A Book on Every Bed
10 December, 2020
Dear Readers: Every year at Christmastime, I delight in promoting A Book on Every Bed. I do so in memory of my mother, Jane, who raised her children to understand that if you have a book, you are never alone.
The idea originally came from historian David McCollough, who recounted the Christmas mornings of his youth, when the very first thing he woke up to was a wrapped book at the base of his bed, left there by Santa.
The most important part is what happens next: Family members reading together.
That’s it! That’s the whole idea!
Over the last ten years, working with my local literacy partner Children’s Reading Connection (childrensreadingconnection.org), this campaign has grown to include schools, libraries and bookstores, who have donated scores of books to families that might not have access to them. The goal – and our dream – is that families will experience the intimate and personal connection of diving into and sharing stories, the way my mother and I did throughout her life.
Over the years, important literacy advocates, such as the Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and LeVar Burton, and bestselling children’s authors Brad Meltzer and Peter Reynolds, have endorsed and helped to spread the good word.
This year is different. So many of us are alone, hurting, and separated from family and familiar holiday routines.
All of us – not just children – need a good book on our beds.
I have broadened the scope to include specific recommendations for books spanning all ages. I’ve reached out to some of my favorite writers, literacy advocates, and independent booksellers across the country for their special picks.
Whether you purchase a book or share an old favorite, I hope you will be inspired to put A Book on Every Bed this year. It is not necessary to make a Christmas deadline – this idea is one to sustain people throughout what might shape up to be a very long winter.
Following are recommendations for all age groups.
Baby and Toddlers: From Brigid Hubberman, Children’s Reading Connection, Ithaca, NY (childrensreadingconnection.org):
“Words are the language of love for babies. The best books for infants should be about the world they know. Parents should choose books to surround babies with an abundance of loving and delightful words.”
Baby Cakes, by Karma Wilson and Sam Williams
Haiku Baby, by Betsy E. Snyder
Shine Baby Shine, by Leslie Staub and Lori Nichols
Ages 3-5: From Lisa Swaze, Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca, NY (Buffalostreetbooks.com)
“If You Come to Earth,” by Sophie Blackall is one of my favorite picture books of 2020. This book is beautiful both visually and lyrically, and it will feel like a warm hug to any child or family who receives it.
“You Matter,” by Christian Robinson is a bright and elegant book that takes children on a journey around the world to make it clear that everyone matters, and perhaps more importantly, reassure them that they matter, no matter what they look like or where they are from.
Early Readers: From Sandra Dear, owner of The Little Boho Bookshop, in Bayonne, NJ (thelittlebohobookshop.com)
“The Suitcase,” by Chris Naylor-Ballesteros: This beautiful story about immigration, is full of heart and humanity as it teaches our littlest ones about hope, tolerance and kindness.
“Home in the Woods,” by Eliza Wheeler: This stunningly beautiful picture book has fast become a customer favorite. A story about starting over, of overcoming! A story of family, love and joy of being and growing together.
Middle Grade Readers: From Becky Anderson, co-owner of Anderson’s Bookshop, in Naperville, Illinois (andersonsbookshops.com):
“Ways to Make Sunshine,” by Renee Watson: Watson writes her own version of Ramona Quimby, one starring a Black girl and her family, in this start to a charming new middle grade series about spirit, kindness, and sunshine. Ryan, a fourth grader, finds the positive in difficult situations and when trouble strikes. She is that character to love and bring in the sunshine! Grades 3-6
Skunk and Badger by Amy Timberlake, illustrated by Jon Klassen: Winnie-the-Pooh and Frog and Toad meet in a fresh take on a classic odd-couple friendship. Klassen’s illustrations add much to a story of an unlikely friendship that proves that opposites can see the good in one another. The first in a series. Grades 3-7
“The Silver Arrow,” by Lev Grossman: Kate’s humdrum life is transformed when her eccentric Uncle Herbert brings her a colossal locomotive train, the Silver Arrow, as her eleventh birthday gift, leading her and her younger brother on a mysterious journey. The train will remind readers of the Hogwart’s Express. A story that is environmentally aware and calls readers to action. Perfect for fans of Roald Dahl and The Chronicles of Narnia. Grades 3-7
YA Readers: Danielle Kreger, Blue Bunny Books, Dedham, MA (bluebunnybooks.com): "One of Us is Lying" by Karen M McManus: An edge of your seat mystery that takes place in Bayview High school during detention. Simon, a so-called "outcast," never makes it out of detention alive. What follows is a tale of twists and turns that has the reader questioning the reliability of the characters, and the secrets they keep.
"Burn" by Patrick Ness: A fast-paced young adult fantasy that begins with fifteen-year-old Sarah, who meets Kazimir – a dragon who has been hired to help on her family's farm. Still reeling from the death of her mother, Sarah finds herself feeling an intense and unusual connection with Kazimir. As the story unfolds secrets, dangers and Kazimir's true purpose are revealed.
"The New Kid" by Jerry Craft: A spot-on graphic novel about navigating a new school, new friends and identity. Jordan Banks is in seventh grade when he is sent to a rigorous private school and grapples with staying true to himself- his love for creating cartoons, how to maintain his old friends and how he fits in in a less than diverse new school. A totally lovable and relatable character!
Adult Non-fiction: From Alex George, the author, most recently, of The Paris Hours, founder and director of the Unbound Book Festival, and the owner of Skylark Bookshop, in Columbia, MO (skylarkbookshop.com)
“Wintering,” by Katherine May: This is a deeply personal, quietly beautiful book, written with grace and immense thoughtfulness. We all go through difficult times; by mulling over her responses to her own misfortunes, the author offers insight as to how we might think differently about low points in our lives. Instructive, inspiring, and ultimately profoundly hopeful.
“The Book of Delights,” by Ross Gay: This utterly charming book of micro-essays by Ross Gay, a beloved and renowned poet, is a perfect gift for – well, just about anyone. Gay set himself the challenge of finding one thing that delighted him each day for a year, and then writing about it. The result is a quirky, brilliant book that you can dip in and out of, always finding something to make you smile, and think. A guaranteed lifter of spirits.
“Intimations: Six Essays,” by Zadie Smith: I’ve always loved Zadie Smith’s nonfiction work, and this small but powerful book shows her talents at their finest. Written during the pandemic, these six pieces are sharp, and funny, and thought-provoking. Smith’s deeply personal reflections on this strangest of years is essential reading. If ever there was a book for these strange times, it’s this one.
Adult Fiction: Mark LaFramboise, Senior Book Buyer at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC (politics-prose.com)
“The Butterfly Lampshade,” by Aimee Bender: This is a beautiful story of mental illness, the bonds of sisterhood, and the liveliness of a child's imagination. Francie is 8 years old when the book begins, the daughter of a single mom. This is the story of her odyssey after her mother is committed to a mental hospital, and she is sent to be raised by an aunt and uncle.
“Luster,” by Raven Leilani: Edie, the young protagonist in Luster, Raven Leilani's debut novel, is daring, sexy, hilarious, super smart, and drop dead beautiful. Her affair with a married man takes a turn for the strange when she meets and befriends the man's wife and daughter. Edie is whip smart because Raven Leilani is whip smart and her voice propels this beguiling novel.
“What Are You Going Through,” by Sigrid Nunez: Sigrid Nunez writes so beautifully that plot feels irrelevant. The writer's confidence and authority are apparent from the first page. Ultimately, it's the story of a woman who is asked by an old college acquaintance to be with her when she takes her life, after a cancer diagnosis. But, like her previous book The Friend (about a woman who inherits a large Great Dane), it doesn't matter what story she tells because her words bristle with life.
Elders: Gayle Shanks, Changing Hands Bookstore, in Tempe and Phoenix, AZ
“Apeirogon,” by Colum McCann: Two fathers, one Palestinian and one Israeli have both lost their young daughters to violence but have decided that reconciliation, not revenge, is what they needed to seek. In the process, they became best friends. McCann describes the insanity and senseless violence bred in the Middle East, the Occupation under which the Palestinians are forced to live, but also the beauty of the country, the migration of birds, the many ways humans overcome adversity and find solace in the natural world and each other. In a series of 1001 fragments, McCann walks us through his imaginary polygon, the Apeirogon of the title, containing an infinite number of sides, an infinite number of gorgeous sentences, and ultimately an infinite number of ways to view the human condition.
“All the Way to the Tigers,” by Mary Morris: Travel writer Mary Morris’ book, written in small chapters, was in some ways similar to reading Colum McCann's, Aperagon, also written in small bits (in his case 1001, in Mary's -- 112 chapters). Morris travels to India in search of the elusive Bengal tiger, but in so many ways she is searching for herself and her place in the world as she recovers from a serious ankle injury that leaves her debilitated but determined.
In her short vignettes, she quotes Rilke, Wendell Berry, other writers she admires and reminds us how important it is to listen intently to others as in active listening we are rewarded with deeper understanding.
“The Chair Rocks,” by Ashton Applewhite: From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing, and old people useless. Author and activist Ashton Applewhite believed them too—until she realized where this prejudice comes from and the damage it does. Lively, funny, and deeply researched, This Chair Rocks traces Applewhite’s journey from apprehensive boomer to pro-aging radical, and in the process debunks myth after myth about late life. The book explains the roots of ageism—in history and in our own age denial. Whether you’re older or hoping to get there, this book will shake you by the shoulders, cheer you up, make you mad, and change the way you see the rest of your life. Age pride!