I Like You: Valentine’s Books for a Family Self-Care Practice
Eons ago, when people went to movie theaters, I watched the Mr. Rogers documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” crushed among seats full of strangers.
The scene between Lady Aberlin and Daniel Tiger left an impression on me. The one where Daniel Tiger opens up to Lady A about a big fear: is he a mistake? He is small, scared, lives inside a clock and happens to love people. He’s not like any other tiger he knows.
The good lady listens to Daniel, brow furrowed, nodding, before breaking through his whimpered song in her clear bell voice, “I think you are just fine as you are. I really must tell you I do like the person that you are becoming.”
I often think about that theater and how it felt when the film ended and credits rolled. There was a kind of pause before anyone moved to collect jackets and popcorn buckets. A collective inhale and lift of the chest – like if a room itself could have clutched its heart. Mostly adults, transformed to children for a moment.
Just fine as we were. Could it be true?
If I could gather up that you-are-just-fine feeling into a book list for grown-ups and the children in their lives, here are a few that speak healing to our deepest worries. That say: no, we’re not mistakes.
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
Ross Gay commits to writing a mini-essay every day for a year, capturing particular delights that, when I’m at my most still, I begin to see in my life too. These little noticings take just a couple minutes for a lot of wonder: traveling with a tomato plant through an airport, “An Abundance of Public Toilets,” loopy handwritten run-on sentences … And among these joys he doesn’t overlook the thorny parts – read his brilliant censure of “some stupid sh**” said by Thomas Jefferson by way of celebrating “the holy nap” to see what I mean. I refuse to take any trips without this book in my suitcase.
For more playful entry points into paying attention, see everything Mary Oliver ever wrote. I recommend starting with Devotions.
The Will to Change by bell hooks
After my husband read this book, I witnessed him take steps toward his own healing from the harmful patriarchal constructs and childhood wounds that keep so many men lonely and disconnected from themselves and their communities. Feminist theorist bell hooks communicates something deeply felt about the male experience with optimism, compassionately offering a path forward.
Also check out hooks’ All About Love – shining a light on a way of love that is sacred, redemptive and healing. And for those little men, see – Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
A standby: this one stays on my nightstand as the only antidote to certain flavors of anxiety when I need to hear that I am not alone. Culled from Cheryl Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” advice column – Cheryl/”Sugar” responds to readers’ deepest fears and shames that are so specific, they are, of course, universal. The reminder: there are tiny, beautiful things for us even when we are at our lowest.
Pair it with Kate Baer’s honesty-punch poetry: What Kind of Woman.
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
Taylor is a renowned activist and poet and this collection is both a healing force and a challenge of what’s considered “normal.” The second edition (released this month!) includes a new final chapter offering specific tools, actions, and resources for confronting racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia.
There is also a new The Body is Not an Apology workbook out in March to practice the power of radical self-love.
Layla’s Happiness by Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie and Ashleigh Corrin
Layla loves purple, climbing trees, and the full moon at night. We especially resonate with her affection for farmer’s markets and friendship. Tallie’s story is as whimsical as it is poetic, blended with Corrin‘s vibrant illustrations and stunning patterns. It’s a perfect lap-read for winding down with your little ones and talking about where we find happiness in our everyday lives.
Find more joyous poetry in Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho celebrating the character’s heritage and beautiful eyes.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas and Erin Stead
This is a story about a man with a lonely job that he loves: to open any bottle found at sea and make sure the message is delivered. It aches with subtle light and quirky characters as the Uncorker quietly wonders if he’ll ever receive a letter. The mystical seaside town shows what happens when a community brings their eccentricities together to erase isolation. An uplifting read-aloud.
Double the inspiration of unlikely beachy friendships with Swashby and the Sea by Beth Ferry and Juana Martinez-Neal to add some pirate-y fun.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
This isn’t so much a book as it is a magical little world to step into for a moment of perspective – each page a stunningly illustrated revelation about love, fear, friendship and journeying. The form is simple: a boy sets off on a path and gains the horse, fox and mole as travelling companions. But the spare way Mackesy sweeps up his readers creates a unique experience – great for family bedtime stories.
The metaphorical resonance for grown-ups of this little book would bundle well with Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May.
Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds
A peek into the complex and hilarious and open-hearted worlds of young people: friends don’t let friends smell bad, go it alone, or miss the chance for a good joke. Each short story follows kids living in the same neighborhood as they walk to and from school and all the hijinks and dangers and pitfalls and worries along their way.
Also see Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration – personal accounts of light in the darkness for the next generation facing so much uncertainty in today’s world.
I like you, book-lovers.
Find these books and more at our Build Your Own Bookish Bouquet event on February 13 & 14.
About the Author
Abigail Paxton is the owner of Storyhouse Bookpub and loves nothing more than handing the perfect book to a fellow reader at just the right time. She is an enthusiastic bookseller and writer, and in her spare time, you can find her reading, running, or hunting out the best beaches in her 1957 camper with her husband & big fluffy dog. Follow Storyhouse Bookpub’s journey in Des Moines on Instagram @storyhousebookpub and at storyhousebookpub.com.