Books are always, without exception, my go-to gift. Christmas is coming up, so I have some stacks downstairs, but I also turn to book for birthdays, hostess gifts, and sometimes for no reason at all. Today on Great New Books I discuss my absolute favorite book of 2013, but I wanted to also share a more comprehensive list of books I love for gift-giving. Here are my thoughts, for young children, older children (a category I personally adore, so I think many of these work for adults, too), and for adults.
I would love to hear what books are on your lists and in your basements awaiting wrapping!
For Small Children:
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. This may be my favorite children’s books of all time. We still read Miss Rumphius regularly, and it’s one of the few picture books that I have noticed remains in Grace’s bookshelf. Almost every time, I’m reduced to tears by the beautiful story and message that every person can find a way to leave the world more beautiful.
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney. This book is another one I dearly love. It is less well-known than Miss Rumphius (and therefore, at least in my experience, often a great gift because people don’t have it). This story is about the power of imagination and about the galloping adventure that is childhood. Love.
Space Boy by Leo Landry. This is another one of my most deeply-beloved books. We also still read it. The story, inspired by Where the Wild Things Are, tells of independence and exploration and home, of the way the bonds of love can stretch and snap back, of this great big world we live in. I love it.
Mole Music by David McPhail. This is another book whose theme is the way that art (in this case music) can change the world, and it also reminds us that even acts invisible to others can have tremendous power. The illustrations are beautiful too.
The Birds of Bethlehem by Tomie dePaola. Last year I took a whole bunch of Christmas-themed picture books out of the library and we worked our way through them. This was easily our favorite. The text is simple and charming, the illustrations gorgeous, and I love this book.
For Bigger Children:
Wonder by RJ Palacio. I am giving this book, the first that Grace ever recommended to me, to a lot of children this year. RJ Palacio’s story about acceptance and friendship and courage is one of the most powerful I have ever read. Literally. Told in alternating voices, with humor and honesty, this book made me cry a lot, but also reminded me of the fundamental goodness resident in most people.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. As Grace recommended Wonder to me, so I recommended this to her. Though the fundamental premise, a story about teenagers with cancer, is unavoidably sad, this is one of the most life-affirming and hopeful books I have ever read. This is a book for everybody over 10 on your list, in my opinion: it is easily in my own list of top three books of 2013. Alternately laugh-out-loud funny and heart-crackingly sad, this book is told by possibly my favorite narrator of all time. Grace still refers to Hazel and Augustus all the time. They have taken up residence in both of our heads and hearts, I suspect, permanently.
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Grace’s second recommendation to me (which Whit pushed too). This is a book about animals in a mall zoo that somehow manages to be about the broad sweep of life’s grand pageant. Honestly. It made me laugh, cry, and think, and I could not put it down. Highly, highly recommended.
Weird But True by National Geographic. My children, especially Whit, have a seemingly bottomless fascination with true, strange stories. They love the Guiness Book of World Records, and have several versions of Weird But True. I don’t necessarily understand the fixation, but I definitely subscribe to the any-reading-is-good-reading school of thought, so these will be under the tree for Whit and some other kids (especially boys) on my list.
The Giver by Lois Lowry. The Giver, and the other three books in the series (Gathering Blue, the Messenger, and Son) have deeply moved both Grace and me. Grace has only read The Giver so far, but just this weekend she said to me, out of the blue, that she “keeps finding herself thinking about Gabriel.” Oh, yes. I know that feeling. Spare, evocative, beautiful: I love these books.
Still Writing by Dani Shapiro. While you might think this is a book about writing, I think it’s about the task of adulthood: taking where we came from and living with it, making the most of and paying attention to what is right in front of us, and the effort to live an engaged life. I devoured this book, read it twice, and think it’s absolutely beautiful.
The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison. I think anyone with children in grade school or middle school needs to read this book immediately. I’ve never given it to someone (and I’ve given it to a lot of people) without hearing later that it entirely changed how they think about this particular rich, exhausting, blessed season of life. Every time I read Katrina’s writing I cry, which is how I know it touches something deep, essential, and inchoate inside of me. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. For anyone who is new to Oliver, enamored by the natural world, or just beginning to tiptoe into the world of poetry: this is the perfect gift. I have given this book to countless people, and have always heard back from the recipient that Oliver’s work is both powerful and accessible: the combination that, for me, marks truly great poetry.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. My passion for this book is well-documented. It’s among the very, very short list of books I’ve read three complete times (that list in its entirety: Harry Potter books 1-4, CTS, and, now, Gilead). Stegner’s short, gorgeously-written book reveals something new to me each time I read it. The most recent time I was struck by how it is a love letter to couple friends, to long marriage, to midlife, in all of its confounding complexity and breathtaking beauty.
When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice, by Terry Tempest Williams. I found this book intoxicating, challenging and outrageously gorgeous in equal measure. Williams’ work reads to me like prose poetry. A book about being a woman in this world, about the natural terrain of the united states, and about what it means to find your voice. Wonderful.
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