Weeding, Seeding, Reading and Healing

A Mother and Son’s Summertime Book Experience

This summer season represents many themes for different people depending on who you are and what you need. Yours may be the summer of freedom, the summer of connection, or the summer of belonging. For me, it’s the summer of healing and renewal. Many of us experienced trauma throughout the last year and a half. Many of us were experiencing trauma before the pandemic hit. And for many of us, those traumatic experiences welled up old traumas from years ago feeling like a double-whammy to our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits. As we moved from the frenetic pace of the school year in which there was no time to stop and think more-less feel, summer arrived and as my calendar grew more spacious, I noticed how numb I felt. That led to concern and a focus on allowing feelings to enter gently, slowly back into my life, they were so pushed away as I gritted through these challenging times.

Among a reformation of the foods and drinks I put into my body knowing that could contribute (or take away from) my steps toward well-being, I had a strong desire to conduct a major book purge. I am, as you may suspect, an avid reader. I come by it honestly hailing from parents who consume books faster than a bowl of popcorn during a good movie. I love all kinds of books – fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, biographies. And as I reflected on my craving to weed through them all, I realized how much my book collection reflects my current reality, ideologies and even identity. “If it’s true that I have been fundamentally changed in the last few years,” I said to myself, “then surely my books will reflect those seismic shifts and help me become more self-aware.”

It absolutely proved true. As I went shelf by shelf – not simply dusting and organizing — but actually, reading the jacket and asking the question, “is this me? Will I invest my time in this?”, I discovered the truth of my prediction. Other questions I asked were, “what are new or critical values I want to reinforce, better understand, expand or deepen?” and “what values do not serve me anymore?” This book self-identifying process is incredibly personal. There’s no right or wrong so when you review my choices, they may not be where you are. For example, the books that strongly emphasized individualism or competition and scarcity or those that told the American story from a white privilege perspective found their place in the “give away” pile. Bye, bye Ayan Rand’s “The Fountainhead” and Emerson’s Essays on Self-Reliance. There were other books that I couldn’t even bring myself to give away to others, and they headed for the trash bin.

Can you believe every book on this countertop I am passing along to some other reader? Oh, don’t worry! There’s plenty more at home. This was the buy-back counter at Half Price Books.

The seeds of racism can be found in children’s stories and buried in the back of the shelves were two that are now marked “trash.” They had been saved because they were childhood favorites of my parents signed to me lovingly by them. I know that my Dad relished as a bullied child in the story of a boy who outsmarted tigers in “Little Brave Sambo” or in some versions, “Little Black Sambo.” Instead of quickly ridding my house of these, I researched why these contain racist themes and educated my son on how they can insidiously infect even seemingly innocent stories such as childhood picture books. Through my reading, we learned that, among many important hidden themes, Sambo was portrayed as an African-American boy even though he lived in India with an Indian family. He accepted abuse from the tigers in a kind way smiling while being striped of all of his possessions and clothing and ended up eating the abusers or taking into his very being their oppression. My understanding of this tale grew deeper as I read and expanded my understanding of the destructive nature of this and other childhood tales. I’m replacing these childhood tales with new ones that are more life-giving to me and my family.

Though I’ve spent much of my summer quiet and not on social media, I thought about you and how you are on the same journey of healing. I’m sharing my weeding, seeding, reading and healing process in case it can support you as well. In addition, my son, thirteen-years-old, joined me in getting rid of outgrown stories and growing and expanding his own book selection with the purpose of expanding his empathy and social awareness. Here’s what I’m learning from currently. And there’s a series of my son’s books below as well.

The Dance of Anger; A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner, PhD. – I find anger to be a confusing emotion and generally, one I’m uncomfortable with allowing. This book is an excellent guide to understanding how to validate your angry feelings and use them to create change in your life.

The Body Keeps the Score; Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD – I thought I knew a bit about trauma but wow. If you only read one book about trauma whether for yourself or the many around you, this is an important read.

The Endless Practice; Becoming Who You Were Born to Be by Mark Nepo – My endless practice is reading a passage from a Mark Nepo book (there are many!) every morning, every day since I became a parent. His wisdom nourishes me and always give me something important to consider in my life.

The Transformation; Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma by James Gordon – This was sent to me by the author and I sadly ignored it until this summer and what a treasure! I love how it offers simple, practical strategies for healing.

The Naturalist’s Notebook for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich – This beautifully illustrated journal guides you to pay close attention to each aspect of your natural surroundings. Mindfulness is an important strategy for healing along with connection with nature. If you haven’t yet watched the award-winning documentary “The Octopus Teacher,” it shows a man who engaged in healing by being deeply mindful of and creating a relationship with nature.

The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook; A Proven Way to Accept Yourself, Build Inner Strength and Thrive by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer – I have loved and learned from Kristin Neff’s research on self-compassion. This is a great way to take yourself through writing exercises to help transform the ways in which you treat yourself by thinking about how you might treat a treasured friend who is struggling.

Noise; A Flaw in Human Judgment by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein – Since the pandemic arose, I’ve been fascinated with the ways in which people make responsible decisions for themselves and their families. This book discusses the “noise” and bias involved with every judgment that’s made and how we need to overcome both in order to make responsible decisions. Noise can involve a myriad of dissenting external views on the same topic, impulse and personal desires, trivial preferences, power struggles and more. As we live through complicated times, understanding how responsible decisions can be made by reducing noise and bias both individually and collectively is extremely important.

As for my thirteen-year-old son, his first recommendation would not be surprising if you knew that today he was at magic camp, a proud great grandson of a known Cincinnati magician. His top pick would be the entire “Harry Potter” series devoured several times over. Interestingly though, other than this next first recommendation, that’s where the white male lead characters stop for his list of book picks. Check out the rest of his summer recommended reading for middle school age teens.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker – This story alternates each chapter from the highly believable perspective of a fox to the perspective of the boy who loves him. The boy is forced to give up the fox and spends the book on an adventure to find him. This book offers unique insights into the power of unexpected relationships and friendships. One character deals with post traumatic stress disorder and heals through art. The book deals with the costs of war and opens up the definition of family to simply those we love. We loved reading this one together.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan – This historical fiction story is told about the author’s grandmother, born to a wealthy family in Mexico who was forced to leave amidst family tragedy and abuse. She moves with family members to America to find a safer life where they become migrant farm workers. The conditions in which she must work and live are horrible and some start striking and fighting back and lose their livelihood and homes in the process. Though we studied Cesar Chavez and his critical work, this book brings the experience of immigrants trying to find safety and a better life in the United States to life in powerful ways to build empathy and awareness. He loved this book!

Anne Frank; The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank – How can this not leave a lasting impression? Anne Frank writes her personal daily account of her confinement with hers and another family hiding from the Nazi regime in the back rooms of her father’s office. Anne’s storytelling sounds just like a friend or classmate of my son’s. She finds optimism and hope in each of her days. My son was fascinated with World War II as so many are. This brings to life the authentic experience of a girl around the same age living through the fear, uncertainty, hurt and confusion of being hated and hunted for one’s race and religion. Despite it all, it’s clear she discovers ways to learn and thrive.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell – This is the fictional story of a real woman (O’Dell named her Karana) who lived alone on San Nicolas island off the coast of California in the early 1800s for twenty years after her tribe was removed from the island. It is an incredible story of survival as she finds ways in which to create a home, find food, domesticate animals as companions and more. The richness of detail feels deeply authentic though the author only had scraps of information to use. In a year where survival was at issue, this tale is heartwarming and shows how the spirit can thrive despite harsh circumstances.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am Edited by Elise Paschen – This book of poetry contains well-known as well as unknown poets’ work that sings out the identities of many and varied unique persons in a variety of environments. This rich collection was one that inspired my son to write his own poetry.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson – The author takes us step by step through her childhood born in our hometown Columbus, Ohio in 1963. Each brief chapter is written as free verse. Winner of the National Book Award and Newberry Honor Award, my son has this lined up as next on his list!

I wrote about weeding, reading and healing. I also did some seeding. There were two old books that I trashed in my weeding process. I added a number of new ones to my collection seeding new childhood stories like the young adult book, “Stamped” by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. And the picture books “A Boy Like You” by Frank Murphy, “We Are Grateful Ostaliheliga” by Traci Sorrell, “What If Soldiers Fought with Pillows; True Stories of Imagination and Courage” by Heather Camlot and “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt De La Peña (thank you, Tauck Family Foundation for introducing me to several of these!).

What are you reading this summer that is lifting you up, healing you and offering you empathy and hope? I hope that your summertime reading dreams are fulfilled!

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