Bookworm: Pope Francis has a book for the hope-starved

‘Dear Child’ is one-of-a-kind; ‘Everybody's Tree’ is a book nobody will want to miss

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist
“Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future” author Pope Francis. Above: Francis, left, talks with Papal Nuncio Christophe Pierre as he holds a Mexican charro style sombrero, in Mexico City's main square, the Zocalo, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016.

“Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future”

  • By Pope Francis
  • c. 2020, Simon & Schuster
  • $26, $35 Canada; 153 pages

The lock-downs this year have shown you things you never imagined. You learned, for instance, that staying home isn't one bit easy. You discovered where your patience ends, and you proved that you can be productive from your living room.

“Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future” by Pope Francis.

Stay-at-home orders made you aware of what's important and, as in the new book "Let Us Dream" by Pope Francis, you learned that you can be an instrument for change.

No doubt, and for a while, we've been in crisis. Between a pandemic, a contentious election, economic woes, and scary world affairs, things haven't been smooth, but Pope Francis sees this "trial of life" to "reveal your own heart: how solid it is, how merciful, how big or small."

Crisis, he says, is "how we grow." Think too small, and you're not seeing nearly enough; think too hard, and "you can be paralyzed ..." He believes that, to see crisis in the right way, you must seek "the edges of existence." That is where we see "the saints next door," the people we should strive to be like.

The Supreme Pontiff believes that now "is a time for honest reflection." We've been thinking that things were or would be fine, but we have work to do, he says. Heartened by movements of change and by people who care for the least of us, he says there are three "steps" we must take to endure and to understand our place in the world as "children of God."

First, he says, "allow yourself to be struck by what you see..." Take the veil from your eyes, look hard at the environment and at people. Second, choose "paths of the good that lead to the future" and recognize that which has value. Thirdly, "act concretely to heal and repair," seek dialogue, and listen respectfully. Avoid "becoming trapped" by conflict and, perhaps most importantly, be patient with this process.

Read those last five words. Rome wasn't built in a day and change won't happen overnight, but "Let Us Dream" offers comfort while we work the plan.

That plan, however, isn't laid out quite as clearly as you may want in such an impatient time. Like every good pontiff, Pope Francis seems to give his readers three-quarters of an answer and lets them figure out the rest themselves. This, therefore, isn't an "If A, Then B" kind of book, but one that you'll see differently than anyone else who reads it.

And yet, while His Holiness promotes individual actions, he points out in many of his stories and examples that one can become many for a better future. To that end, readers looking for guidance on melding the secular with the Godly and modern with Biblical will find what they need to absorb, soul-soothe, and "to restore the dignity of our peoples."

Absolutely, this is a book for those who are tired. It's for the hope-starved, as well as the hopeful. It's a book for you now, so find "Let Us Dream" and be the change you've imagined.

For further reading, look for "Everything is Spiritual: Who We Are and What We're Doing Here" by Rob Bell. It's a meditation in stanzas on the universe, our planet, and how we fit into it.

“Dear Child”

  • By Romy Hausmann
  • c. 2020, Flatiron Books
  • $26.99, $36.50 Canada; 368 pages

There's no one else like you in the world. No one with the same tongue-print or identical ear shape. Nobody else has your memories, and every experience you've ever had is unique to you alone. You might favor one parent or other, you may have a twin or a doppelganger, but in the end, you are one-of-a-kind. You're irreplaceable but, as in the new novel, "Dear Child" by Romy Hausmann, someone can sure try.

“Dear Child” author Romy Hausmann.

Hannah was sure that Sister Ruth wasn't too smart.

Minutes after Hannah arrived at the ER with Mama, she was whisked from Mama's side and into another room to wait, then this Sister Ruth walked in, acting like she didn't understand words. Hannah had already patiently explained that Mama's name was Lena; that there'd been a car accident; they'd left Hannah's brother, Jonathan, home to clean the rug; and Hannah was concerned because bloodstains were hard to get out of a carpet.

For nearly 5,000 days, Matthias waited for his daughter, Lena, to come home.

He tried to keep hope alive, for his own sake and for that of his wife, Karin, but in his heart, Matthias knew Lena would never sleep under his roof again. She was probably dead, but he didn't know – so when a former friend, a policeman, called and said they'd found a woman with an identical facial scar and she might be Lena, that Matthias should wait before going to the hospital, well, that was impossible. Matthias and Karin went without question.

“Dear Child” by Romy Hausmann.

The woman didn't want them to think she was awake.

The two men beside the hospital bed were obviously policemen and she knew they were waiting to question her, so she just listened, wanting to be sure she had the facts right before she stirred. Her ribs hurt, probably because of the beating. She had trouble thinking; probably from the accident. For sure, though, she could tell them three things: she hit that man in the head with a snow globe, hard.

Those children weren't hers. And her name was not Lena.

Reading "Dear Child" is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without the right box.

You know there's a cabin there, and a little girl, and blood. You know that something horrible happened, but there are holes and the full picture won't appear until author Romy Hausmann hands you the right puzzle pieces to complete the scene.

Until then, every jigsaw piece looks dark and dank, which is appropriate for a boarded-up setting. You can turn the puzzle bits in a circle every-which-way in your fingers, but they must fit, and nothing does. Are you looking at woods or a cavern? A child or a damaged woman? A father... or a monster?

Make sure the edge of your chair has extra padding because that's where you'll be perched while you're reading. Prepare to have your eyebrows stuck up by your hairline for a few hours, because "Dear Child" is that kind of book. There's no one else like you, and you will love it.

“Everybody’s Tree”

  • By Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Renée Graef
  • c. 2020, Sleeping Bear Press
  • $16.99, higher in Canada; 32 pages

The Christmas tree in your living room is for your entire family. Long before you were born, your mom bought ornaments for it, for the future. She and your dad got a few when they were first married. Grandma added an ornament or two here and there, and you made some that hang on the branches now. It's a tree for the whole family but in "Everybody's Tree" by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Renée Graef, some trees are meant for even more sharing.

Many years ago, when he was small, a young boy planted a tiny spruce tree in a great big yard, next to a red house. The little tree was put in a hole in the ground and its roots were covered with dirt to keep it safe.

“Everybody’s Tree” author Barbara Joosse.

And the boy grew up. He got married and moved into the red house with his wife and his little girl and a once-tiny tree that was taller than the house.

Many years later, the boy was an old man, and a grandpa. His grandchildren loved to play around the tree next to the red house, but the tree was getting old, too. To honor it, the man and his family tied colorful ribbons on its lower branches. They didn't notice the helicopter swoosh-swoosh-swooshing above their yard, flying over their spruce tree.

Inside the helicopter, a crew was looking for a tree just like that one!

Would the family be willing to let go of their old friend? Could they "share with everybody everywhere?"

The answer was yes! and so crews came to take the tree. They carefully "gently... gently... gently" lowered it onto the back of a big truck, and then they tied it down so it would be safe for the trip it was about to make. They took the tree to the city, where the people were excited, and they all had a turn in decorating it. There were lights and glitter, ornaments and sparkles and even a little snow.

Once upon a time, the tree belonged to a little boy in a red house. Now it belonged to everyone.

“Everybody’s Tree” by Barbara Joosse, illustrated by Renée Graef.

You can maybe imagine Christmas without a ton of gifts. This year, you're trying to get used to the idea of Christmas without a lot of family. But no tree ... ? Impossible, which is why you need "Everybody's Tree" this year.

When it comes to the lights on a Christmas tree, everyone is four years old. It's hard not to feel the magic when the lights go on, and author Barbara Joosse makes that tale enormous here – not just in the tree itself but in the tree's life and its purpose. Smaller kids may not notice that; older ones might but they'll all love the illustrations by Renée Graef, and they'll love that the cover of this book glows in the dark.

So, make a new family tradition this year by reading this book together with your 4-to-8-year-old, and Zoom the grandparents, too. "Everybody's Tree" is a book nobody will want to miss.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.