NOMA’s Learning and Engagement staff suggests the following books related to themes of human connections. In partnership with Octavia Books, links are provided to purchase these titles through this independent bookstore based in New Orleans, which offers nationwide shipping or curbside pickup.
The Magical Language of Others: A Memoir by E. J. Koh, Tin House Books, 2020, ISBN: 9781947793385
The Magical Language of Others is a powerful and aching love story in letters, from mother to daughter. After living in America for over a decade, Eun Ji Koh’s parents return to South Korea for work, leaving fifteen-year-old Eun Ji and her brother behind in California. Overnight, Eun Ji finds herself abandoned and adrift in a world made strange by her mother’s absence. Her mother writes letters, in Korean, over the years seeking forgiveness and love—letters Eun Ji cannot fully understand until she finds them years later hidden in a box.
As Eun Ji translates the letters, she looks to history—her grandmother Jun’s years as a lovesick wife in Daejeon, the horrors her grandmother Kumiko witnessed during the Jeju Island Massacre—and to poetry, as well as her own lived experience to answer questions inside all of us. Where do the stories of our mothers and grandmothers end and ours begin? How do we find words—in Korean, Japanese, English, or any language—to articulate the profound ways that distance can shape love? Eun Ji Koh fearlessly grapples with forgiveness, reconciliation, legacy, and intergenerational trauma, arriving at insights that are essential reading for anyone who has ever had to balance love, longing, heartbreak, and joy.
Apeirogon: A Novel by Colum McCann, Randomhouse, 2020, ISBN: 781400069606
Bassam Aramin is Palestinian. Rami Elhanan is Israeli. They inhabit a world of conflict that colors every aspect of their lives, from the roads they are allowed to drive on to the schools their children attend to the checkpoints, both physical and emotional, they must negotiate.
But their lives, however circumscribed, are upended one after the other: first, Rami’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Smadar, becomes the victim of suicide bombers; a decade later, Bassam’s ten-year-old daughter, Abir, is killed by a rubber bullet. Rami and Bassam had been raised to hate one another. And yet, when they learn of each other’s stories, they recognize the loss that connects them. Together they attempt to use their grief as a weapon for peace—and with their one small act, start to permeate what has for generations seemed an impermeable conflict.
This extraordinary novel is the fruit of a seed planted when the novelist Colum McCann met the real Bassam and Rami on a trip with the non-profit organization Narrative 4. McCann was moved by their willingness to share their stories with the world, by their hope that if they could see themselves in one another, perhaps others could too.
With their blessing, and unprecedented access to their families, lives, and personal recollections, McCann began to craft Apeirogon, which uses their real-life stories to begin another—one that crosses centuries and continents, stitching together time, art, history, nature, and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. The result is an ambitious novel, crafted out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material, with these fathers’ moving story at its heart.
The Interestings: A Novel by Meg Wolitzer, Riverhead Books, 2014, ISBN: 9781594632341
The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.
The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.
Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Vintage, 2017, ISBN: 9781101971062
Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages, each unaware of the other. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the palatial rooms of the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured in a raid on her village, imprisoned in the very same castle, and sold into slavery.
Homegoing follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem. Yaa Gyasi’s extraordinary novel illuminates slavery’s troubled legacy both for those who were taken and those who stayed—and shows how the memory of captivity has been inscribed on the soul of our nation.
For Young Adults
Radio Silence by Alice Oseman, HarperTeen, 2019, ISBN: 9780062335722
Frances Janvier spends most of her time studying.
Everyone knows Aled Last as that quiet boy who gets straight As.
You probably think that they are going to fall in love or something. Since he is a boy and she is a girl.
They don’t. They make a podcast.
In a world determined to shut them up, knock them down, and set them on a cookie cutter life path, Frances and Aled struggle to find their voices over the course of one life-changing year. Will they have the courage to show everyone who they really are? Or will they be met with radio silence?
Every Day by David Levithan, Ember, 2013, ISBN: 9780307931894
Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.
There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.
It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.
With his new novel, David Levithan, bestselling co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, has pushed himself to new creative heights. He has written a captivating story that will fascinate readers as they begin to comprehend the complexities of life and love in A’s world, as A and Rhiannon seek to discover if you can truly love someone who is destined to change every day.
For Ages 9-12
Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012, ISBN: 9781416971719
Suggested ages: 10 +
Eleven-year-old Melody is not like most people. She can’t walk. She can’t talk. She can’t write. All because she has cerebral palsy. But she also has a photographic memory; she can remember every detail of everything she has ever experienced. She’s the smartest kid in her whole school, but NO ONE knows it. Most people—her teachers, her doctors, her classmates—dismiss her as mentally challenged because she can’t tell them otherwise. But Melody refuses to be defined by her disability. And she’s determined to let everyone know it…somehow.
Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, Scholastic Press, 2014, ISBN: 9780545535670
Suggested ages: 8 – 12
Serafina made a secret promise to go to school and learn to read so she can become a doctor with her best friend, Julie Marie. But following her dream isn’t easy — endless chores, little money and stomach-rumbling hunger all test her resolve. When an earthquake hits and separates Serafina from friends and family, she encounters her biggest test of all. Serafina made a secret promise. Will she survive to keep it?
Hello, Hello! By Brendan Wenzel
Suggested ages: 3 – 6
Hello, Hello! is an interactive book for kids. Beginning with two cats, one black and one white, a chain of animals appears before the reader, linked together by at least one common trait. From simple colors and shapes to more complex and abstract associations, each unexpected encounter celebrates the magnificent diversity of our world-and ultimately paints a story of connection.
Brendan Wenzel’s joyous, rhythmic text and exuberant art encourage readers to delight in nature’s infinite differences and to look for-and marvel at-its gorgeous similarities in this children’s nature book. It all starts with a simple “Hello.”
Just Ask: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor, Illustrated by Rafael López
Suggested ages: 4 – 8
In Just Ask, United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor celebrates the different abilities kids (and people of all ages) have. Using her own experience as a child who was diagnosed with diabetes, Justice Sotomayor writes about children with all sorts of challenges–and looks at the special powers those kids have as well. As the kids work together to build a community garden, asking questions of each other along the way, this book encourages readers to do the same: When we come across someone who is different from us but we’re not sure why, all we have to do is Just Ask.
The Colors of Us by Karen Katz, Square Fish, 2002, ISBN: 9780805071634
Suggested ages: 4 – 8
Seven-year-old Lena is going to paint a picture of herself. She wants to use brown paint for her skin. But when she and her mother take a walk through the neighborhood, Lena learns that brown comes in many different shades. Through the eyes of a little girl who begins to see her familiar world in a new way, this book celebrates the differences and similarities that connect all people. Karen Katz created this book for her daughter, Lena, whom she and her husband adopted from Guatemala six years ago.
The Big Umbrella by Amy June Bates & Juniper Bates, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2018, ISBN: 9781534406582
Suggested ages: 4 – 8
In the tradition of Alison McGhee’s Someday, beloved illustrator Amy June Bates makes her authorial debut alongside her eleven-year-old daughter with this timely and timeless picture book about acceptance. By the door there is an umbrella. It is big. It is so big that when it starts to rain there is room for everyone underneath. It doesn’t matter if you are tall. Or plaid. Or hairy. It doesn’t matter how many legs you have. Don’t worry that there won’t be enough room under the umbrella. Because there will always be room. Lush illustrations and simple, lyrical text subtly address themes of inclusion and tolerance in this sweet story that accomplished illustrator Amy June Bates cowrote with her daughter, Juniper, while walking to school together in the rain.