If there’s one thing I’ve learned more than anything else, it’s the power that lies within stories. Over the past year and a half I have consumed one book after another. But I’ve started reading books I would have never chosen in the past. Why? One simple reason, reading builds empathy.
As I see things happen around our country and our world I’m overcome with emotion at the lack of empathy that lies within so many of us. And research shows that when read books with characters that are different than ourselves (or have lived lives markedly different than ours) we gain a deeper understanding and empathy towards them.
I’ve watched this take place within my own life. I’ve seen my understanding deepened, my beliefs broadened, my heart grow, and more. I’ve learned about different cultures, religions, sexual orientations, gender identification, racial inequities, family make up, and the list goes on and on. And I know that through reading these stories, I am gaining a deeper respect and understand of the many times of students that I serve and the people that I am going to come in contact with on a daily basis. And no, it doesn’t stop at these stories, but stories give us an entry point!
This has become such a passion of mine that I even wrote a book (releasing in June 2018) with my friend Travis Crowder called “Sparks in the Dark”. This book was a huge passion project for both of us and I am so proud of what we’ve put together. You can even follow our Facebook page to always get a stream of reading/writing ideas: facebook.com/sprksinthedark
So I decided I’d go ahead and recommend 5 books I’ve read recently that I think are must reads! So here goes….
Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
by: Dusti Bowling
A light-hearted (but with some depth) story about a little girl who was born with no arms. Her entire life she’s lived in the same place and grown up around the same people. She knew she was different, but she never felt too different. Then her father takes a job in another state, and the family is forced to move. Moving to this new town, this little girl finds that around new people she doesn’t feel as secure in who she is. She befriends a little boy with severe Tourette’s syndrome and together the help each other learn to love who you really are and also work together to solve a mystery at the park where her father works!
This story was such a great story about friendship, being ok with who you are, and even includes some great discussions about forgiveness and moving through tragedy. I absolutely loved this story!
**would be a great read aloud with 4th grade and above (in my opinion)
Stanley Will Probably Be Fine
by: Sally Pla
I love Sally Pla. Not only is she one of the sweetest ladies (who ever so kindly even wrote an endorsement for my new book Stories from Webb) but she wrote one of my favorite books from 2017, The Someday Birds.
In Stanley Will Probably Be Fine, it tells the story of a little boy named Stanley. Stanley has a sensory processing disorder where lots of people, noises, or smells quickly overwhelm him. Because of that Stanley rarely goes anywhere other than home and school. After a bad experience at a school assembly (which are held almost weekly at Stanley’s middle school), Stanley is given a “chill” room where he can spend time during large group gatherings. At the same time, Stanley is a comic book fanatic and a huge comic-con is coming to his town and his new neighbor, a girl named Liberty, convinces him to join this competition that will win them free tickets to the event!
Stanley must step outside of his well-defined, comfortable box, to prove to himself (and a few other characters) that he is brave. While all the while, a new (Made-up??) superhero is created named “John Lockdown”.
This book is a fun journey into working through your fears, never judging someone else, and even believing in the improbable.
**this would be a great read-aloud with 4th grade and above (in my opinion)
Wedgie and Gizmo
by: Suzanne Selfors
This book was sooooo funny! I can’t wait to read it with a group of kiddos at my school.
Wedgie and Gizmo have just become brothers. You see, their owners (a little girl and a little boy) have just become brother and sister too. A blended family in fact, where even a grandmother is added to the mix! Well Gizmo, a world-dominating, nefarious gineau pig is not too happy about these new additions. While Wedgie, a dog who believes he has superpowers due to his special cape loves everyone in the new family! This is a fun, light-hearted tale of family, forgiveness, and new beginnings.
I loved this book so much and found myself laughing out loud several times!
**great for a read-aloud with 1st grade and above (in my opinion)
by: Alan Gratz
Wow, where can I even begin. This book couldn’t be more timely in our world right now. What feels like a true story, is the trek of three families, told from the perspective of a child in each family, during three different time periods, who are leaving their countries. Running from Natzi Germany in the 1930s, leaving Cuba in 1994, and leaving Syria in 2015. All during times of great turmoil. The journey alongside these families, it will take you on a trip across the sea, through the dessert, and just like in real life, not everyone survives those kinds of treks. This story ripped my heart out. Not only because I felt like I was traveling with them, but to also think about who refugees are so often treated and “defined” by others. These are families, who are only seeking a better life. A life where they have the same freedoms I so often take for granted. This book is a must read.
** Would be a great read-aloud in 5th grade and above (in my opinion)
Far From the Tree
by: Robin Benway
This novel ripped my heart out. This is what I would call an “ugly cry” book (like The Serpent King). This story is a journey into what it really means to be family. Three children, separated in their infancy, have grown up never knowing each other exist. Grace, adopted as an infant, finds out she has a brother and sister out in the world. After giving up her own child for adoption she decides she wants to find them. Her parents help her find Maya first. Maya was also adopted as an infant, but has always felt out of place in her small family full of red-heads. Maya and Grace from a tight bond as they set out to find their older brother, Joaquin. Joaquin on the other hand, was never adopted (even though his current foster parents desperately want to). He’s grown up in and out of foster care and very difficult situations. This is a journey of not only Grace and Maya showing Joaquin that he is worthy of having a family but also a journey of the three of them to find out where they really come from and where they fit into this world.
I can’t say enough about this book and how much it spoke to me. The last few chapters alone had me sobbing. I connected with each character, for totally different reasons.
** Would be a great read aloud for 6th grade and above (in my opinion)
What are some of your favorite books you’ve read recently and why?? Which of these books stands out to you?? Share on social media using the hashtag #SparksInTheDark and I might just pick a few people to win a copy of the books listed above!!!