Joy's Top 10 Books That Kept Me From Walking Into the Sea

It’s been a long year. Just the other day my colleague Laura reminded me that, even though it feels like a million lifetimes ago, it was THIS calendar year back in January when we squeezed 150 plus people in the store for darling Nathan Hale. Remember when we didn’t all wash our hands fifty times a day? When we didn’t know how to use a dozen different virtual platforms, the phrase Zoom bombing wasn’t in our vocabulary,  and our main event worry was if someone’s plane was delayed or they were boring, didn’t make eye contact, and kept asking for water? Remember when we did in-person school visits and took authors to lunch?  When we could go places and didn’t worry that our take-out queso or unwiped groceries might kill us?

Yeah. You remember.

I know there have been silver linings. Authors are totally happy to join us from anywhere, They can sell books while wearing pajama bottoms no one can see. My Middle Grade Book Club kids have met so many famous writers they’ve become nonchalant about the whole thing. I’ve perfected the art of describing pens and journals and candles over the phone. (“Yes, it really smells like leather and pine with a hint of pandemic despair.”) 

“I like your mask” has become the new “I like your earrings.” 

We are making it through.

But some days, you go home and think wow. I’m out of pinot and the bourbon is running low and that man is tweeting his ire again in ALL CAPS and Anderson Cooper looks like he just wants to run home to his kid, and I just can’t anymore with the Hallmark Christmas movies because of more reasons than I have time to discuss here. The dog has developed a fear of the outdoors and even Yoga with Adrienne isn’t calming me down.

In those moments, I turn to books. Lately it’s been picture books and middle grade novels because they have a hopefulness of spirit. And cookbooks because food is hope, too. It’s community and nourishment, a connection to the land, to our past, and to the hands of whoever first put those ingredients together in that specific way. 

At their best, books explore what it means to be human. They dig at truth and wonder and ask questions and push us to think hard, and maybe for a second or two, get inside someone else’s perspective. Even if it’s just to discover why someone likes chickpeas. It’s a sort of magic. It’s what we need.

Here are ten books that have lifted me up and kept me from walking into the sea like Edna Pontellier in Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I hope you’ll read them and let them lift you, too.

Modern Comfort Food: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook Cover Image
ISBN: 9780804187060
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Clarkson Potter - October 6th, 2020

I love Ina Garten. I also love actress Jennifer Garner’s ‘Fake Cooking Show” tributes to Ina on Jennifer’s Instagram. (Side note: If you need another uplift, follow Garner’s IG. Trust me on this.) Garten’s new cookbook is filled with yumminess-- tomato soup and orzo with lemon and feta and all sorts of warm, tasty treats that don’t stress the home cook. 

Cravings: Recipes for All the Food You Want to Eat: A Cookbook Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101903919
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Clarkson Potter - February 23rd, 2016

Yes, it’s a celeb cookbook, but Teigen can really cook and talk about food and this one is a warm, folksy embrace-- real talk about real food. Including a jazzed up jalapeno tuna noodle casserole I’ll be making soon. 

Coo Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062955975
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Greenwillow Books - March 3rd, 2020

We read this one for Middle Grade Book Club and author Kaela Noel graciously joined us. An abandoned infant girl raised by pigeons has to venture into the real world. It’s magical, sweet, and has an ending that is literally uplifting.

Ways to Make Sunshine (A Ryan Hart Story #1) Cover Image
By Renée Watson, Nina Mata (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781547600564
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Bloomsbury Children's Books - April 28th, 2020

This younger middle grade by Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Award winner Renee Watson is the first in a series about Ryan Hart, whose mission in life is to find the best in people, even when that’s tough to do. Sweet and kind and lovely.

Swashby and the Sea Cover Image
By Beth Ferry, Juana Martinez-Neal (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780544707375
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: HMH Books for Young Readers - May 5th, 2020

A girl and her mother move to a house at the seaside, next door to cranky, bitter Swashby, who learns to change his attitude and become a friend. The ocean is a sort of character here. A delight of a picture book. 

You Matter Cover Image
ISBN: 9781534421691
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Atheneum Books for Young Readers - June 2nd, 2020

Just over a hundred words, but nuanced and layered. Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Honor winner Robinson presents the glory of seeing the world from all perspectives in this colorful and cheery picture book.

The Farmer and the Monkey (The Farmer Books) Cover Image
By Marla Frazee, Marla Frazee (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781534446199
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Beach Lane Books - September 22nd, 2020

This sweet wordless picture book is the second in two-time Caldecott Honor winner Frazee’s Farmer series. Circus monkey and farmer used to his solitary life. A falling out. A journey through the snow. A change in heart. The littles and the grownups will fall in love with this one. Remember how I mentioned Jennifer Garner’s IG above? Well she reads it aloud (well, sort of since it’s wordless) in one of her Stories. Worth a gander.

Quintessence Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374309763
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) - July 28th, 2020

A fallen star. Three unlikely friends. A magical shop. A view of the wide, wide, universe.  A grand adventure with an ending that will have you wiping your eyes. This wonderful middle grade (we also had Jess Redman join us on Zoom) makes us think about not only what makes us each special but also on what interconnects us.

Blue Skies Cover Image
ISBN: 9781534446069
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers - March 17th, 2020

Set in post-WW II small town Texas, BLUE SKIES is the sweetly heartwarming story of a girl named Glory Bea, who is hoping on hope that her MIA soldier father will finally come home. Not all hopes come true, but that doesn’t mean different miracles might not occur. Another treat of a middle grade.

A Whale of the Wild Cover Image
By Rosanne Parry, Lindsay Moore (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9780062995926
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Greenwillow Books - September 1st, 2020

In the spirit of  her award-winning bestseller, WOLF CALLED WANDER, Parry gives us a standalone companion in this story of a lost orca named Vega and her brother searching for their pod. Like WOLF, the tale is augmented with beautiful and realistic black and white illustrations and told from the whale’s POV. It’s a grand story of family and friendship and survival, and the back matter has much to say about the Salish Sea, the Pacific Northwest, and conservation. Pure delight from one of my favorite authors.

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