My favorite books about the healing power of listening

Why am I passionate about this?

When my teenage daughter was going through an excruciatingly hard time, she taught me something that has stayed with me forever. She said, "Don't try to fix it, just listen." Maybe Tomorrow? is about that superpower. I'm the author of many books for children and young adults, and one professional development book for fellow teachers. I'm originally from Sweden, but grew up in Canada and Hong Kong. I made my way to Maine, USA, where I have spent all of my adult life so far. I have an Ed.M from the Harvard Graduate School of Education but think some my most enduring lessons have come from the students in my public school classrooms.


I wrote...

Book cover of Maybe Tomorrow? (A Story about Loss, Healing, and Friendship)

What is my book about?

Elba has a big block. She's been dragging it around for a long time. Norris dances everywhere he goes, even uphill. He is always surrounded by a zany cloud of butterflies. Can Norris and his butterflies help ease Elba's sadness and convince her to join them on a trip to the ocean?

The idea for Maybe Tomorrow came about when a student asked me if I ever got writer’s block. I said, “No, Emily, I'm more likely to have too many ideas.” The notion of ideas like butterflies kept following me around as if I were some kind of Norris, and, eventually, dour and sad Elba presented herself to me. She was dragging around her block (not writer’s block, but a deeper block - her immense grief made physical). Working with children, as I do, I think it is important to address life’s big issues through art and books. Issues, for example, like death and sadness. Maybe Tomorrow does this, focusing on friendship, listening, and its power to help us go on.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Perfect Gift

Charlotte Agell Why did I love this book?

Jamaican American author/illustrator Rohan Henry, in a deceptively simple sweet book, illustrates the gift of true understanding and friendship. I first met Rohan at a book fair here in Maine, when we traded books - one of my early picture books (Dancing Feet) for his self-published The Perfect Gift. I happened to be having lunch with my agent the next day. I showed her this book and she sold the rights almost immediately. It's now out in several languages and is, in my estimation, the perfect gift.

By Rohan Henry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Perfect Gift as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the tradition of Shel Silverstein's beloved stories, Jamaican artist Rohan Henry presents a simple and touching story of love and friendship. Leo and Lisa are long-time best friends and Leo wants to give her that one special gift to show her how he feels. The first leaf of autumn, the most delicate snowflake ever, an exquisite spring butterfly - but none of them endures. So Leo sets off in search of the perfect gift.With charming black-and-white illustrations accented with a second colour, the book conveys its message with simplicity and grace. Rohan has created a timeless parable of friendship…


Book cover of Everything Sad is Untrue (A True Story)

Charlotte Agell Why did I love this book?

This book floored me. As an immigrant, as a public school teacher, as a human. This is a story of self-preservation by storytelling. Nayeri and his mother and sister flee Iran in the middle of the night, and - via Italy - end up in Oklahoma. To protect himself from relentless bullying in the classroom, a boy named Khosrou (Nayeri!) spins tales like Scheherezade. True tales, featuring the secret police, blood-soaked fields, complicated and loving relatives, and the scent of jasmine. Fitting in is hard. Telling one's story is vital. Nayeri's manage to be beautiful, terrifying, and hilarious, all at once. Listen in!

By Daniel Nayeri,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Everything Sad is Untrue (A True Story) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

At the front of a middle school classroom in Oklahoma, a boy named Khosrou (whom everyone calls "Daniel") stands, trying to tell a story. His story. But no one believes a word he says. To them he is a dark-skinned, hairy-armed boy with a big butt whose lunch smells funny; who makes things up and talks about poop too much.

But Khosrou's stories, stretching back years, and decades, and centuries, are beautiful, and terrifying, from the moment his family fled Iran in the middle of the night with the secret police moments behind them, back to the sad, cement refugee…


Book cover of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Charlotte Agell Why did I love this book?

When this author is confined to her bed for a year, she passes the time watching and noting the small doings of Neohelix albolabris—a common forest snail. Bailey's powers of observation are a mix of poetry and science that slowed my heart down to a comfortable pace I will call: Here I Might Manage to Listen to the Mysteries of Existence, that is, a very healing pace of listening and being.

By Elisabeth Tova Bailey,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

While an illness keeps her bedridden, Elisabeth Bailey watches a wild snail that has taken up residence in a terrarium alongside her bed. She enters the rhythm of life of this mysterious creature, and comes to a greater understanding of her own confined place in the world. In a work that beautifully demonstrates the rewards of closely observing nature, she shares the inspiring and intimate story of her close encounter with Neohelix albolabris - a common woodland snail.

Intrigued by the snail's world - from its strange anatomy to its mysterious courtship activities - she becomes a fascinated and amused…


Book cover of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

Charlotte Agell Why did I love this book?

A husband loses his wife. Two young boys lose their mother. They are unmoored, in shambles. Into their house moves the perfect visitor, a most unlikely and unloveable therapist: a crow. He stays as long as he needs to stay, a sort of Mary Poppins of the soul. This strange multi-genre book really made me think about grief and listening. Listening to oneself, first and foremost.

By Max Porter,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Grief Is the Thing with Feathers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A SUNDAY TIMES TOP 100 NOVEL OF THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY

Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year award and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize.

In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother's sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness.

In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow - antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family…


Book cover of Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Charlotte Agell Why did I love this book?

This is a murder mystery but it is still about listening. And who is murdering whom, anyway? Told in the person of an eccentric Polish recluse, Janina, this book had me rooting for strange outcomes. The very earth is listening to us dangerous humans and cannot be silent anymore. Part ode to William Blake, part naturalist's hymn, part the demented story of a possible crackpot (or saint), this book's warp and weft are grief and listening.

By Olga Tokarczuk, Antonia Lloyd-Jones (translator),

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With DRIVE YOUR PLOW OVER THE BONES OF THE DEAD, Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Olga Tokarczuk returns with a subversive, entertaining noir novel. In a remote Polish village, Janina Duszejko, an eccentric woman in her sixties, recounts the events surrounding the disappearance of her two dogs. She is reclusive, preferring the company of animals to people; she's unconventional, believing in the stars; and she is fond of the poetry of William Blake, from whose work the title of the book is taken. When members of a local hunting club are found murdered, Duszejko becomes involved in the investigation. By…


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Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

Book cover of Kanazawa

David Joiner Author Of Kanazawa

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

My book recommendations reflect an abiding passion for Japanese literature, which has unquestionably influenced my own writing. My latest literary interest involves Japanese poetry—I’ve recently started a project that combines haiku and prose narration to describe my experiences as a part-time resident in a 1300-year-old Japanese hot spring town that Bashō helped make famous in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. But as a writer, my main focus remains novels. In late 2023 the second in a planned series of novels set in Ishikawa prefecture will be published. I currently live in Kanazawa, but have also been lucky to call Sapporo, Akita, Tokyo, and Fukui home at different times.

David's book list on Japanese settings not named Tokyo or Kyoto

What is my book about?

Emmitt’s plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of purchasing their dream home. Disappointed, he’s surprised to discover her subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo.

In his search for a meaningful life in Japan, and after quitting his job, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa’s most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English. He becomes drawn into the mysterious death of a friend of Mirai’s parents, leading him and his father-in-law to climb the mountain where the man died. There, he learns the somber truth and discovers what the future holds for him and his wife.

Packed with subtle literary allusion and closely observed nuance, Kanazawa reflects the mood of Japanese fiction in a fresh, modern incarnation.

Kanazawa

By David Joiner,

What is this book about?

In Kanazawa, the first literary novel in English to be set in this storied Japanese city, Emmitt's future plans collapse when his wife, Mirai, suddenly backs out of negotiations to purchase their dream home. Disappointed, he's surprised to discover Mirai's subtle pursuit of a life and career in Tokyo, a city he dislikes.

Harmony is further disrupted when Emmitt's search for a more meaningful life in Japan leads him to quit an unsatisfying job at a local university. In the fallout, he finds himself helping his mother-in-law translate Kanazawa's most famous author, Izumi Kyoka, into English.

While continually resisting Mirai's…


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