As much as I love reading scholarly articles and current books focused on language and literacy development, I am making recommendations for starting the summer with reading for pleasure and rejuvenation.  It is a great time to take a break and experience the power of story in the written word. 

My recommendations include an anthology of poetry edited by Liz Ison and a beautifully crafted novel by Anthony Doerr (author of Pulitzer winner All the Light We Cannot See).  In each of these books, I found myself so deeply immersed in the beauty and precision of the words and language that I yearned for more at the close of each chapter or poem. Both illuminate the power of story which allows us to reach a deeper understanding of ourselves and others–ultimately renewing hope and love. 

Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr, is a complex weaving together of narratives organized around remarkably different characters in most unusual conditions. The lives and times of the characters span from the 1400’s to the future, keeping the reader intrigued and constantly working to integrate the commonalities and differences. Magically, Doerr navigates you through their respective struggles to not only survive but to find happiness. He ties the narratives together with a common thread, the power of the book, to unite humanity across time and circumstance. 

I loved this book because of the author’s deep commitment to beauty, truth and light in the face of human struggle. I was also fascinated with Doerr’s ability to move from one narrative to the next while layering the broader, underlying story line into each previous and subsequent chapter. This required the reader to work hard to update and integrate information yielding unexpected insights. 

A Poem to Read Aloud Every Day of the Year is a book of poetry edited by Liz Ison. Her curated anthology of poems, from a variety of authors over a vast period of time, include a poem to be shared aloud each day of the year. Ison is explicit that the poems should be read aloud, every day, to another person (or people) to transform the words into joyful expression enabling conversation and shared memories. Her rich background includes the study of English literature at Cambridge, training as a speech and language therapist, earning a doctorate in childhood speech and literacy development and training with the British charity, The Reader. The Reader uses the “power of literature and reading aloud to transform lives” by bringing the written word to life and connecting the reader and the listener.

I was introduced to this anthology when I was in Iowa City’s wonderful bookstore, Prairie Lights, looking for a book of poetry that would remind me of my mother. Ison’s collection includes many of my mother’s favorites. I grew up in rural New Mexico on a farm in a family of five children. Our collective childhood was primarily organized around school, church, work on the farm, and lots of talking and story-telling. Part of our growing up also included my mother’s commitment to reading and her spontaneous recitation of poetry with great precision, expression, and confidence. She would miraculously sprinkle appropriate words of wisdom through poetry to celebrate an accomplishment, elucidate a point, ease sadness, poignantly end an argument or simply provide a poem for our pleasure and hers. This love of words and expression, precision of speaking, and the recognition of the power of story strengthened our bonds to her, to each other, and to the importance of the written word.

My mother firmly believed that diverse experiences—both listening and speaking—were critically important to learning and loving to read the written word. She understood that the rhythm afforded by the sound and structure of phrasing in poetry as well as the words themselves create a path to understanding, expressing and remembering the story.