I think it’s safe to say that everyone has faced some kind of hardship over the last year. From the obvious continuing difficulties of living through a pandemic to inequalities of all kinds, police brutality to political unsteadiness, devastating assaults to financial hardships, let alone the loneliness, worry and isolation that we’ve all experienced during lockdowns as well as individual battles that have been faced along the way; 2020 is it true to say, was not on the whole a very friendly year. And yet amongst all of the horrible situations there has also been an abundance of kindness and triumphs that have come out of our struggles through the human ability to have hope. I’ve always thought of hope as being a gentile, cheery and delicate thing which it most definitely can be, but in recent months I’ve come to acknowledge hope as more of a brave warrior. Having hope is a decision to look towards better days when you’re at your lowest, it’s the determination to keep going when all you want to do is stop, it’s the antidote to darkness and helps you find your strength when you need it most. It’s a friend that battles the stormy weather with you regardless of the persistent crashing waves. For me hope is strength, resilience, kindness and determination all wrapped up in one.
At the beginning of the year I discovered a tv series called Little Voice and in it is a song written by Sara Bareilles called Dear Hope (if you’d like to hear it I’ve left the video at the bottom) which prompted me to actually think about the elusiveness of hope in a different way. I haven’t felt much hope these days and when I heard the song I felt instantly connected to it. It was one of those rare moments where it felt as though the song had been made out of my very thoughts and emotions and somehow someone else had been able to string together the perfect words that I just didn’t know how to say, and I think I’m probably not the only one to feel this way. So I thought I’d make this weeks blog all about books to help bring hope if your tank is nearing empty. I really hope you enjoy it and that you might find a book that will help if you’re currently surfing choppy seas.
The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf This winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2019 is a book that whenever I speak to anyone about it, be it an adult or child, always concludes in an outpouring of love for it from both parties which for me is the highest form of recommendation when it comes to books. Narrated by our protagonist, we are introduced to life through the eyes of a 9 year-old, which if I’m honest I think the world could do with a bit more often! A few weeks into a new school year the empty chair residing in the classroom becomes occupied by new student called Ahmet who is a refugee separated from his family. He is now in a new country, learning a new language, is very, very homesick and has been through experiences that most of us only ever read about in the news. So seeing Ahmet struggling in his new surroundings our main character, alongside her friends Josie, Michael and Tom befriend Ahmet and endeavour to help him feel welcome and to reunite him with his family again. And so starts a story of courage, friendship, compassion and never giving up. Onjali Q. Rauf deals with a hard topic with the kindest of hands and brings to life a book full of hope and strength.
Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Ranging from themes of hope, scientific thinking, life, death, school days, parenting and everything in between, Neil deGrasse Tyson brings together a collection of his correspondences and letters from over the years from acquaintances, members of the public and people from all walks of life. Some are quietly philosophical, some are funny, others showcase the human spirit of curiosity and questioning but they always encapsulate Neil deGrasse Tyson’s characteristic warmth and wit. Letters from an Astrophysicist isn’t just for those who love science but for anyone who has ever asked questions and wondered about our universe and our place in it. An ode to the human experience and one that will certainly get you thinking about our time here on our rocky planet in a slightly different light.
[If you’d like to read a little more about Neil deGrasse Tyson’s books you can click here to go to my Top 5 Books to Introduce yourself to Pop-Science blog]
The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell
Finding solace in nature during difficult times is not a new idea, yet, with the high pace speed of modern life our relationship with nature has generally gotten further and further separated from our daily lives and in many cases our mental health less and less looked after. But one of the positives that came out of 2020 I think has to be the widespread appreciation for our wonderful nature and wildlife. During the first lockdown here in the UK we were extremely fortunate to have good weather and during those several months the nation turned to nature and the benefits of having time outside was quickly evident in boosting our moods in a time of unprecedented worry and stress. The healing powers of nature is no stranger to author of The Wild Remedy, Emma Mitchell. Having suffered with depression or ‘the grey slug’ as she calls it for 25 years Emma has found little better antidote to helping her deal with her darkness than spending time in nature herself. The Wild Remedy is a collection of a year spent wandering the woods, acknowledging wildlife and letting nature be part of her every day even if it’s just as simple as a dog walk. She explores the relationship of mental wellbeing and time spent amongst nature and collects photographs, acorns, feathers and fauna, draws what she’d found on her daily ventures and notes down the subtle changes of the seasons. The book is beautifully constructed and Emma herself is a real inspiration and example of how our mental health can improve tenfold when we get back to nature.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
16-year-old Justyce McAllister has everything going for him, he has the grades and is all set on a path to an Ivy League collage but Justyce isn’t like most of the other kids in his prestigious school. He’s had to work hard to get to where he is and prove his worth far more than the majority but that’s never deterred him from his goals in life. As a black male having grown up in a hard neighbourhood in a single-parent household with not much money to spare he knows what it means to strive for what you dream, and so far, nothing’s held him back until that is, he experiences discrimination by the hands of a police officer. This harsh reality sparks thoughts in Justyce’s head and unravels a series of events alongside questions that he doesn’t have the answers to yet. So during this time of crisis Justyce starts a project to write to the great late Martin Luther King Jr. in hope that combining his legacy and the action of putting pen to paper will help him better understand the world around him.
This book is absolutely incredible and just like it’s bookish neighbour The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, this is one that I think should be on the shelf of every school, library and bookshop. Filled with emotion, hard truths, fairness and hope for a better future, Nic Stone takes us on a story with characters from all walks of life and leaves you a changed reader.
Wild Embers by Nikita Gill
‘…What I am trying to say, my darling, is that I know you said you wouldn’t survive this day but across our beautiful universe, what is impossible is happening everyday.’
This is probably the first poetry book that I picked up as an adult as I always thought that poetry was either too clever for me or just something that I wouldn’t ‘get’ but as soon as I read the first few pages of Wild Embers I knew I just had to continue. Nikita Gill’s book is full of hope and human strength in the face of adversity. Having experienced many dark things herself she has crafted words into poetry to take solace in and find the beauty in life. Wild Embers contains poems about the strangeness of life and the beauty of it too, rebellion to not give up or give in, fables and fairytales (but perhaps not as you know them) and awe of the universe itself. If you’re dubious of picking up a poetry book but would like to then this is a great one to start off with and if you enjoy it, there are plenty more pieces of work by the talented wordsmith herself.
The Diary of Anne Frank
“Where there’s hope, there’s life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again.”
The story of the life of Anne Frank is one that continues to change the world with every person who comes upon it. The hardships and challenges that Anne and her family faced are unimaginable for me to comprehend and I don’t think any of us who are lucky enough not to have lived through such times will ever be able to contemplate just how hard and unjust life must have been, but regardless of the suffering that the Frank family and countless others experienced by the hands of the Nazis, Anne still found the beauty in the world and the courage to hope. For such a young person, her unique voice embodied strength, kindness and wisdom in a world of chaos and still shines just as bright to this day.
[If you’ve read or would like to read ‘Anne Frank’s Diary’ but would be interested in a different format, check out Ari Folman and David Polonsky’s graphic novel adaptation which has been authorised by the Anne Frank Foundation itself and brights to life her story to even more readers.]
Happy by Fearne Cotton
Part journal, part helping friend, Fearne Cotton’s first book Happy is all about finding that balance in life to cope with your mental health as well as finding the joyful in every day, however small that may be. From her own personal battle with depression Fearne relays things that have massively helped her on the road to stability and does so with kindness, friendliness and without any patronising manners. With activities throughout and even notes from some of her nearest and dearest as well as expert advice from the charity Mind, Happy is a really lovely book full of helpful tips and advice and even has an awesome playlist to try out – what’s not to love!
[If you like Fearne’s books I highly recommend her podcast ‘Happy Place’ where she talks to all different celebrities and well known figures about mental health and their experience with it.]
Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce
Best friends Emmeline and Bunty are doing all they can to make life cheerful despite the nightly bombings being dropped upon London. With determination to do her bit for the war effort, Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent ensuring that people are informed of current affairs and the happenings on the front line, so when she finds an ad in the newspaper showing a promising route to her journalism dreams, she’s doesn’t stop to think to apply for it, however the job turns out to be a little different to what she had planned. After mistakenly accepting the job of assisting a rather formidable agony aunt – Henrietta Bird, Emmy experiences life behind a typewriter just not quite in the way she’d imagined. Yet despite the wrath of Mrs Bird, the many injustices of war and the continuing hurdles faced as a woman in the workplace, Emmy and her best friend Bunty never give up on hope or humour. Dear Mrs Bird captures the heart and soul of wartime spirit and has become one of my favourite books. It made me laugh, it made me think and it almost made me cry (which is going some for me) and it gave me a reminder to never give up in times of trouble. So if you’re in need of cheering up with a good story, A J Pearce has it covered!
[If you enjoy ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ there’s good news – the sequel ‘Yours Cheerfully’ is being published 24th June here in the UK and 10th August in the US]
My Friend Fear ~ Finding Magic in the Unknown by Meera Lee Patel
Self-taught artist Meera Lee Patel has mixed her artistic talents with her experience with fear to create a beautiful and friendly manual that explores themes of fear and how we can harness it to make it our friend and not our foe. Simple and easy to read My Friend Fear is a calming book to flick through in times of anxiousness as well as when you need kindly advice to help you fiercely face up to the unknown and own it. It helps build confidence to live life with the courage and understanding that sometimes we need to have a little bit of fear by our side.
[She’s also written a wonderful activity journal called ‘Start Where you Are’ which is full of simple exercises and beautifully illustrated quotes that act as mindful exercises to help you find some calm, clarity and compassion in chaotic times.]
Captain Sir Tom Moore
“For all those people who are finding it difficult at the moment – the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.”
Nobody quite knows what it means for a nation to find hope and come together during times of severe adversity quite like the wartime generation and it goes without saying that Captain Sir Tom Moore has helped our nation through two periods of national hardships like no other. He bought to the country a spirit of calm determination, kindness, optimism and hope when we needed it most in 2020 and raised millions for our amazing NHS. So it was an absolute no-brainier to include this true hero’s story in a list of books to help bring about hope.
The Girl with the Lost Smile by Miranda Hart
Now I know that celebrity books aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be, but this children’s book by Miranda Hart is one of the exceptions. Full of her signature humour and kindness Miranda Hart brings us a story of a young girl called Chloe who is one of life’s glass half-full sort of people. Sure her home life seems to have changed recently (and not for the better) and yes sometimes school isn’t easy but she’s always got a smile no matter what. That is until one day her smile seems to disappear. She looks everywhere for it – she can’t find it in her bedroom, she can’t entice it back with her favourite jokes and even time with her awesome granny doesn’t seem to work either. Nothing and I mean nothing seems to be able to bring back her smile. But then something rather remarkable happens and she’s whisked away to the lands of imagination where anything is possible if only you have the spirit to see it through! Full of fun, imagination and humour, this wise tale will surly help many children deal with sadness and tough times by giving them a dose of understanding, kindness and entertainment. And bonus – it has some pretty awesome illustrations throughout too!
Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce
I read Miss Benson’s Beetle last year and I hadn’t read anything quite like it and I still haven’t to this day. Part mystery, part adventure, this story of female friendship and (you’ve guessed it) beetles, is wholly unique and has dashes of a little bit of every genre. Set during the post-war years of the 1950’s Miss Benson is middle-aged, solitary and spends her days teaching home-economics to classfulls of girls who tease her relentlessly. Having had enough of this endless cycle she has a sudden out-of-character moment where she decides to throw it all in and go on an adventure of a lifetime to find the elusive Golden Beetle of New Caledonia. With a chance mix-up she crosses paths with Enid Pretty who is a young beauty with bundles of energy and has a certain allure that men just can’t seem to take their eyes of off, but despite their differences these two polar opposite women embark on a journey together to find not just the beetle but unintentionally themselves too. With suspense, mystery, intrigue and humour Miss Benson’s Beetle takes us to a part of the world and timeframe different to our own and is a book that’s surly as unique as the Golden Beetle itself.
Saving Missy by Beth Morrey
Saving Missy was one of my favourite reads of 2020 and has definitely become one of my kindred books!
In this coming of age story, 80-something Missy Carmichael has lived a long life and now during her ‘personal winter’ she has plenty of time to reflect on the mistakes that have gotten her to where she is today. Lonely, prickly and stubborn Missy resides in her London home now empty of her family. With her son living in Australia with his family and her estranged daughter settled in Oxford, Missy simply exists, yet after a chance encounter in the park life seems to change, slowly opening her up to a world that was on her doorstep all along. Witty, humorous, moving and bittersweet Saving Missy shows what it means to be human – flaws and all, but that with friendship, kindness, a little bit of bravery and acceptance, life can start again no matter what your age or situation. Filled with dynamic and awesome characters Saving Missy is a story that feels as though I could stumble upon its characters and into its pages whilst wandering around town in a blink of the eye.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
Whenever I need centring I often think of Jane Eyre. I have too many editions of this book (and I fear this will only continue with age!) and even a silhouette badge inscribed with a quote on my work lanyard. The thing that I love and admire most in Jane is her fierce kindness and steadfastness to staying true to herself. She is quietly strong, independent, fair and always finds the determination to carry on despite all of the struggles she faces. I needn’t ramble on too much about such a classic but if you’re in need of finding strength and hope Jane is a pretty good character to meet!
[If you’d like to see an adaption of ‘Jane Eyre’ there are quite a few to choose from but personally I love the 2006 BBC adaptation starring Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. It’s my all-time favourite and makes for a perfect Jane!]
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Code Name Verity is a WWII spy novel following the lives of two young women – Verity and Maddie throughout their service with the WAAF (The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). Verity is an experienced and highly ranked spy who comes from high society, whereas working class Maddie knows only engines and aircraft but together they make a sensational team. With the book split into a duel narrative we first piece together the story from Verity’s diary entries and confessions whilst being held captive in occupied Ormaie, France, followed later by Maddie’s accounts.
The book completely submerged me into wartime life and opened my eyes to what daily life might’ve looked like to millions of servicemen and servicewomen. The characters themselves were believable and the storyline twists and turns with such emotion and suspense (and hard truths) that it really sent home just how much we owe our wartime generation. But the story isn’t without parts of lightness and shows how life continued regardless of the world being at war. It was also really interesting to read an account of servicewomen during the war, both in the way of what amazing and vital operations they were part of and also the flip side of how they were treated and seen, by and large, by others. Code Name Verity is a unique and hugely interesting book that represents the power of friendship and never giving up even if your whole world is shattering.
Starfell ~ Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente
Willow Moss is the youngest daughter in a family of powerful witches and it’s just Willows luck that she hasn’t inherited any grand abilities like her older sisters. Forever in the shadow of her siblings Willow has resigned herself to life in the backseat, however when the most renowned and feared witch Moreg Vaine singles Willow out to help her on a rather peculiar mission to find a missing Tuesday, she finds the bravery to set forth with her trusty and very grumpy cat-like tangerine kobold named Oswin, a scarf and a very hairy bag in hope, that for once, she might just be able to help save the day. Full of quirky characters and a magical world of imaginings, the first few steps that Willow Moss tentatively takes shows her just how capable she is of being her very own kind of magic!
The Umbrella Mouse by Anna Fargher
Pip is an unlikely hero but this small mouse has a bucketful of courage when it comes to finding her long-lost family and helping Britain in it’s hour of need. When she finds herself orphaned after the umbrella shop that she lives in with her mother and father is bombed, she takes refuge with the undercover world of animals who are helping their humans with the war effort. From London through to France, Pip finds herself joining Noah’s Ark where pigeons, dogs, hedgehogs, deer and more come together to resist against the enemy occupation. Based on true stories from WWII and with characters depicting real life heroes including Madame Fourcade, Anna Fargher weaves together a story of bravery and hope alongside lovely illustrations from Sam Usher.
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Set on the imagined island of Joya, this tale of a cartographer’s daughter and her friendship with the Governors daughter threads together adventure brimming with an underlying hum of magic and rebellion. After a disagreement between the two girls, events lead to the Governors daughter fleeing her life of luxury to make a stand, yet aware that his daughter is unequipped for the unexpected dangers of the wilderness the Governor forces a search party made up of his servicemen and other talented men from the village who’s skills are of use to find her and bring her safely home. But Isabella who knows the stars and maps of the land and who’s fierce spirit is set alight to help her friend is dashed aside for the simple fact that she is a girl. So against her fathers will she disguises herself as her twin brother and successfully finds herself on the trail to find her best friend but little does she know what else she might find along the way.
Beautifully written The Girl of Ink and Stars leaves you with your head still in Joya long after you leave it’s pages. Quietly magical and with an atmosphere all of it’s own, this Mulan-esk tale and is full of what it means to have freedom and friendship.
The Missing Bookshop by Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman
Part of Stripes series to help young developing readers to build their confidence when reading solo, comes The Missing Bookshop – a firm favourite of mine for little bookworms.
Milly loves stories of every kind and whenever she needs help finding her next book to read Mrs Minty at the bookshop always knows just what Milly is looking for. Whether its aliens, adventures, magical creatures or mysteries Mrs Minty knows them all! So when Milly and her mum go to visit the bookshop for the weekly storytime session they are shocked to see a closed sign. Days and weeks pass and still there’s no sign of Mrs Minty and her wonderful books, so Milly takes it into her own hands to save Minty’s Bookshop. But can Milly’s hard work and plans go right or are happy endings just for stories?
The Missing Bookshop is a lovely uplifting tale all about the importance of community, stories and holding onto a little bit of hope. A true little gem of a book.
Anna and the Swallowman by Gavriel Savit
Set in occupied Poland during WWII the story follows a young girl called Anna who looses her father to the war. She is left alone one morning and is shunned and unwanted her by fellow townsfolk until a stranger – a peculiar man, takes her under his wing and leads her on a road to fight for survival in a time when doing so was one of the hardest challenges that someone could face. Throughout their story together they meet acquaintances, enemies and even a kindred spirit along their path of solitude and unlikely companionship. But as you can imagine living nomadically through wartime is a constant hurdle of struggles. However despite the nature of the characters situations Gavriel Savit shows us that in spite of wars and sorrow, bonds can be made, perhaps even stronger during the darkest and bleakest of times. He emphasizes the warmth, joy and the safety that friendships can bring us and reminds us of the importance of looking for and creating little joys in life.
I’ve read many wartime stories but rarely have I read one that transported me into that time so vividly reflecting what life must have been like in such an unpredictable and lonely period. A simply amazing book that leaves you with a little bit of mystery and which deserves a lot more recognition.
The Extraordinary Hope of Dawn Brightside by Jessica Ryn
I’ve written about the wonderful Dawn Brightside in my January Treasures blog post which you can read by clicking here, but I just had to include this book as the final recommendation to the list. The characters are brilliant, the themes throughout varied, the writing filled with compassion and humour and I guarantee that you’ll feel a little better after reading it. This one is top of my pile for when I need a pick-me-up!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this weeks blog and that if you find a book here that you like the sound of that it brings you some bookish joy! For more recommendations and other random bits & bobs you can find me over on Instagram @viewsfromabookshop