You know how you see references to National Donut Day or more serious designations such as Autism Awareness Month? Well, there is an organization that keeps track of all those celebrations. Some of them are authorized and celebrated by presidents, and others can be added for the right amount of money from the industry wanting to promote their product. I thought it would be fun to recognize some of the national month commemorations by reading a year of books featuring the designated themes.
For each month, I’ve chosen three possibilities. As an example, January is National Blood Donor Month, National Hot Tea Month and National Hobby Month. For each of these national months, I’ve chosen a book that embodies the topic — some not perfectly, admittedly — but you have three to choose from for each month. I will eventually pass out these book choices with short summaries copied and pasted from Goodreads (thank you Goodreads) and the girls will vote on one of the three choices for each month. Then I will get to work putting together a half-size calendar for the year with the picture portion of the calendar naming the National Month and featuring the book. On the calendar portion I’ll include some of the day celebrations throughout the month.
Here are the books and summaries for National Book Club Year.
National Blood Donor Month (1970 Nixon) The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee Recommended by the Stanford Blood Center
The Emperor of All Maladies is a magnificent, profoundly humane “biography” of cancer—from its first documented appearances thousands of years ago through the epic battles in the twentieth century to cure, control, and conquer it to a radical new understanding of its essence. The book reads like a literary thriller with cancer as the protagonist. From the Persian Queen Atossa, whose Greek slave cut off her malignant breast, to the nineteenth-century recipients of primitive radiation and chemotherapy to Mukherjee’s own leukemia patient, Carla, The Emperor of All Maladies is about the people who have soldiered through fiercely demanding regimens in order to survive—and to increase our understanding of this iconic disease.
National Hot Tea Month (Since Jan, 2016) For All the Tea in China by Sarah Rose
Robert Fortune was a Scottish gardener, botanist, plant hunter – and industrial spy. In 1848, the East India Company engaged him to make a clandestine trip into the interior of China – territory forbidden to foreigners – to steal the closely guarded secrets of tea. For centuries, China had been the world’s sole tea manufacturer. Britain purchased this fuel for its Empire by trading opium to the Chinese – a poisonous relationship Britain fought two destructive wars to sustain. The East India Company had profited lavishly as the middleman, but now it was sinking, having lost its monopoly to trade tea. Its salvation, it thought, was to establish its own plantations in the Himalayas of British India. There were just two problems: India had no tea plants worth growing, and the company wouldn’t have known what to do with them if it had. Hence Robert Fortune’s daring trip. The Chinese interior was off-limits and virtually unknown to the West, but that’s where the finest tea was grown – the richest oolongs, soochongs and pekoes. And the Emperor aimed to keep it that way
National Hobby Month (Hobby Guild of America 1955) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Georgia to Maine and covers some of the most breathtaking terrain in America–majestic mountains, silent forests, sparking lakes. If you’re going to take a hike, it’s probably the place to go. And Bill Bryson is surely the most entertaining guide you’ll find. He introduces us to the history and ecology of the trail and to some of the other hardy (or just foolhardy) folks he meets along the way–and a couple of bears. Already a classic, A Walk in the Woods will make you long for the great outdoors (or at least a comfortable chair to sit and read in).
National Library Lovers’ Month (Library Association Advocates, 2009) This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson
In This Book is Overdue!, acclaimed author Marilyn Johnson celebrates libraries and librarians, and, as she did in her popular first book, The Dead Beat, discovers offbeat and eloquent characters in the quietest corners. In defiance of doomsayers, Johnson finds librarians more vital and necessary than ever, as they fuse the tools of the digital age with love for the written word and the enduring values of truth, service to all, and free speech. This Book Is Overdue! is a romp through the ranks of information professionals who organize our messy world and offer old-fashioned human help through the maze.
Black History Month (Historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, 1926) Jubilee by Margaret Walker
Jubilee tells the true story of Vyry, the child of a white plantation owner and one of his black slaves. Vyry bears witness to the South’s antebellum opulence and to its brutality, its wartime ruin, and the promises of Reconstruction. Weaving her own family’s oral history with thirty years of research, Margaret Walker’s novel brings the everyday experiences of slaves to light. Jubilee churns with the hunger, the hymns, the struggles, and the very breath of American history.
National Heart Month (President Johnson, 1964) The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he? Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead. At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.
Irish-American Heritage Month (Congress, 1991) TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
Newfoundland, 1919. Two aviators—Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown—set course for Ireland as they attempt the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean, placing their trust in a modified bomber to heal the wounds of the Great War. Dublin, 1845 and ’46. On an international lecture tour in support of his subversive autobiography, Frederick Douglass finds the Irish people sympathetic to the abolitionist cause—despite the fact that, as famine ravages the countryside, the poor suffer from hardships that are astonishing even to an American slave. New York, 1998. Leaving behind a young wife and newborn child, Senator George Mitchell departs for Belfast, where it has fallen to him, the son of an Irish-American father and a Lebanese mother, to shepherd Northern Ireland’s notoriously bitter and volatile peace talks to an uncertain conclusion. These three iconic crossings are connected by a series of remarkable women whose personal stories are caught up in the swells of history.
National Music in our Schools Month (New York, 1973) This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin
This Is Your Brain on Music unravels a host of mysteries that affect everything from pop culture to our understanding of human nature, including: Are our musical preferences shaped in utero? • Is there a cutoff point for acquiring new tastes in music? • What do PET scans and MRIs reveal about the brain’s response to music? This Is Your Brain on Music explores cultures in which singing is considered an essential human function, patients who have a rare disorder that prevents them from making sense of music, and scientists studying why two people may not have the same definition of pitch. At every turn, this provocative work unlocks deep secrets about how nature and nurture forge a uniquely human obsession.
National Women’s History Month (Carter, 1980; Congress,1987) The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe V. Wade by Ann Fessler
A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the secret history of the 1.5 million women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and before Roe v. Wade. The Girls Who Went Away tells a story not of wild and carefree sexual liberation, but rather of a devastating double standard that has had punishing long-term effects on these women and on the children they gave up for adoption. Based on Fessler’s interviews, it brings to brilliant life these women’s voices and the spirit of the time, allowing each to share her own experience in gripping and intimate detail. Today, when the future of the Roe decision and women’s reproductive rights stand squarely at the front of a divisive national debate, Fessler brings to the fore a long-overlooked history.
National Humor Month (Larry Wilde, comedian, 1976) And Here’s the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on their Craft and the Industry by Mike Sacks
Writers who specialize in humor, who make a career out of entertaining strangers with words, are a notoriously intelligent and quirky lot. In this entertaining and inspirational book you’ll hear from 21 top humor writers as they discuss the comedy writing process, their influences, their likes and dislikes, and experiences in the industry. Funny and informative, And Here’s the Kicker is a must have guide for aspiring humor writers and simply a great read for fans
National Hope Month (Mothers in Crisis 1991, 25th anniversary 2016, registered 2018) The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama
The Audacity of Hope is Barack Obama’s call for a new kind of politics—a politics that builds upon those shared understandings that pull us together as Americans. Lucid in his vision of America’s place in the world, refreshingly candid about his family life and his time in the Senate, Obama here sets out his political convictions and inspires us to trust in the dogged optimism that has long defined us and that is our best hope going forward.
National Autism Month (United Nations, 2007) Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism by Temple Grandin
Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is a gifted animal scientist who has designed one third of all the livestock-handling facilities in the United States. She also lectures widely on autism—because Temple Grandin is autistic, a woman who thinks, feels, and experiences the world in ways that are incomprehensible to the rest of us. In this unprecedented book, Grandin delivers a report from the country of autism. Writing from the dual perspectives of a scientist and an autistic person, she tells us how that country is experienced by its inhabitants and how she managed to breach its boundaries to function in the outside world. What emerges in Thinking in Pictures is the document of an extraordinary human being, one who, in gracefully and lucidly bridging the gulf between her condition and our own, sheds light on the riddle of our common identity.
National Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (Obama, 2015) Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award 1995 and the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man’s guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries—memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo’s wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense—one that leaves us shaken and changed.
National Mental Health Awareness Month (Mental Health America,1949) Out of Her Mind: Women Writing on Madness by Rebecca Shannonhouse
Ever since doctors first labeled their female patients “hysterical,” women have occupied a unique place in the world of mental illness. Whether harboring a dark mood or suffering from mental illness, such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or manic depression, a select few of these women have deftly rendered the psychological turmoil in writing that ranks among the most emotionally compelling in American literature. In this anthology-Shannonhouse has collected the most affecting, finely wrought essays, memoirs, and fiction by women writing on madness. Some of the selections in this volume are literary classics, such as Charlotte Perkins Stetson Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and others are taken from contemporary works including Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted. Still others are published here for the first time, most notably several letters written by Zelda Fitzgerald during her stays in a mental hospital. All these works offer powerful insights into the largely private world of emotional suffering, and at the same time possess the elements of great literature.
National Photograph Month Endangered by Tim Flach, Jonathan Baillie (Text)
In Endangered, the result of an extraordinary multiyear project to document the lives of threatened species, acclaimed photographer Tim Flach explores one of the most pressing issues of our time. Traveling around the world—to settings ranging from forest to savannah to the polar seas to the great coral reefs—Flach has constructed a powerful visual record of remarkable animals and ecosystems facing harsh challenges. Among them are primates coping with habitat loss, big cats in a losing battle with human settlements, elephants hunted for their ivory, and numerous bird species taken as pets. With eminent zoologist Jonathan Baillie providing insightful commentary on this ambitious project, Endangered unfolds as a series of vivid, interconnected stories that pose gripping moral dilemmas, unforgettably expressed by more than 180 of Flach’s incredible images.
National Great Outdoors Month (Clinton, 1998) Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone. Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
National Country Cooking Month (may have started with grits becoming GA state food, 2002) The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis
So much more than a cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking is a contemplative and often elegiac travelogue through Lewis’ life as a girl in Freetown, Virginia, a farming community founded by freedmen including the author’s grandfather. It is hard to do justice to the moving quality of the writing, which manages to be both matter-of-fact (the post-butchering preparation of a hog carcass is described quite clearly) and lyrical (portraits of her mother cooking, the smells of fruits and slow cooking, her long summer days with her many siblings, a child’s wonder at life’s busyness and bounty). Lewis structures the cookbook by season, describing the high points of each and how the changing of seasons impacted farming life and the food that came to her table. Sections and subsections start with recollections about each time of year, as well as key events such as Sheep-Shearing Day, Wheat-Harvesting Day, Sunday Revival, Race Day, Emancipation Day, and Christmas Eve. She describes life on this Freetown farming settlement as an almost utopian place of hard work, plentiful food, generous friends and family, a strong sense of community, and a true partnership with nature.
National Adopt a Cat Month (American Humane, 2016 after a century of cat rescue) The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide
A bestseller in France and winner of Japan’s Kiyama Shohei Literary Award, The Guest Cat, by the acclaimed poet Takashi Hiraide, is a subtly moving and exceptionally beautiful novel about the transient nature of life and idiosyncratic but deeply felt ways of living. A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo; they work at home, freelance copy-editing; they no longer have very much to say to one another. But one day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. It leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again. Soon they are buying treats for the cat and enjoying talks about the animal and all its little ways. Life suddenly seems to have more promise for the husband and wife — the days have more light and color. The novel brims with new small joys and many moments of staggering poetic beauty, but then something happens….
World Watercolor Month (Charlie O’Shields, to benefit The Dreaming Zebra Foundation) The following book was chosen because it has a watercolor cover. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
It’s the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is about to take a walk. As she traverses a grittier Manhattan, a city anxious after an attack by a still-at-large subway vigilante, she encounters bartenders, bodega clerks, chauffeurs, security guards, bohemians, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be—in surprising moments of generosity and grace. While she strolls, Lillian recalls a long and eventful life that included a brief reign as the highest-paid advertising woman in America—a career cut short by marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a breakdown. A love letter to city life Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.
National Independent Retailer Month (Tom Shay and Kerry Bannigan, 2011) The following book was chosen because it was #1 on the list of The Best Books of 2017 chosen by Independent Booksellers History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Fourteen-year-old Madeline lives with her parents in the beautiful, austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Madeline is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect Madeline as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong. And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Madeline finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. It seems that her life finally has purpose but with this new sense of belonging she is also drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand.
National Picnic Month (may date back to 1899 when New Hampshire Governor Frank Rollins made Old Home Day a state holiday when everyone comes back to New Hampshire for a picnic.) Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay
It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared. They never returned. Whether Picnic at Hanging Rock is fact or fiction the reader must decide for themselves.
National Eye Exam Month (Sears Optical, 1989) The Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks
In The Mind’s Eye, Oliver Sacks writes about the myriad ways in which we experience the visual world: how we see in three dimensions; how we recognize individual faces or places; how we use language to communicate verbally; how we translate marks on paper into words and paragraphs; and, even how we represent the world internally when our eyes are closed. Alongside remarkable stories of people who have lost these abilities but adapted with courage, resilience and ingenuity, there is an added, personal element: one day in late 2005, Sacks became aware of a dazzling, flashing light in one part of his visual field; it was not the familiar migraine aura he had experienced since childhood, and just two days later a malignant tumor in one eye was diagnosed. In subsequent journal entries – some of which are included in The Mind’s Eye – he chronicled the experience of living with cancer, recording both the effects of the tumor itself, and radiation therapy. In turning himself into a case history, Sacks has given us perhaps his most intimate, impressive and insightful (no pun intended) book yet
National Peach Month (Reagan, 1982) How to Eat a Peach: Menus, Stories and Places by Diana Henry
Menus can create very different moods; they can take you places, from an afternoon at the seaside in Brittany to a sultry evening eating mezze in Istanbul. The 24 menus and 100 recipes in this book reflect places Diana loves, and dishes that are real favorites. The menus are introduced with personal essays in Diana’s now well-known voice- about places or journeys or particular times and explain the choice of dishes. Each menu is a story in itself, but the recipes can also stand alone. The title of the book refers to how Italians end a meal in the summer, when it’s too hot to cook. The host or hostess just puts a bowl of peaches on the table and offers glasses of chilled moscato (or even Marsala). Guests then slice their peach into the glass, before eating the slices and drinking the wine. That says something very important about eating – simplicity and generosity are what it’s about.
International Peace Month (Int’l Democratic Peace Conference Rhiems, 1926) Doing Time for Peace: Resistance, Family, and Community by Rosalie G. Riegle
In this compelling collection of oral histories, more than seventy-five peacemakers describe how they say no to war-making in the strongest way possible–by engaging in civil disobedience and paying the consequences in jail or prison. These courageous resisters leave family and community and life on the outside in their efforts to direct U.S. policy away from its militarism. Many are Catholic Workers, devoting their lives to the works of mercy instead of the works of war. They are homemakers and carpenters and social workers and teachers who are often called “faith-based activists.” They speak from the left of the political perspective, providing a counterpoint to the faith-based activism of the fundamentalist Right. In their own words, the narrators describe their motivations and their preparations for acts of resistance, the actions themselves, and their trials and subsequent jail time. Spouses and children talk frankly of the strains on family ties that a life of working for peace in the world can cause.
Classical Music Month (Clinton, 1994) An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
The author of the international bestseller A Suitable Boy returns with a powerful and deeply romantic tale of two gifted musicians. Michael Holme is a violinist, a member of the successful Maggiore Quartet. He has long been haunted, though, by memories of the pianist he loved and left ten years earlier, Julia McNicholl. Now Julia, married and the mother of a small child, unexpectedly reenters his life and the romance flares up once more. Against the magical backdrop of Venice and Vienna, the two lovers confront the truth about themselves and their love, about the music that both unites and divides them, and about a devastating secret that Julia must finally reveal. With poetic, evocative writing and a brilliant portrait of the international music scene,
Intergenerational Month (Fountain Institute, later Intergeneration Foundation, 2000) Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America from the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration.Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time.
National Sewing Month (Reagan, 1982) The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana tells the incredible true story of this unlikely entrepreneur who mobilized her community under the Taliban. This is a story of war, but it is also a story of sisterhood and resilience in the face of despair. Kamila Sidiqi’s journey will inspire you, but it will also change the way you think about one of the most important political and humanitarian issues of our time.
Adopt a Shelter Dog Month (The American Humane Association, 1981) Dog is My Co-Pilot: Great Writers on the World’s Oldest Friendship by The Bark, Claudia Kawczynska (Editor),
Dog Is My Co-Pilot is an anthology of essays, short stories, and expert commentaries that explores every aspect of our life with dogs. Included are pieces by Lynda Barry, Rick Bass, Maeve Brennan, Margaret Cho, Carolyn Chute, Alice Elliott Dark, Lama Surya Das, Pam Houston, Erica Jong, Tom Junod, Caroline Knapp, Donald McCaig, Nasdijj, Ann Patchett, Michael Paterniti, Charles Siebert, Alexandra Styron, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, and Alice Walker. In selections that are humorous, poignant, truthful, sometimes surprising, and frequently uplifting, Dog Is My Co-Pilot embraces the full experience of the world’s oldest friendship.
National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (Congress, 1989) Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Greenville County, South Carolina, is a wild, lush place that is home to the Boatwright family-a tight-knit clan of rough-hewn, hard- drinking men who shoot up each other’s trucks, and indomitable women who get married young and age too quickly. At the heart of this story is Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone, a bastard child who observes the world around her with a mercilessly keen perspective. When her stepfather Daddy Glen, “cold as death, mean as a snake,” becomes increasingly more vicious toward her, Bone finds herself caught in a family triangle that tests the loyalty of her mother, Anney -and leads to a final, harrowing encounter from which there can be no turning back.
National Stamp Collecting Month (Council of Philatelic Organizations and the United States Post Office, 1981) The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor
Austria, 1938. Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher’s fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself. Los Angeles, 1989. Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad’s collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall.
National Native American Heritage Month (Bush, Sr. 1990) There There by Tommy Orange
There There is a relentlessly paced multigenerational story about violence and recovery, memory and identity, and the beauty and despair woven into the history of a nation and its people. It tells the story of twelve characters, each of whom have private reasons for traveling to the Big Oakland Powwow. Jacquie Red Feather is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind in shame. Dene Oxendene is pulling his life back together after his uncle’s death and has come to work at the powwow to honor his uncle’s memory. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield has come to watch her nephew Orvil, who has taught himself traditional Indian dance through YouTube videos and has come to the powwow to dance in public for the very first time. There will be glorious communion, and a spectacle of sacred tradition and pageantry. And there will be sacrifice, and heroism, and unspeakable loss.
Worldwide Bereaved Siblings Month (Peter and Deb Kulkkula, 2008) My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
Ten-year-old Jamie hasn’t cried since it happened. He knows he should have—Jasmine cried, Mum cried, Dad still cries. Roger didn’t, but then he is just a cat and didn’t know Rose that well, really. Everyone kept saying it would get better with time, but that’s just one of those lies that grown-ups tell in awkward situations. Five years on, it’s worse than ever: Dad drinks, Mum’s gone and Jamie’s left with questions that he must answer for himself. This is his story, an unflinchingly real yet heart-warming account of a young boy’s struggle to make sense of the loss that tore his family apart
National Life Writing Month (Freelance Writer Chris Baty, 1999) Educated by Tara Westover
Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent. Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.
AIDS Awareness Month (World Health Organization, 1988) The Blackwater Lightship by Colm Tóibín
It is Ireland in the early 1990s. Helen, her mother, Lily, and her grandmother, Dora have come together to tend to Helen’s brother, Declan, who is dying of AIDS. With Declan’s two friends, the six of them are forced to plumb the shoals of their own histories and to come to terms with each other. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, The Blackwater Lightship is a deeply resonant story about three generations of an estranged family reuniting to mourn an untimely death. In spare, luminous prose, Colm Tóibín explores the nature of love and the complex emotions inside a family at war with itself.
Bingo’s Birthday Month (Edwin Lowe, 1929) The Bingo Palace by Louise Erdrich
At a crossroads in his life, Lipsha Morrissey is summoned by his grandmother to return to the reservation. There, he falls in love for the very first time–with the beautiful Shawnee Ray, who’s already considering a marriage proposal from Lipsha’s wealthy entrepreneurial boss, Lyman Lamartine. But when all efforts to win Shwawnee’s affections go hopelessly awry, Lipsha seeks out his great-grandmother for a magical solution to his romantic dilemma–on sacred ground where a federally sanctioned bingo palace is slated for construction.
National Human Rights Month (United Nations, 1948) The Far Away Brothers: Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life by Lauren Markham
The title refers to 17-year-old twins from El Salvador who enter the United States as unaccompanied minors, primarily to escape what appears to be a death threat against one of them. The background of the story is the pervasive and epidemic gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala which has caused a spike in arrivals of unaccompanied minors to the U.S. in recent years. The author met the twins through her social work at an Oakland, California high school for recent immigrants with relatively poor English. The twins are escaping definite danger, but their reasons don’t really fit established international or national criteria for asylum. Markham goes to El Salvador to tell the story of the brothers’ family and also follows the twins after their arrival in the US as they try to procure leave to stay. The story shows just how complex their lives are and how many push factors exist. The twins make their fair share of questionable decisions that appear to run counter to their interests; the difference in their case is that they have much less margin for error.