Highland Reads: Engaging Both the Mind and Heart Through a Shared Library

We can’t always gather in the same room to explore ideas, but we can grow by exploring books in common this year. During each season of our Year of Freedom, we are recommending a book for adults and for children that can help spark conversation and ignite curiosity.

January and February 2020: Freedom in Compassion

Stride Towards Freedom: The Montgomery Story by Martin Luther King, Jr. with Introduction by Clayborne Carson
Travel back to 1958 to hear King’s account of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the principles of nonviolence that led the movement. His words are poignant today as our country considers how to fight for freedom through love. We will have some copies available in the Commons. To purchase online, visit https://tinyurl.com/yhbefsxo.


December 2019: Freedom in Presence

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things by Sarah Bessey
How can we be free to “be present” when our bodies struggle with physical pain?
What happens when all our former theological answers no longer fit?
Sarah Bessey (author, preacher, writer) shares honestly in her latest book about her struggle with chronic pain following a car crash that left her hospitalized. Weaving together theology and memoir in her trademark narrative style, Bessey leads us on her journey of healing – from initial denial, a miraculous healing meeting the Pope in Rome (it’s complicated), and the living through the unraveling of the miracle.
“As I struggled and suffered and faltered after my own near-death experience, I wondered if… I could make eye contact with my unanswered prayers and keep praying anyway.” – Bessey

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
What does “presence” look like when the past is too overwhelming to bear?  
How can our country face the trauma of slavery past that continues to impact today’s present?
Take time this winter break to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new novel, The Water Dancer. Coates introduces us to Hiriam Walker – an enslaved young man in Virginia whose mysterious power of memory leads him on an unexpected journey towards freedom. The story is tragic as it is beautiful, opening up our historical imagination with the power of magical realism. The Water Dancer calls us not to live in the present as an escape from the past.  We must gather up the courage to face the past so that we might be fully free in this present moment, even if it challenges and exhausts us along the way.
“For memory is the chariot, and memory is the way, and
memory is bridge from the curse of slavery to the boom of freedom.” – Coates

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson and Sydney Smith
What might a child notice that you are too busy rushing to have been able to witness, whether beautiful or tragic?
Walking through the world and remaining present amidst the noise can be difficult to do, particularly in the holiday season. This vivid story told only with images offers the opportunity to observe a child being present to their world, revealing subtly the freedom found when we notice and are present to the people and place that surround us while going about our daily lives. 

Silent Night by Lara Hawthrone
How might seeing the beloved Christmas lullaby change the way we understand God’s presence?
This beautifully illustrated book is the very essence of being present to the story of the Christ child’s birth as the story is told through the familiar and beloved carol, Silent Night.

October and November 2019: Freedom in Generosity

Grateful: The Subversive Practice of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass
If gratitude is good, why is it so hard to do? In Grateful, Diana Butler Bass untangles our conflicting understandings of gratitude and sets the table for a renewed practice of giving thanks.  Gratitude is more than a feeling but a radical practice that is needed most in these divisive times. As Diana Butler Bass suggests that freedom comes when we pass on gifts without expecting anything in return. Found on Amazon here.



Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora
This beautifully illustrated book models what it is to be generous, sharing even something you enjoy or are really looking forward to. The result is the coming together of community because generosity often begets generosity. As the back book cover notes, “sharing is a lot like giving thanks – they both bring people together.” It also reminds us that both giving and receiving are gifts. Found on Amazon here.



Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems
The first line of the review by Daniel Kraus Booklist says it all as it describes this book as an “ode to the classic conflict between generosity and greed.” Young children hear that they should be generous, and we encourage them to practice being so. However, the learning process is challenging and wrought with wondering and wrestling through what it means to think beyond yourself. It’s a muscle that has to be exercised and Gerald and Piggie play out this sequence of thoughts pictorially right before our children’s eyes. Gerald’s recognition of generosity received in the way he originally intended to give is also a noteworthy aha moment. Found on Amazon here.


August and September 2019: Freedom to Dream

Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them by Jonathan Merritt
While we may love the quote, “Preach the gospel always; use words when necessary,” there are times where we’ve got to use words if anything is going to change. There is freedom when we are able to transform words that have been used as weapons into words that can heal. Jonathan Merritt challenges Christians to move beyond the “spiritual lockjaw” we feel. Learning to Speak God from Scratch empowers us to recover the power of words – a power that just might help us restore peace in a world that deeply needs to hear it. “When we lose our spiritual vocabulary, we lose much more than words. We lose the power of speaking grace, forgiveness, love, and justice over others.” Found on Amazon here.


What Do You Do With an Idea Written by Kobi Yamada, Illustrated by Mae Besom
“What Do You Do with an Idea” invites children of all ages to be curious about the ideas that won’t leave us alone—ideas that end up changing the way we see everything. Yamada’s words and Besom’s illustrations remind us all of the persistence of powerful ideas and the way the world changes when we are free to dream. How do we help children explore their ideas? How do we prepare for their ideas to change the world? “I liked being with my idea. It made me feel more alive, like I could do anything. It encouraged me to think big…and then, to think bigger.” Found on Amazon here.