Indie Spotlight: December 2020
We're closing out this difficult year with indie books that embody the principles of kindness, beauty, and gratitude.
Compassion Mandala: The Odyssey of an American Charity in Contemporary Tibet
About the book: Logan shares the story of the 14 years she spent providing development and humanitarian assistance to Tibetans.
Author statement: “Some might say that I was kind to do this work, but it never occurred to me that I was being kind. After I got to know the region and learned about a village school that needed a teacher, that a teacher's salary was only $74 a month, and that a woman in Hong Kong was willing to donate the funds, my only thought was: how could I not?”
Cooking for Her Eyes—Transcription of a Sonata: A Story of Music, Food, Love, and Death
Susan Uehara Rakstang
About the book: Rakstang’s memoir explores the confluence of creative passions and how a friend’s illness led her to create an innovative cooking method.
Author statement: “My book speaks to my Japanese mother’s influence on me all my life with regard to cooking, compassion, and love.”
Drum Beats, Heart Beats
About the book: This final volume in Nhambu’s memoir series focuses on the author's learning the identity of her father, as well as the joy she channels through African art.
Author Statement: “It took me over 25 years to write my memoir. Life kept happening, and the mysteries took time to be revealed. Quite a journey for a little biracial kid who grew up in an orphanage in Tanzania, East Africa, not knowing who she was. When I was 19, a generous and kind American teacher became the mother I never had and enabled me to attend university in the United States, where I had to learn how to be a Black American.”
About the book: When the principal of Knockfarraig School suggests a series of detentions for some wayward sixth-year students, teacher Alayne Adams volunteers. But the discovery of a note reveals that one student intends to end their life. Forced into action, Alayne embarks on a series of life lessons hoping to heal their pain, which steers them onto a path that will change all their lives.
Author statement: “The Initiates is a book that says to hold on if you're feeling low. Those dark days will brighten. It delves into the impact of your thoughts and emotions and how acts of kindness can alter everything.”
Joy: A Modern Fable
Alisha Berger Gorder
About the book: A happiness experiment goes viral on a college campus, and people's lives are made better across the nation.
Author statement: “I do believe that kindness can be taught, that joy is all around us, and that happiness is often hiding in plain sight.”
The Kindness of Strangers
Edited by Heather Tosteson and Charles D. Brockett
About the book: In this addition to the Wising Up series of anthologies, 48 contemporary authors explore through stories, memoir, and poetry how the kindness of strangers has informed and transformed their lives.
Author statement: “The writers included in this collection responded to our invitation to think with us—broadly and intimately—about goodness in our lives. Negative emotions tend to impel us to voice, but positive ones are often savored in silence. Goodness is probably one of the most difficult positive qualities to describe and one of the most crucial for establishing a resilient sense of social trust and hope.”
The Lovely Haze of Baby Days
About the book: The Lovely Haze of Baby Days is a tribute to the beautiful chaos of motherhood and life with babies.
Author statement: “I wrote this book as I worked through feeling exhausted and overwhelmed juggling life with four children—including newborn twins—under five years old.”
Mindful Mamas and Papas: A Mindful Living Playbook for the Whole Family
Sally Jade Powis-Campbell
About the book: This illustrated, interactive parenting book urges families to embrace mindfulness, wellness, and joyfulness.
Author statement: “Frustrated that most parenting books didn’t speak to today's parents, my husband and I started putting this book together when our first child was six months old. When he was six, we had this, our fourth baby—a mindful real-life parenting guide for moms and dads.”
Parables of Sunlight
About the book: Parables of Sunlight is a memoir that revolves around the author’s love for an abandoned and mortally injured racehorse.
Author statement: “I believe my story will appeal to anyone who has ever loved an animal, a patch of land, or a community of loving souls.”
Saint Badass: Personal Transcendence in Tucker Max Hell
Doug Carnine and Roy Tester
About the book: This book is a chronicle of the correspondences between a Buddhist minister and inmates at the Arkansas state prison system’s Maximum Security Unit.
Author statement: “When I was a hospice volunteer, I became friends with 35-year-old Jeremy, who lay near death, paralyzed from the neck down by ALS. After years of struggle and self-abuse as a youth, he turned his life around by devoting himself to three years of renewal through an intensive study of yoga meditation; this devotion taught him to live a life of mindful kindness. Getting to know Jeremy inspired me to suggest to Roy Tester, the primary coauthor of the book, that we begin a Buddhist-based mindful kindness partnership to reach prison inmates.”
Smiling at Strangers: How One Introvert Discovered the Power of Being Kind
About the book: Written by a shy and introverted author, this handbook is designed for building a community of kindred souls who share the author’s mission to create a kinder world one smile at a time.
Author statement: “I’d known since I won an Excellence in English award in high school at the age of 18 that I had a book in me. It took 80 years of observation of a world becoming more and more divisive before the book revealed itself to me. It needed to be about connecting with strangers by offering the simple kindness of a smile.”
Sydney Porter: Dog Girl
About the book: In this middle grade fantasy novel, 11-year-old Sydney Porter’s father suffers from PTSD and only talks to the retired war dog he brought home from Afghanistan. After wishing she could communicate with him too, Sydney is magically transformed into a dog.
Author Statement: “This story grew out of a writing prompt that gave a location, character, object and situation. From that small seed, the idea of a girl who turns into a dog developed into a tale of a family in need of a little magic.”
About the book: In this children’s story, set in New Mexico and its wintertime festival of candlelit luminarias, nine-year-old Angelina’s grief-stricken heart is buoyed by the kindness of her newfound community.
Author statement: “One December years ago, I moved to New Mexico from the East Coast. When I arrived, I was welcomed by strangers whose kindness soon made them into lifelong friends. They introduced me to the magic and wonder of the luminarias—a New Mexico holiday tradition of candle lights. Witnessing this simple beauty transfixed and uplifted my heart and soul.”
The Angels on My Tree
Lu Ann Schnable Kaldor, illus. by Eve S. Gendron
About the book: Inspired by the angel tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a mother and daughter overcome loss and find healing by spending the holiday season focused on spreading kindness to others.
Author statement: The Angels on My Tree is my autobiographical account of my first Christmas after my father died.
Schmuck the Buck: Santa's Jewish Reindeer
Exo Books, illus. by Karina Shor
About the book: A contemporary take on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, this illustrated story carries a message of inclusion, gratitude, and love.
Author statement: “This story originated with the cheeky title, discovered after too much eggnog at a friend's holiday party, and the realization that many New York Jewish families celebrate at least some aspect of Christmas. I finished the first draft two days later, but finding the amazing illustrator Karina Shor to convert it all into pictures was the final crucial step.”
A Season for Hope
Tammy L. Grace
About the book: When their car breaks down, Hope and her young son, Jake, are stranded in Silver Falls as the holidays approach. A woman who runs a guesthouse offers them a place to stay while the car is repaired.
Author statement: “A Season for Hope is a story filled with family, furry friends, and second chances. Cozy up with the first in the Christmas in Silver Falls novellas.”
Indie Picture Books
Anchors in the Storm
Jessica Laurel Kane
About the book: Anchors in the Storm is a book for children and families experiencing loss and grief.
Author statement: “I thought to write Anchors in the Storm after my son lost both his grandmothers, and also after so many of my friends lost loved ones due to Covid.”
Be Who You Were Meant to Be
Lauren Grabois Fischer, illus. by Devin Hunt
About the book: This bilingual English and Spanish children’s book is about being proud of who you are.
Author statement: “I wrote this book as a poem for my son and as a wish for a kinder and more accepting world.”
Finding Home: Arty & Sam’s Desert Adventure
Jason Erwin, illus. by Ida Andersson
About the book: The story is about two unlikely companions, Arty (an ant) and Sam (a snake). When their desert oasis dries up because of a warming climate, the friends set out in search of a new home.
Author statement: “This book grew out of a bedtime story I told my son five years ago. It started simply as an adventure, but, through the writing process, grew into a tale of unlikely friendship, teamwork, and kindness towards all. I have a background in environmental science, so I also wanted to introduce children to climate change and the beauty of biodiversity.”
How the Giraffes Got Their Ears
Kathleen Macferran, illus. by Kenneth Schrag
About the book: This children’s book is part of a series that pairs folk tales about animals with music.
Author statement: “The giraffes in my story find joy when they are able to hear the beautiful feelings and needs in all hearts—in other words, when they are able to empathize with each other.”
Lauren Grabois Fischer, illus. by Devin Hunt
About the book: Follow along as a great-grandpa and his great-grandson discover what life is really about.
Author statement: “This book was inspired by the powerful relationship between my son and my grandpa. I wanted everyone to understand that you can have fun at any age, you can feel scared at any age, and you can love at any age. I was blessed that my grandpa was able to hold and enjoy this book. Sadly, he passed away on Oct. 26, 2020.”
The Village of the Trees
About the book: Roo is a busy and hardworking treehouse builder. After a tragic accident that leaves Roo and her village without homes, Roo embarks on an uncertain journey to seek a new life for herself and her fellow villagers.
Author statement: “With ongoing crises abroad causing millions of people to flee their countries and seek safety elsewhere, I sought to write and illustrate a book that could reflect a community that demonstrates hospitality and welcoming of different individuals in need.”
Where Do Hearts Grow? A Little Book of Hidden Hearts
About the book: This photograph collection featuring found heart shapes shows that love is all around.
Author statement: “The first time I found a heart shape was years ago, on a pine tree while visiting a friend in Prescott, Ariz. A few months later I found a heart shape inside of a watermelon and then more recently started noticing hearts everywhere! The joy I felt from something so simple was contagious as my friends started sending me their heart pictures, which convinced me to share the photos in a book.”