong, a prison escapee, and Nok, the warden’s daughter who is determined to capture him. Magical and captivating in its setting and story, this one will have you rooting for what’s right through to the very end.
Message of hope: Our light can push back the darkness.
“Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes
This young adult novel is another fabulous read with a fundamental theme of fighting for justice. When Jerome is shot by a police officer, he becomes a ghost who is able to witness his family’s grief and the unrest in his community. He soon connects with another ghost - Emmett Till who helps Jerome begin to understand the deep roots of racism. And Jerome also engages with Sarah, the very-much-alive daughter of the police officer who shot Jerome who works to engage her family and community in making the world a better place.
Message of Hope: “Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.”
Let’s make 2021 a year of hope, optimism, and positive change driven by powerful reads to inspire young people (and ourselves).
I’m in. Can I count on you?