Birth & Rebirth

In this thematic collection, we've curated texts that explore the universal human experience of birth, as well as the mysterious and challenging phenomenon of emotional, spiritual, or mental rebirth. Ranging from Jesmyn Ward's National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones to Thi Bui's graphic memoir The Best We Could Do, these books and poems explore life's beginnings and awakenings.

Publication year 1843Genre Novella, FictionThemes Relationships: Fathers, Society: Class, Life/Time: BirthTags Victorian Literature / Period, Classic Fiction, Fantasy, Holidays & Occasions

Originally published in 1843, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol defined and popularized quintessential Christmas tropes while condemning Victorian England’s harsh social division between the rich and poor. The Poor Laws (referenced by Scrooge in Stave 1) were England’s response to pervasive poverty; the workhouses associated with these laws subjected the desperate and destitute to demeaning conditions, and people who could not pay debts were sent to debtors’ prison—a circumstance that Dickens deals with in detail... Read A Christmas Carol Summary

Publication year 1996Genre Novel, FictionThemes Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & Betrayal, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Emotions/Behavior: Hate & Anger, Emotions/Behavior: Revenge, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Identity: Masculinity, Identity: Femininity, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Values/Ideas: Win & Lose, Values/Ideas: Power & Greed, Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Society: Class, Society: War, Society: Economics, Relationships: Siblings, Relationships: Mothers, Relationships: Fathers, Relationships: Marriage, Relationships: Family, Relationships: Daughters & Sons, Natural World: Appearance & Reality, Relationships: Friendship, Identity: Disability, Identity: Gender, Life/Time: Birth, Life/Time: Childhood & Youth, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Life/Time: The Future, Life/Time: The Past, Values/Ideas: Truth & Lies, Values/Ideas: Trust & DoubtTags Fantasy, Action / Adventure, Class, Politics / Government, Religion / Spirituality, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Grief / Death

A Game of Thrones is a 1996 epic fantasy novel by George R. R. Martin and is the first in his long-running A Song of Ice and Fire series. The novel introduces the audience to the fictional world of Westeros, where characters become embroiled in a complicated web of plots, conspiracies, and betrayals as they pursue power. A Game of Thrones won numerous awards on publication and was adapted for television in 2011. This guide... Read A Game of Thrones Summary

Publication year 1961Genre Novel, FictionThemes Relationships: Family, Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Emotions/Behavior: Guilt, Emotions/Behavior: Hate & Anger, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Emotions/Behavior: Revenge, Life/Time: Birth, Identity: Mental Health, Life/Time: Aging, Life/Time: The Past, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Life/Time: Childhood & Youth, Life/Time: Midlife, Relationships: Daughters & Sons, Relationships: Fathers, Relationships: Marriage, Values/Ideas: Religion & Spirituality, Values/Ideas: Fate, Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Power & Greed, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & Betrayal, Values/Ideas: Trust & Doubt, Society: Class, Society: Colonialism, Society: Community, Self Discovery, Values/Ideas: Literature, Society: EconomicsTags Historical Fiction, Auto/Biographical Fiction, Trauma / Abuse / Violence, Poverty, Finance / Money / Wealth, Depression / Suicide, Class, Colonialism / Postcolonialism, Indian Literature

A House for Mr. Biswas is a 1961 novel by V. S. Naipaul. The story takes a postcolonial perspective of the life of a Hindu Indian man in British-owned and occupied Trinidad. Now regarded as one of Naipaul's most significant novels, A House for Mr. Biswas has won numerous awards and has been adapted as a musical, a radio drama, and a television show. This guide is written using an eBook version of the 2001... Read A House for Mr. Biswas Summary

Publication year 1990Genre Biography, NonfictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Life/Time: Birth, Relationships: Family, Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Religion & SpiritualityTags History: U.S., Health / Medicine, Gender / Feminism, Women's Studies (Nonfiction)

A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich tells the story of an eighteenth-century midwife and healer living in Maine, the plot unraveling through her own diary entries, expanded upon by Ulrich. This intimate tale of historical fiction brings to light issues of religion, economics, sexuality and the common medical practices that defined the New England frontier.Ulrich begins each chapter transcribing some of Martha’s diary entries, listing the month and year in the chapter title. Following... Read A Midwife's Tale Summary

Publication year 2014Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Relationships: Teams, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & Betrayal, Natural World: Place, Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Life/Time: Birth, Natural World: Environment, Relationships: Daughters & Sons, Identity: Mental Health, Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Relationships: Mothers, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Values/Ideas: Order & Chaos, Natural World: Appearance & Reality, Values/Ideas: Trust & Doubt, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Nostalgia, Emotions/Behavior: Hope, Emotions/Behavior: Loneliness, Emotions/Behavior: ApathyTags Horror / Thriller / Suspense Fiction, Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

Bird Box is a 2014 post-apocalyptic horror novel by Josh Malerman. The story follows a woman’s struggle to protect two children in a world where people are driven to violence by unseen monsters, touching on such themes as paranoia, raising children to deal with an uncertain future, and the dangers of exceptionalism. Bird Box won a Michigan Notable Book Award and was also nominated for the James Herbert Award as well as the Bram Stoker... Read Bird Box Summary

Publication year 1990Genre Poem, FictionThemes Identity: Race, Life/Time: Birth, Life/Time: The Past, Relationships: FamilyTags Lyric Poem, History: U.S., Trauma / Abuse / Violence, African American Literature

Marilyn Nelson is part of a coterie of writers who published in the late-1970s and 1980s after the revolutionary fervor of the Black Arts Movement. Though the period during which Nelson wrote is less acknowledged than those aforementioned, it was a time when diverse Black poetic talents emerged. Nelson’s contemporaries included Afaa Michael Weaver, Yusef Komunyakaa, Rita Dove, Ntozake Shange, Melvin Dixon, and Essex Hemphill. Their work grappled with the aftermath of the Vietnam War... Read Chosen Summary

Publication year 2019Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Family, Society: Economics, Life/Time: Birth, Life/Time: Childhood & YouthTags Parenting, Science / Nature, Self Help

Publication year 2020Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano was published in 2020. It is the story of a 12-year-old boy who is the lone survivor of a plane crash that kills 191 others, including his family. As Edward struggles to cope with the tragedy, letters from others affected by the crash spark a journey of healing and self-discovery. Although the novel is fiction, it was inspired by true events. Ann Napolitano is a resident of New York City... Read Dear Edward Summary

Publication year 2023Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Fear, Life/Time: Birth, Values/Ideas: Truth & LiesTags Mystery / Crime Fiction, Horror / Thriller / Suspense Fiction, Psychological Fiction

Publication year 2000Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth, Relationships: FamilyTags Historical Fiction, Colonial America

Set during Philadelphia’s yellow fever outbreak, Fever 1793 is a young adult, historical fiction novel written by Laurie Halse Anderson and first published in 2000. Anderson is a recipient of the Margaret A. Edwards Award for her contribution to young adult literature, and Fever 1793 is an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and a New York Public Library Best Book for Teens.Fever 1793 begins in August 1793, with 14-year-old Matilda Cook awakening... Read Fever 1793 Summary

Publication year 2012Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Life/Time: Birth, Relationships: Marriage, Relationships: Mothers, Society: Globalization

Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 novel Flight Behavior presents a compelling symbolic connection between Dellarobia Turnbow, an unhappy farm wife who secretly dreams of running away from it all, and a surprising migration of monarch butterflies that alight upon her in-law’s property in Feathertown, Tennessee. As the butterflies struggle to survive and reproduce to continue their species, Dellarobia struggles in her efforts to deal with the consequences of her past decisions and the possibility of her new... Read Flight Behavior Summary

Publication year 2004Genre Novel/Book in Verse, FictionThemes Life/Time: Aging, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Relationships: Teams, Relationships: Siblings, Relationships: Friendship, Life/Time: Coming of Age, Values/Ideas: Art, Life/Time: Birth, Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Life/Time: Childhood & Youth, Relationships: Mothers, Relationships: FamilyTags Relationships, Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, Children's Literature

Publication year 1991Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: BirthTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

He, She and It is a 1991 cyberpunk novel by Marge Piercy. It won the Arthur C. Clarke award for Best Science Fiction novel, telling the story of a romance between a human woman and a cyborg against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic world.  Plot Summary Shira and her ex-husband, Josh, are sitting in a courtroom in Nebraska awaiting word on the custody of their son, Ari. Shira is a psychoengineer who works with artificial intelligence... Read He, She and It Summary

Publication year 1989Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: BirthTags Indian Literature

Told from the first-person point of view and in a non-linear style, Bharati Mukherjee’s Jasmine is about the journey and personal development of a young Indian woman as she attempts to assimilate into American culture. Influenced by Mukherjee’s experiences, the title character, Jasmine, plays a series of different roles throughout her young life.At the heart of the novel is the struggle to find one’s identity, and yet be flexible and courageous enough to reinvent a... Read Jasmine Summary

Publication year 1993Genre Poem, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth, Life/Time: Mortality & Death

Publication year 2002Genre Short Story, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth, Relationships: Mothers, Emotions/Behavior: Memory

"Lullaby” is a short story by Laguna Pueblo writer Leslie Marmon Silko—a key figure in the Native American Renaissance. Indeed, “Lullaby” was first published at the height of this literary movement, in Silko’s 1981 collection Storyteller. This collection includes not only short stories but also poetry and photographs; the first edition was also printed in landscape (i.e. horizontal) orientation. By blending genres and playing with form in this way, Silko seeks to capture something of... Read Lullaby Summary

Publication year 2019Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Life/Time: Birth, Natural World: Appearance & Reality, Society: Community, Relationships: Family, Relationships: Friendship, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Values/Ideas: Science & TechnologyTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Technology, Love / Sexuality

Publication year 1991Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Life/Time: BirthTags Historical Fiction

Novel Without a Name, first published in English in 1995, tells the story of a young North Vietnamese soldier named Quan whose physical and emotional journey draws heavily from Vietnamese author Duong Thu Huong’s own life. Novel Without a Name is her third book. At the start of the novel, Quan is with his military unit, having buried six dead girls they found a couple of weeks prior. While hunting for food, one of Quan’s... Read Novel Without a Name Summary

Publication year 1986Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth

Potiki, a novel by Patricia Grace originally published in 1986, tells the story of a Maori community in New Zealand and their struggle for survival against the attempts of land developers to buy, bully and coerce them off their land. What the developers fail to understand about this community, however, is that no amount of money can entice these people away from their sacred land and buildings, and that there is ultimately more strength in... Read Potiki Summary

Publication year 2019Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth, Life/Time: The PastTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

In 2018, Barry Sutton, a detective with the NYPD, witnesses the suicide of Ann Voss Peters, who has FMS—a mysterious ailment in which victims gain alternate memories. Barry has lunch with his ex-wife, Julia, on what would have been their late daughter Meghan’s 26th birthday. While investigating Ann’s false memories, Barry is enticed to the strange Hotel Memory, where business magnate Marcus Slade captures him and forcibly sends him back to the day Meghan died... Read Recursion Summary

Publication year 2011Genre Novel, FictionThemes Identity: Gender, Life/Time: Birth, Relationships: Mothers, Natural World: ClimateTags Gender / Feminism, Natural Disaster, African American Literature, Climate Change

Salvage the Bones tells the story of the Batiste family in Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, in the twelve days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. Claude Batiste’s wife, mother of Randall, Skeetah (Jason), Esch and Junior, died a few years ago, right after Junior was born. The kids still live with their father, in an area called the Pit. They are a poor, black family, who mainly survive on what Claude can make by salvaging and then... Read Salvage the Bones Summary

Publication year 2012Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: Forgiveness, Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Emotions/Behavior: Guilt, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Emotions/Behavior: Regret, Emotions/Behavior: Revenge, Identity: Femininity, Identity: Gender, Life/Time: Birth, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Life/Time: The Past, Relationships: Fathers, Self Discovery, Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & BetrayalTags Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Romance

Shadow of Night (2012) is a historical fantasy romance novel by Deborah Harkness, and the second book in the All Souls Trilogy, preceded by A Discovery of Witches (2011) and followed by The Book of Life (2014). A prequel novel, Time’s Convert (2019), follows the origin story of Matthew’s son Marcus, who is a minor character in Shadow of Night.Harkness holds a PhD from the University of California, Davis and teaches early modern European history... Read Shadow of Night Summary

Publication year 1609Genre Poem, FictionThemes Values/Ideas: Beauty, Life/Time: Birth, Emotions/Behavior: Hope, Identity: Masculinity, Identity: Sexuality, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Natural World: Food, Relationships: Daughters & Sons, Life/Time: The FutureTags Lyric Poem

Publication year 2008Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Life/Time: Birth, Values/Ideas: Loyalty & BetrayalTags Philosophy, Animals

Published in 2008, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a New York Times bestselling novel by Garth Stein. It follows the life of race car driver Denny Swift and is told from the perspective of his dog, Enzo. Stein was inspired to write the book after watching the 1998 Mongolian documentary State of Dogs about a dog who is reincarnated as a human after death, and after seeing the poet Billy Collins read... Read The Art of Racing in the Rain Summary

Publication year 2017Genre Graphic Novel/Book, NonfictionThemes Relationships: Family, Life/Time: Birth, Society: War, Life/Time: Coming of AgeTags Coming of Age / Bildungsroman, History: Asian

The artist and writer Thi Bui published her autobiographical graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, in 2017. Alternating her narrative between her present-day experiences as a new mother in New York City with her parents’ past growing up in and then escaping from Vietnam, Bui builds a complex web of intergenerational trauma and love. This is Bui’s first venture into comic book illustration. The artwork that accompanies her narrative is based on the black... Read The Best We Could Do Summary

Publication year 1992Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Apathy, Emotions/Behavior: Hope, Emotions/Behavior: Loneliness, Identity: Gender, Life/Time: Birth, Life/Time: The Future, Society: Politics & Government, Values/Ideas: Power & GreedTags Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction, Action / Adventure, British Literature, Climate Change, Depression / Suicide, Grief / Death, Health / Medicine, History: European, Immigration / Refugee, Love / Sexuality, Natural Disaster, Politics / Government

The Children of Men is a dystopian 1992 science fiction novel by P.D. James set in 2021, years after the onset of a mass infertility epidemic. Unless scientists can discover a cure, there will be no more births and the human race will go extinct when the youngest generation dies. This scenario allows James to explore many themes, including existentialism, the meaning of a good life, and the corrupting nature of power. The novel switches... Read The Children of Men Summary

Publication year 1844Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth, Emotions/Behavior: RevengeTags French Literature

The Count of Monte Cristo is an adventure novel by the French writer Alexandre Dumas, originally published in serial form between 1844 and 1846, which is reflected in the novel’s episodic structure, large cast of characters, and frequent shifts of scene. The novel has been translated into English several times, usually in abridged form. This guide follows the translation and abridgment by Lowell Blair, first published in 1956.Content Warning: The source material includes suicide, suicidal... Read The Count of Monte Cristo Summary

Publication year 2023Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Conflict, Emotions/Behavior: Shame & Pride, Identity: Femininity, Identity: Gender, Identity: Indigenous, Identity: Masculinity, Identity: Sexuality, Life/Time: Birth, Natural World: Animals, Relationships: Family, Relationships: Mothers, Society: Class, Society: Colonialism, Society: Community, Values/Ideas: Equality, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Power & Greed, Values/Ideas: Truth & LiesTags Historical Fiction, Mystery / Crime Fiction, Gender / Feminism

Publication year 2000Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: courage, Emotions/Behavior: Determination / Perseverance, Emotions/Behavior: Love, Life/Time: Birth, Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Natural World: Animals, Natural World: Flora/plants, Natural World: Nurture v. Nature, Relationships: Mothers, Self Discovery, Values/Ideas: Justice & Injustice, Values/Ideas: Safety & Danger, Values/Ideas: Truth & Lies

Publication year 1958Genre Book, NonfictionThemes Life/Time: Birth, Natural World: Appearance & RealityTags Philosophy, Politics / Government

The Human Condition, written by Hannah Arendt and originally published in 1958, is a work of political and philosophical nonfiction. Arendt, a German-American philosopher and political theorist, divides the central theme of the book, vita activa, into three distinct functions: labor, work, and action. Her analyses of these three concepts form the philosophical core of the book. The rest of the book is historical in approach.Part 1 serves as an introduction to Arendt’s argument. She... Read The Human Condition Summary

Publication year 1990Genre Short Story, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Memory, Life/Time: Birth, Relationships: MothersTags Relationships, Survival Fiction

Publication year 1759Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Mortality & Death, Values/Ideas: Literature, Relationships: Fathers, Relationships: Family, Life/Time: BirthTags Classic Fiction, Satire, Humor, British Literature, Age of Enlightenment

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a nine-volume novel published between 1759 and 1767 by English novelist Laurence Sterne. The novel is considered by many scholars as an early forerunner of postmodern literature due to its metafictional commentary on its own narrative. Contemporary critics did not view the novel favorably, though its humor and sentimentalism helped it find an audience. The novel has been adapted for radio and opera and as a... Read The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Summary

Publication year 1953Genre Short Story, FictionThemes Natural World: Environment, Life/Time: The Future, Society: Community, Life/Time: BirthTags Allegory / Fable / Parable, Science / Nature, French Literature

“The Man Who Planted Trees” is a short story published in 1953 by French author Jean Giono. It chronicles a shepherd’s three-decade-long effort to reforest a barren tract of land in Southeastern France. Spanning a time period shortly before World War I until shortly after World War II, the story is both an antiwar allegory and an environmental allegory. “The Man Who Planted Trees” inspired numerous adaptations across various mediums, including a 1988 Academy Award-winning... Read The Man Who Planted Trees Summary

Publication year 2017Genre Novel, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Life/Time: BirthTags Gender / Feminism, Science-Fiction / Dystopian Fiction

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is a science fiction novel set in a post-apocalyptic Canada where climate devastation ravages the world and the Canadian government’s Recruiters hunt Natives for the dreams that are woven into their bone marrow. Millions have died in the wake of global warming, and those who remain have experienced such extensive trauma that they have lost the ability to dream. Dimaline describes a world plagued by natural disasters, with vivid descriptions... Read The Marrow Thieves Summary

Publication year 1945Genre Poem, FictionThemes Emotions/Behavior: Grief, Emotions/Behavior: Guilt, Life/Time: BirthTags Free verse, Lyric Poem

Publication year 2003Genre Short Story, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth

“What You Pawn I Will Redeem” is a short story by Sherman Alexie, an American writer and member of both the Spokane and Coeur-d’Alene nations. First published in The New Yorker in 2003, the story also featured in Alexie’s 2004 collection Ten Little Indians. Although largely realistic in its depiction of issues like homelessness and the legacy of Native American genocide, “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” contains references to and elements of fairy tale... Read What You Pawn I Will Redeem Summary

Publication year 1998Genre Novel, FictionThemes Life/Time: Birth

Whirligig, by Paul Fleischman, is a 1998 YA novel about a 17-year-old boy named Brent Bishop who goes on a cross-country journey of atonement. At the outset of the novel, Brent’s family has recently moved to Chicago following his father’s promotion at work—the fourth time the family has moved. Brent has struggled to fit in and make friends at each new school he’s attended. He tries to win approval from his classmates by wearing trendy... Read Whirligig Summary