To paraphrase an infamous ad campaign: Got Books?
Just as the milk producers know that we can’t eat cookies without a glass of milk, I’m confident that you could not have an enjoyable summer without a few good books. So I’m suggesting fiction and nonfiction; a massive tome and pretty little picture books; history and Scripture and lots of entertainment.
The two recommended children’s books were both illustrated by Cat Bowman Smith, an RIT grad. With Marty Rhodes Figley she retells The Story of Zacchaeus (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995). The story from the Gospel of Luke starts with the depiction of tax collector Zacchaeus, a rotund, bearded man. The townspeople have labeled him "not a nice man." And they are shown snatching their children from his path. The dogs all growl at him.
But, their facial expressions are totally different when they are in the presence of Jesus. Although they are clearly puzzled by Jesus’ decision to dine with the tax collector, all are wreathed with smiles by the end.
Smith also illustrated Chester the Out-of-Work Dog with Marilyn Singer. The illustrations in this picture book are done in a softer watercolor technique than the vivid gouache style of The Story of Zacchaeus.
Chester is a sheep dog without his flock since his family has moved to the city. There’s a little counting lesson in his attempts to herd a squirrel, two pigeons, three men and a refrigerator, and so on. His well-meant work, of course, is not appreciated by his targets — especially not by the entire girls’ softball team that winds up in the men’s room.
True to the intelligence of his breed, however, Chester finally is able to guide some lost children to their destination because he knows the name of the school — Chester A. Arthur Elementary School, of course! (Scholastic Books, 1992)
I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb is subtitled "The girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban" (Little Brown, 2013; hardcover $26). Her title comes from the question the shooter asked when he climbed aboard the crowded school bus, "Who is Malala?"
She also tells us that her name was taken from a great heroine of Afghanistan. And we learn that this was not a random shooting, but that she and her family were targeted for several years because from age 11 the girl publicly criticized the limitations that her society and government placed on girls’ education.
Most of the narrative relates how her father worked tirelessly to build a school and provide quality education for Pakistani children of both genders. Her mother is just as heroic, though a very private person, living her life in purdah. Nevertheless, she is clearly supportive of her husband’s dream and of her daughter’s outspokenness. Malala’s straightforward style carries the reader through her harrowing experiences with grace and youthful enthusiasm.
Another powerful nonfiction book is by Luis Alberto Urrea, By the Lake of Sleeping Children. Individuals are living in deplorable conditions within sight of the U.S. border, and the presentation is graphic and disturbing. The author himself warns readers in a foreword against reading certain chapters in his book if they have delicate sensibilities (Anchor, 1996, $14).
But, if you want to understand the truth of what global economic pressures are doing to the poor, check out this title. In Tijuana, Mexico, a community lives almost on top of a garbage dump and ekes out an existence using America’s trash. The author gives us a series of portraits of the individuals and their resourceful manner of making life bearable in impossibly impoverished conditions.
Paris by Edward Rutherfurd is what the press blurbs call "a sweeping epic" (Doubleday; 2013, hardcover $32.50). A few historical figures, such as Impressionist painter Claude Monet and American ex-patriot Ernest Hemingway, cross paths with the characters, but the main storylines are entirely fictional.
We follow the rise and fall of several generations of families living in Paris between 1875 and the present. The various strata of French society are represented, from the aristocratic de Cynes, the well-off merchants of the Blanchards, and the skilled laborers from the Gascon family. And, because it’s Paris, beautiful women ply a variety of "trades" in every century. There are tensions between these groups that sometimes are played out among the tides of history that swept back and forth over the city.
Events such as the building of the Eiffel Tower and the Nazi occupation during World War II are included. Perhaps the most riveting section details how the French resistance formed and operated throughout the 1940s.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel is written by Rachel Joyce (Random House paperback, 2013; $15). A long time ago, when he was in the midst of a successful, though dull, career a friend did a great favor for Harold Fry. He never had the chance to thank her, and now she’s dying.
Harold writes her a card and takes it to the mailbox. The lovely day and a certain nagging guilt compels him to walk as far as the next mailbox, however. And before long, he’s on the road to visit her in a hospice nearly 500 miles away.
Somehow Howard believes, as long as he keeps walking, she will remain alive, because "if you have faith, you can do anything." Even though he’s completely ill-equipped for the journey, he manages without a phone or a toothbrush to command the attention of the nation. A rag-tag parade joins him then falls behind, but Harold’s purpose remains true.
His wife, left at home, undergoes a sort of conversion too. Their marriage had become mere habit, and she’s just as glad to be rid of the annoying behaviors of her spouse. She undertakes a series of new projects that open her to new vistas though she never leaves their property near the English Channel.
So, the pleasures of a summer outing or a day spent in your hammock can be greatly enhanced by grabbing a good book on your way out the door.
Palma is an adjunct associate professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester. She has a master of science degree in education from Nazareth College and master of arts in theology from St. Bernard’s Institute.