Among everything I read in 2021, these are the 9 books I most appreciated and recommend. I would include my own book, Sleepy Baby Samurai and the Magic Painting, but hopefully you’re already familiar with it if you’re reading this post. These books are not arranged in any particular order.
1. Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know: And Many Others You Will Find Interesting by Ronald Bailey and Marian L. Tupy. (208 pages)
“Think the world is getting worse? You’re wrong: the world is, for the most part, not getting worse. The uncontroversial data on major global trends in this book will persuade you that this dark view of the prospects for humanity and the natural world is, in large part, badly mistaken.”
You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a rough couple of years for many people around the world. It’s practically shouted at you from every news outlet, social media platform, or stressed-out coworker, classmate, relative, or neighbour. Published in 2020, this book doesn’t deny the existence of real world problems. From reading 2 pages of this book every day until I finished it, I personally learned a lot, felt less anxious, and found reasons for gratitude and hope. The hardcover edition makes a great coffee table book to share and start conversations, with colourful graphs and photos on every page to accompany each interesting trend (there are many more than 10). My only complaints are the small font and that I wish it included a more detailed table of contents.
This book’s content gave me a different perspective: highlighting steady global progress over the past 100 years in many different areas. This data might not make the news, but its impact worldwide has been far greater than most headlines that fade from our minds after a week. Reduced poverty, longer lifespans, expanding global tree cover, more democracy, less wars, and significant advances in medicine, technology, and agriculture are just some of the trends examined in this book. I think it’s especially important for parents and young people to become familiar with this historical data, to replace bitterness and hopelessness with wisdom from the past and inspiration for the future.
2. Ayoade on Top by Richard Ayoade. (256 pages)
“The definitive book about perhaps the best cabin crew dramedy ever filmed: View From the Top starring Gwyneth Paltrow. Richard Ayoade, perhaps one of the most ‘insubstantial’ people of our age, takes us on a journey from Peckham to Paris by way of Nevada and other places we don’t care about.”
As a fan of Richard Ayoade since The I.T. Crowd, I first read his 2014 book: Ayoade on Ayoade: A Cinematic Odyssey. It’s difficult to describe that book, but one might consider it a sophisticated satire of literature, filmmaking, and the author himself. Ayoade on Top, published in 2019, shares a similar voice, style, and sense of humour. By putting so much thought into a book about a box office flop (which I admit I haven’t seen) that appears to have been carelessly slapped together by all involved, we are treated to an arguably more fulfilling piece of entertainment. Aoyade pushes a joke beyond our expectations, using his tenacious intellect to inject imagination, wit, and substance into a film he likely couldn’t wait to finish. He peppers the book with heartwarming biographical anecdotes, wrapping it all up into a so-tedious-it’s-hilarious-and-even-rather-insightful present. I didn’t get the audiobook version, but I’m sure that would be just as delightful, if not more so.
3. Let’s Talk about Tattling by Joy Berry. Illustrated by John Costanza. (29 pages)
“A little girl learns why you shouldn’t tattle on people and how to tell the difference between tattling and telling something important.”
Published in 1982, this book is an elusive treasure of unexpected wisdom. Judging by its cover (something I’m told we shouldn’t do), I expected a silly modern satire or an outdated parental monologue that could easily be delivered by a gruff mafia character from The Godfather or The Sopranos. My expectations were warranted given the current social climate. We see across all forms of media, numerous campaigns for young people to speak out no matter what, coupled with the paradoxical parallel of cancel culture and virtue-signalling. The 2021 version of this book would be called: “Tattle a Way: How Speaking my Truth Set Me Free” or “How I Became a Hero by Tattling on Random Celebrities, My Teachers, Coaches, Classmates, and Friends (well, I don’t have anymore of those but I have like, 10K Followers, #winning #influencer #unapologeticallyme).
This book turned out to be something quite different with straightforward, timeless truths about human behaviour (from childhood to adulthood). Case in point, it explains common motivations for tattling including: wanting attention, trying to look better than others, trying to hurt others, or being too lazy to solve your own problems. Sound familiar? It certainly does to me. This book also offers guidance for when tattling is necessary and important. It provides kid-friendly definitions and examples, while not masking the complexity or nuance of such a context-based topic. In my humble opinion, it is a courageous little book that can spark thought-provoking discussions with your children.
4. The Happiness of a Dog with a Ball in Its Mouth by Bruce Handy. Illustrated by Hyewon Yum. (56 pages)
“A poetic picture book about the rich, specific moments that define childhood.”
As a parent/dog-owner/author, I have so many good things to say about this book! Author Bruce Handy conveys complex emotional truths with simple language in ways for all ages to ponder. Hyewon Yum, one of the best illustrators working today, has crafted gorgeous images that magnify those feelings. Even the quality of the paper and creative fold out pages are top notch! Highly recommended book from Enchanted Lion Books, who publish distinctive, beautiful books that truly stand out.
5. The Double Life of Danny Day by Mike Thayer (320 pages)
“A boy who lives every day twice uses his ability to bring down bullies at his new school in Mike Thayer’s humour-filled middle grade novel.”
This book has a clever concept and intriguing hook. The main characters are likeable, clever problem-solvers (except for the bullies, who are effectively unlikable and intimidating). The author demonstrates a strong understanding of how middle school students think, feel, and act with believable world-building. A significant portion of the book centres around video games, which fits with the theme of a character tackling life as if it were a game. I hope there will be a sequel for Danny Day! This book led me to the author’s website and podcast, where he interviews other creatives and shares his personal journey towards becoming a published author. I hope to have the opportunity to chat with him someday.
6. Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown. Illustrated by Garth Williams (32 pages)
“Little Fur Family tells the story of a little fur child’s day in the woods with his family.”
The author of the infamous classic: Goodnight Moon: Margaret Wise Brown, also wrote this book, which I actually prefer. It is beloved by my toddler son, and he has flipped through it on his own more than any other book we own. I also never tire of reading it to him. It’s a sweet, simple, and imaginative story about a family of tiny bears who live in a tiny house inside a big tree and wear tiny fur coats. The illustrations are very cute and full of life. Highly recommended for children 0-4 years old.
7. Leaf by Niggle by J.R.R. Tolkien (22 pages)
“Recounts the strange adventures of the painter Niggle, who sets out to paint the perfect tree.”
This is a short and surprisingly little known story by a brilliant author that contains no less than the meaning of life (for its protagonist, at the very least). I absolutely loved this story and recommend it to anyone who has felt anxiety, frustration, or disappointment from a personal project. I found it relatable, funny, and perceptive. Niggle is a perfectionist painter who wants to paint the perfect tree, but can’t seem to get past a single leaf without being interrupted. Knowing that the author was working on The Lord of the Rings at the time is an additional personal gift to the reader. Tolkien was Catholic, as am I, and I haven’t encountered a more imaginative, insightful, and moving way to paint a picture of purgatory, heaven, or how all the little things we do create the person we become.
8. Hollywood North by Sam Wiebe. (41 pages)
“When successful screenwriter Paul Ling goes missing in Vancouver, his teenage daughter hires private investigator Dave Wakeland to track him down.”
Thanks to Mike from the Book Club at my work for recommending this author to me. You can receive a free copy of this short story by signing up for the author’s newsletter. It’s an effective teaser that made me want to read the Wakeland novels and get to know this protagonist better. As I reside in Vancouver, it’s especially fun to read exciting fiction set in the same city. Sam captures the grittiness of the classic detective novel and gives it a modern, Canadian, and distinctive flavour.
9. The Magical Soul by Marisela Marquez. Illustrated by Nadia Ronquillo. (32 pages)
“The Magical Soul is an invitation to inspire hope for children who are grieving the loss of a loved one and encourages them to believe in something beyond physicality.”
This is a truly beautiful book. It is essentially a conversation between a mother and her daughter with illustrations to help visualize what is being said. There is an author’s note at the end of the book that I found to be incredibly moving, meaningful, and inspiring. Talking about death, loss, and grief is challenging for most of us, regardless of age. This book is equally about life, love, and striving for truth. It explores difficult topics in a way for children and adults to face their fears, talk about their feelings, discover hope, find solace, and live their life to the fullest. It’s a great book for families to read together and discuss. I am thankful to author Marisela Marquez for writing this story to share with the world. It is both highly personal and universal, while also distinctly human, timeless, and worthy of being read multiple times.