2020 was such a dark year.

For me, the Pfizer vaccine announcement created a beam of light at the end of a very long tunnel. I finally found hope. And what a boost it gave my soul!

That glimmer of light helped me navigate a rough holiday season, diminished by the lack of traditions of large extended family gatherings full of exposed laughter, huge bear hugs, and white elephant gifts given by shenanigans.

I felt like I could breathe a little easier. My chest literally expanded deeper with every breath, and at night when I woke up my mind wasn’t always full of anxious thoughts about those I love most.

I started to be happy. I started thinking about travel again one day (not too soon, but one day it will be closer than maybe never again). I envisioned the simple act of meeting friends for lunch, recording a movie with my husband, and hugging my father.

While January is still winter in my part of the world, the winter solstice is behind us and the days are getting closer to the longer daylight hours of summer. Literally and figuratively, I feel the same way in my mind and heart.

This glimmer of hope changed something deep inside me.

I looked for books to read that nurtured this feeling and ignited this spark.

Literature has such power. Especially when the words are created by writers with a gift for putting words together into powerful sentences, powerful sentences into chapters that can’t wait to turn the page and can’t wait to turn the page. Page chapters on cleverly woven novels that bring all the right pieces together to bring joy and triumph and authentic deep feelings to the reader.

Literature has the power to help us see things in a new light and to reveal ideas and feelings that we may never have considered or felt before. Of course, each reader brings their own life experiences to the interpretation of the words, and in that sense each person takes something else away, but I believe that a talented writer uses words to evoke a universal human connection.

As we work through the next few months of pandemic precautions that we have hidden in our homes in the northern hemisphere for the winter, I offer this list of books that have strengthened my belief in the fundamental goodness of mankind. Some made me cry, others made me laugh. But they were all good for my soul.

If you’re looking for a bit of true inspiration, this is the nonfiction book that will get you there. Mary Walker was born into slavery in 1848, freed at 15, married and mother at 20. She learned to read at the age of 116.

Message of Hope: It’s never too late to learn something new.

At times when we may feel isolated and alone, this stunningly illustrated and beautifully told story of how a little boy’s big idea changed his neighborhood landscape reminds us that there is great power in the community and much that we do can be grateful.

Message of Hope: Coming together has the potential to open our eyes to the beautifully diverse community that surrounds us and that by working together we can create amazing things.

Do you need a giggle, a giggle, or a thoroughly belly laugh? Dog Man is just the thing. I can’t keep these on the shelf in my basic library. When the winter break was just around the corner and I took home a stack of must-reads, I took one that had just come out of quarantine and tossed it in my pocket. Overlaid with humor that will delight everyone from second graders to adults, this one is guaranteed to release those endorphins!

Message of hope: Laughter is good for the soul.

“White Bird” by RJ Palacio

A graphic addition to the “Wonder” stories, telling the powerful story of how Julian’s grandmother hid from the Nazis in occupied France during World War II. Throughout the story, unexpected kindnesses give Sara an opportunity to live, and Palacio tells the story of the strong friendship between Sara and Julien, the boy who was once a target of bullies but became Sara’s best friend during her hiding years.

Message of hope: “Goodness becomes a miracle. It becomes this light in the darkness … the essence of our humanity. It is hope. “White Bird, p.186

I love a great fantasy story, but I feel even more drawn into these worlds when the underlying theme is imbued with justice and the power to come together to correct injustice. A Wish in the Dark provides all of this as it follows the story of Pong, a prison refugee, and Nok, the director’s daughter, who is determined to catch him. Magical and captivating in its setting and story, this film will keep you looking for what will last until the end.

Message of hope: Our light can push back the darkness.

“Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes

This young adult novel is another marvelous read with a fundamental theme of the struggle for justice. When Jerome is shot dead by a police officer, he becomes a ghost to witness his family’s grief and the unrest in his community. Soon he connects with another spirit – Emmett Till, who helps Jerome understand the deep roots of racism. And Jerome is also involved with Sarah, the very lively daughter of the policeman who shot Jerome, who is committed to helping her family and community make the world a better place.

Message of hope: “Only the living can make the world a better place. Live and do better. “

Let’s make 2021 a year of hope, optimism, and positive change, powered by powerful readings to inspire young people (and ourselves).

Count me in. Can I rely on you?

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