I hope you’ll find some time to read just for fun this summer, just for the enjoyment, inspiration and beauty of words. Here are my 3 top picks to consider–Poetry, Biography and Fiction.
Poetry–Poems to Learn by Heart, Caroline Kennedy, Editor
I met Caroline Kennedy when she was in Seattle five years ago for April’s annual National Poetry Month. (“Met” is a relative term; see photo below.) The line to get into the enormous church snaked around the streetcorner but it was so worth the wait. Caroline was animated and inspiring, regaling us with tales of how her grandmother made she and her brother John learn and recite poetry. How Uncle Teddy entertained the family with his memorization of “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Poems to Learn by Heart is a lovely book to look at as well as read, full of remarkable illustrations. Sections include poems about friendship and love–with passages from I Corinthians 13 and Micah 6:8–as well as poems on family, school, sports and games. And because the book is for children, too, there are fairies and ogres and nonsense, some of which I enjoyed reading out loud to my grandchildren.
Here’s my post/poem about meeting Caroline.
2. Biography–Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, 1967 Scholastic Edition
“Those are red-letter days in our lives when we meet people who thrill us like a fine poem, people whose handshake is brimful of unspoken sympathy, and whose sweet, rich natures impart to our eager, impatient spirits a wonderful restlfulness which, in its essence is divine.
“The perplexities, irritations, and worries that have absorbed us pass like unpleasant dreams, and we wake to see with new eyes and hear with new ears the beauty and harmony of God’s real world.”
I re-read The Story of My Life last summer and was surprised as a grown-up to recognize the way Helen Keller’s faith in God shown through her words. I also enjoyed very much the description of Annie Sullivan as Helen’s teacher, and what it was like for Helen to go to college. We share a similar aversion to numbers, and her comments made me smile.
There is much to enjoy in this book–the description of nature, it’s sounds a n d “sights”–“reading” other people with a simple touch and “listening” with one’s hands. This is a short book but full of rich words to savor. The Story of My Life is only $2.50 Amazon(!!) and also available FREE as a PDF from the American Federation for the Blind. Click here to download it.
The book was also made into a movie “The Miracle Worker” with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke as Helen. The movie was filmed in 1962 and Patty won the Academy Award for best actress that year; she was a mere 16 years old. If you click on the video in the blue highlighted link, you’ll find the sound to be a bit iffy, but I still like it better than a contemporary adaptation done by Disney in 2000 also available online free.
3. Fiction–Wonder, R.J. Palacio, Alfred Knopf, 2012
School is officially out for the summer, and although I’m retired, I still mark time by the school calendar. When I was substuting as an elementary teacher, it seemed every other week there was at least one classroom where Wonder was the class readaloud. Of course, that meant I read only one or two chapters at a time and completely out of order, so I had no idea what the story was actually about. The illustration looked odd to me and I couldn’t ever get a straight answer to, “What’s the book about?”
I figured it was another wimpy kid’s book; you know, not actual literature, just some fluff. But Elementary school kids are always the first to know when anything cool is going on, especially when it comes to new books. After all, it’s because of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” that some 5th grade boys I know actually started reading.
R.J. Palacio (a sort of made-up name; more on that later) wrote Wonder in 2012. The book wasn’t on my radar again until the 2017 movie came out with Julia Roberts. She played the mom (Owen Wilson plays the father) and I definitely wanted to see it. But first I had to read the book.
I’m so glad I did.
Raquel Jaramillo, aka R.J. Palacio, was a children’s book editor and working with OTHER people as a cover designer for their books before she wrote Wonder. (Palacio is her mother’s maiden name.) If it wasn’t for a chance encounter at an ice cream shop with her kids in their New York neighborhood, the story of Wonder never would have been born. (Palacio tells the background of the book in her Preface.)
Wonder is told from different viewpoints, each one a person connected to Auggie Pullman, the main character. Of course, the first person we hear from is Auggie, who tells us what it’s like to be him—a kid with severe facial abnormalities due to a very rare condition—Treacher Collins Syndrome.
Other sections are written by Auggie’s sister Miranda, two classmates Summer and Jack, as well as a section is written by Justin, Auggie’s sister Olivia’s boyfriend.
Like the Gospels, Wonder weaves together an entire life story via these alternating narratives. Through the weaving we learn about prejudice and the harm it can do, as well as the revelation that comes when people recognize and embrace their alikeness more than their differences. Embedded in the weaving are Mr. Browne’s Precepts, taken from the words of well-known writers, including John Wesley, Virgil, John Donne and Blaise Pascal.
If there’s one theme of Wonder, it’s to be kind. And to not judge a book by its cover.
That’s a lesson that never goes out of season.
You can learn more about Treacher-Collins syndrome here.