For the Mother Within Us

A few years ago, I sent a copy of this little book to a dear friend’s daughter when she became a mother.  I liked it so much I ordered a second one possibly to keep, possibly to give again. I tucked it away for safe keeping and as so often happens, I just came across it.

The drawings are a bit more twee than I remember, but the quotes still ring true and beautiful. Editors Natasha Tabori Fried and Lena Tabori include blessings from every land and culture — Ireland, Egypt, China and Native American traditions. There is advice from Dr. Seuss and Antoine de St. Exupery and wisdom from Ecclesiastes, Euripides, and e. e. cummings. Among the blessings from various religions I was pleased to see some of my favorite Jewish blessings, including one known as the Traveler’s Prayer. Covid kind of put that one on ice, but soon… How fun it must have been for the mother-daughter editors to create the book together, organizing their finds into blessings for mealtime, nature, weddings and of course motherhood, to mention a few.

Mother’s Day has come and gone. A Mother’s Book of Blessings is a sweet one to enjoy year-round and to gift to a new mother. Or an old one if you are still so blessed!

 

T’filat HaDerech, the Traveler’s Prayer (complete text)

May it be Your will, Lord, our God and the God of our ancestors, that You lead us toward peace, guide our footsteps toward peace, and make us reach our desired destination for life, gladness, and peace. May You rescue us from the hand of every foe, ambush along the way, and from all manner of punishments that assemble to come to earth. May You send blessing in our handiwork, and grant us grace, kindness, and mercy in Your eyes and in the eyes of all who see us. May You hear the sound of our humble request because You are God Who hears prayer requests. Blessed are You, Lord, Who hears prayer.

 

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse

A friend called and raved about this book. “It’s about a little boy who meets three animals friends. He has many questions about life and they answer them. It’s simple. It’s profound. You’ve heard this wisdom before but…..” She read me some of the text. Yes. The statements were simple, profound and heard-before.

Trusting in my friend’s enthusiasm, I went online to order the book. It was sold out everywhere and I never got around to trying again. Then last week, another friend came by for a walk. She had with her a present for me. I unwrapped the gift and whooped. One friend tipped me off; another friend gave it to me. Something was afoot.

I waited until before bed that evening to enjoy it. The cover text is gold. The drawings of the four friends are spare yet powerful. The illustrations have a misleading sense having been quickly scribbled. They are anything but. The book’s front and back inside covers are printed with a composition — four staffs of music through which the four friends run, glide, and rest. I sat down to play, imagining boy, mole, fox and horse tripping through Mackesy’s ink-rendered world.

The boy’s questions draw LIfe’s truths from his new friends. Many of their answers are familiar, yet no less important for their familiarity. In my younger years I mightn’t have understood, “One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things.” Toward the end of their journey, having delved into courage vulnerability, love, and kindness, the boy begins to share wisdom of his own.

If you can order this beautiful book, go for it. Or, wait until a dear friend raves to you about it and another gifts you with it.

The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

I can’t really call this a book review, since I’ve just dipped into Meghan Cox Gurdon’s thrilling book about reading aloud. What I love about the book’s subtitle, The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, is the phrase “miraculous power.” Being read to feels like a warm embrace. Whenever I reread parts of Madeleines L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I hear the voice of my third grade teacher reading the novel to us at the end of each school day. Believe it or not when I read Caps for Sale to my granddaughter, Olivia, it is Captain Kangaroo’s voice scolding the monkeys on behalf of the frustrated cap peddler.

Such is the anecdotal power of reading aloud. Gurdon brings more, much more than anecdote to The Enchanted Hour. From brain development to strengthening the bonds of love to the long-term benefits of building vocabulary through reading, the author shares the latest scientific research on why reading aloud to children is a “fast-working antidote to [today’s] fractured attention spans.”

This book moved from my to-be-read shelf to being actively read. I’m even going to read parts aloud to my husband.

PS. If you’ve never checked out Gurdon’s reviews for the Wall Street Journal, read them! Olivia doesnt’ know it yet, but some of her faves have come at the suggestion of this enthusiastic writer and children’s book editor.

A Banquet of Consequences — Elizabeth George

Sometimes you just want to read something that you know will captivate you, surprise you, involve you, and end in a most satisfactory way. Elizabeth George’s crime novels never disappoint.                 A Banquet of Consequences did all of the above and more for over 700 throroughly enjoyable pages. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out at least part of the plot and the bad guy or gal. Not this time. Utter surprise. The plot twist turned out to be creepier than I would have ever imagined.

There are the series familiars: Inspector Lynley, Barbara Havers, and Winston Nkata, the three detectives challenged with finding out why              a young man committed suicide. Then you have    a deliciously twisted and interfering mother-in-law; her long-suffering, and tragically clueless second husband; a successful feminist author with her own hidden darkness; her manipultive and mommy-attached elder son and his wife who would love nothing better than to change her relationship status from separated to divorced; and assorted others who distract and delight.

The title got me thinking why we always frame consequences as something negative. Feast on George’s novel. You’ll find the consequences delicious.

 

If a Tree Falls by Jennifer Rosner

Shortly after their daughter Sophie is born, Jennifer Rosner and her husband are stunned to learn Sophie was born deaf. Rosner’s beautiful memoir, If a Tree Falls: A Family’s Quest to Hear and Be Heard, recounts how she and her husband moved beyond grief and disbelief to action and advocacy for Sophie and for her sister Juliet born two years later, also deaf.  Rosner, whose mother was hard of hearing, begins researching the family tree and discovers deaf relatives branching back through the generations. Though her mother attributed her hearing loss to the after-effects of a childhood illness, Rosner now knows better. She and her husband (what were the chances?) had each passed on the recessive gene that led to their daughters’ deafness.

Rosner intersperses her family’s story with that of two great aunts, sisters whose lives were also silenced by deafness. Rosner conjures their lives in the shtetl using research and imagination to fill in the gaps. She grew up listening to her father play violin every day of her life. The author studied opera from the time she was a young child. La Traviata was her favorite to sing.  Now a mother herself, Rosner begins to re-evaluate, through the lens of her daughters’ deafness, her relationship with her mother.  She recalls the feeling of not being heard and begins to question how well and how deeply she learned to listen to others. If her daughters do not learn to speak, how will she ever listen to them?

For a family as language- and music-immersed as Rosner’s, the decision to raise their daughters in the Deaf world or move forward with cochlear implants is fraught with challenges and judgments from both communities. Ultimately Rosner and her husband do what any parents do: they decide based on what they deem best for their family and for their daughters’ futures.

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Jennifer Rosner was a philosophy professor until her daughters’ deafness set her life onto a new trajectory. If a Tree Falls was followed by The Mitten String, a charming picture book based on a family story about one of her aunts. Her just-published debut novel, The Yellow Bird Sings,  is set during World War II and is inspired by the true stories of Jewish children hidden during the war. She returns to the themes of silence, the power of mother-daughter bonds and the critical choices parents make for their children’s survival. Having now read the author’s first and second books, I look forward to settling in with her third.

Guilty Pleasure

Give me a thriller by Daniel Silva and I’m happy. Whether it’s Russian oligarchs, Islamist terrorists or in this most recent case the sudden death of the Pope and a secrety society of Catholic conspiracists, Silva has me for as long as it takes to read his latest.

This time it took six hours or so for his Israeli spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon, to root out the bad guys, save the vote for the new Pope, find the ancient book that could upend New Testament teachings, and still manage a few days of vacay in Florence with his family.

When the real world is still gripped with Covid, vaccine vacillations, political fracas and more, a novel that ties up the loose ends along with the bad guys is just the ticket.

 

I’ve just begun Mary Purnelll’s  A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II.  It’s gripping and all the more astonishing because it’s true. Ginger danced with Fred backwards in high heels. Virginia Hall was a real-life Gabriel Allon with a prosthetic leg, no less. Stay tuned.