Because (books, that’s why)
Can we read? No. 90
Good morning, people.
I hope this message finds you well and safe. It snowed here and stuck yesterday, and I was reminded once again — as I navigated country roads, and heard about an abandoned semi-truck jack-knifed in the median on the interstate, and arrived safely at my desk only to find a storm of sales and deals and offers in my inbox — that this time of year offers us the opportunity to operate with more care, and I am trying.
I don’t mean being more mindful — though I don’t think that specific kind of awareness hurts — but rather, to do everything we must do and choose to do with greater regard for the way we do it, the way it happens, the way it lands, for our sake and that of others.
It’s really easy for me to get irritated — full stop — but I’m noticing this especially right now, in a place that currently doesn’t feel so great, which I wrote about yesterday and won’t get into again. It’s easy for my body to tense and my attitude to get twisted and for me to stay this way for days.
But I also believe some of this — almost all of it, actually — is a choice, and I don’t want to choose this, so I use my tools for shifting. I make a gratitude list. I crouch down and look my children in the face and listen fully to what they are saying. I stoke the fire, and rub love into my legs when I lotion them after a shower (file under Things I’ve Learned From Anne Lamott), and walk all the way downstairs to kiss my husband goodbye before leaving for work. I talk to people even when I don’t want to. I write myself notes and remind myself that feelings aren’t facts and I keep going, I keep going, I keep going.
This morning I am grateful for the joy of a fresh snowfall, a newly-laundered winter coat, my current perfume, creamy oatmeal with apples, raisins, goji berries, hemp hearts, and butter. I’m grateful for talking to my mom on the phone for an hour and laughing. I’m grateful for my daughter saying, en route, “I can’t wait to go to school today.” I’m grateful for walking into my office and smelling fresh coffee, for quiet, for glasses that I have to wear over my contacts but that help with computer work and have mostly alleviated my migraines (a minor miracle). I’m grateful for honesty and humor, resources, abundance, erasable pens, the Nueske’s holiday catalog, and extra guests. I’m grateful that daily reprieve is directly dependent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition (and the people who’ve shown me, and keep showing me, what maintenance means). I’m grateful for flannel sheets, community suppers, online classes, well-child checkups, vaccinations, and dinner plans. I’m grateful I was taught how to make magic this time of year; I’m grateful I still find almost everything magical. I’m grateful for gratitude lists and their small-yet-enormous power to bring me back to the present moment, to speak louder than words (or emails), to modify my attitude and mitigate my mood.
Thanks for taking me as I am on any given Wednesday and, in particular, being here today. I hope you find something here that you need (books to read with your family, or otherwise).
Because by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren (2019)
“Because a man named Ludwig wrote beautiful music — a man named Franz was inspired to create his own.
Because many years later, people wanted to hear Franz’s beautiful music — they formed an orchestra.
Because a man had practiced since he was a kid — he was asked to join.”
In a story that builds one action upon another — think of Laura Numeroff’s classic If You Give a Mouse a Cookie — this one begins with Beethoven and adds one “because” on top of another “because” on top of another, until we meet a little girl, who ends up one night at an orchestral performance that changes her life forever.
Because she attends the show that night, she goes on to learn everything she can about music, write some of her own, practice for years, work very hard, until she is on stage, conducting her own performance. And because of that night, someone else was changed.
Ren’s digital illustrations, which are reminiscent of her current work as a visual development artist for various animation studios, invite the reader right into this vivid, enchanting tale about the power of someone’s dream to inspire us to greatness of our own. If you have a music lover — or a big dreamer — don’t miss this one.
The Big Pets by Lane Smith (1991)
“The girl was small and the cat was big. And on certain nights she rode on his back to the place where the Milk-Pool was.”
So begins this quiet, poetic nighttime voyage of a little girl, her faithful feline companion, and their wanderings around the wide, imaginary universe, where they meet other “night children,” who each have their own night pets (a big dog and his little boy who are headed to the Bone Garden, the Grassy Plains where kids romp with their pet snakes). When they’re lucky, they end up in the Milky Way — Smith’s muted pastels include a giant bottle of milk tipping out across the sky — before heading home again to snuggle up together in “the sleeping basket.”
This is a sweet, simple, but totally satisfying story for babies and toddlers, who might not take the hint to drop peacefully off to dreamland but who may nevertheless enjoy reading about night children, giant pets, and their enchanting intergalactic play.
Dominic by William Steig (1972)
The more William Steig we read — picture and chapter books alike — the more I believe he’s brilliant and everyone should at least give his work a try. (Find me a children’s author who uses richer vocabulary. I mean it, if you know someone, tell me!)
If you want a gentle but entertaining and wildly goofy adventure story about a dog who sets off on a long journey, comes into an unexpected fortune, and then spends the rest of his travels giving it away (all while dodging the Doomsday Gang, a rough crew of woodland baddies who are totally dedicated to whupping the indomitable Dominic, but are none too smart), look no further. Here’s your book.
This is a fun story, with new characters and fresh wackiness in each chapter, and will appeal to wide range of ages, preschoolers through middle school. (If you need a read-aloud that pleases different ages, this one is worth trying!)
Shaking Things Up: 14 Young Women Who Changed the World by Susan Hood, illustrated by “13 Extraordinary Women”(2018)
The 14 excellent, inventive poems in this creative collection feature — you guessed it — 14 women and girls (one just 6yo, another only 13) — who used their courage, intellect, and considerable chutzpah to pursue their interests, share their talents, secure their rights, and otherwise knock down the barriers in their way.
You might not think it’s possible to convey information like this through poetry — much less in a way that makes the young women knowable, and the poems fun to read — but you’d be wrong. Wood’s work here is wildly accessible, and the choice to use 14 different illustrators to put images to words (featuring Selina Alko, Sophie Blackall, Lisa Brown, Hadley Hooper, Oge Mora, Julie Morstad, Sara Palacios, LeUyen Pham, Erin K. Robinson, Isabel Roxas, Shadra Strickland, Melissa Sweet, and Emily Winfield Martin) is nothing short of brilliant.
This diverse mixture — of women and their stories, of poetic forms, and of illustrations — offers a truly unique and outstanding reading experience. Highly recommended.
Thanks for reading. If you want to do something simple, quick, and totally free to support this newsletter, the biggest help you can give me is to pass it on to someone else who might like it 📤 As I’ve said many times in the past, word-of-mouth will forever be the love language of the internet.