Love can save us. Trust me, I know.
My childhood was not a lovely one. I was the youngest, and therefore the most helpless, child of a very broken family. Alcoholism, domestic violence, and several types of abuse were some of the secrets we kept (or thought we kept) hidden within our household. When life was not a place of fear and terror, it was a place of shame and doubt. Love saved me. One of the first times that I confronted love was in the book Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. I know it seems silly that a book about a donkey and a little red marble could show me what love looks like. It was Sylvester’s parents who got through to me. They grieved when their adored son, Sylvester, couldn’t be found. I realized that love could look like grieving. My next encounter with love was the Frances books by Russell Hoban. Frances was lovable, though she was sometimes stubborn, selfish, and childish. Frances had wise caring people in her life who helped her grow and change. I learned that love is not abrasive and that love can transform.
I watched my dad encounter love in the Alcoholics Anonymous book (the Big Book) as he read accounts of other recovering alcoholics sharing their experience, strength, and hope. Yes, I ended up reading the whole book cover-to-cover, too. I was watching it transform my father, so I just had to read it. I knew there was good stuff in there!
Book by book, chapter by chapter, page by page, I have been transformed as I have encountered love in books. I have realized that I am not alone. I have realized that my shortcomings don’t have to be permanent. I have learned that people are resilient, and I can be too. I learned that there is hope. Since then, I have tried to share this love with others. I like helping my students and friends find the right book. The book that will speak to their hearts.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I stumbled upon Donalyn Miller’s words that put voice to what I was trying to do with books. On page 9 of The Book Whisperer, Donalyn explains how she and her husband have use books to express themselves and their hearts to each other with “Books are our love letter (or apologies) passed between us, adding a layer of conversation beyond our spoken words.”
For over a week, I have been beyond words. I know that to heal, to move forward, I need to use my voice, but there is too much to articulate. I also know that I need to love. Fearlessly. So, America, I want to express my love for you. Here is my love letter to you in the form of books.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Even when it seems that the world (or in Melinda’s case, the entire high school) is against you, and you are hurting alone, find your safe place, your safe person, and speak.
Staying Fat For Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
Sometimes the best way to help a friend is to listen to what she is not saying.
Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes
When a friend encourages you to be yourself, your toughest critic might finally accept you as you are, even if your toughest critic is your own father.
Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
Wait, do you really expect me to tell you a tiny little thing about each book on this list? Just read this one! Trust me!
One For the Murphys by Lynda Mullay Hunt
Even those of us who feel we are undeserving of love, are indeed loved.
Love the Baby by Steven Layne
Jealousy can cause hatred, but seeing another’s vulnerability and humanity can sometimes be what we need to help us love.
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
“If you plant a seed of kindness, in almost no time at all, the fruits of kindness will grow and grow and grow.”
Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Sometimes love looks like a bald, chipped-tooth, taxi-driving coach who pushes you to be better.
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Love, especially sacrificial love, trumps everything no matter how terrifying, dark, and powerful a certain force may appear to be.
A Perfect Season for Dreaming/Un Tiempo Perfecto Para Soñar by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Find someone you trust and share your dreams.
My Secret Camera: Life in the Lodz Ghetto by Frank Dabba Smith, with photographs by Mendel Grossman
Even in the worst of times, connecting with others, laughter, and love helps us persevere.
Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Pay attention to how you treat others, and remember that even small amounts of kindness can ripple outward and change the world.
America, this is a teeny tiny list, and there are countless books that will remind you who you are to the world, and who the world should be to you. These are just a few that I have on my coffee table right now, reminding me that there is hope. Start with one of these, or choose another book, but read, love, transform, and be transformed.