Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Bibliophile's Holiday Gift Guide

Man! I lose at being a diligent blogger. I totally blew you guys off over the long holiday weekend after I said I wanted to catch up on my posts! I really do have about eight book reviews I need to write in order to get caught up - yikes! I'll get to them. I really will. There are a few fantastic books among those reviews, so stay tuned. My online class has now ended and the next one in the series doesn't start until January, so I'm not bogged down trying to keep up with homework. Hopefully this means I will be a better blogger in December, but we all know how those kinds of promises go...

Today, instead of catching up on my book reviews, I have a treat for you! I am offering my first ever holiday gift guide - book-centered, of course! Since it's my first one, I've had the luxury of selected some of my favorites of all time. Next year I'm going to have to work harder and pay attention to some of the better new books for kids and teens that I don't necessarily pay strict attention to normally because I don't have kids and I don't teach any more. I've broken the guide into four sections, with four selections in each (very symmetrical, which appeals to my OCD). The sections are guided by age groups, so there are gift ideas for babies, kids, teens, and adults. SO! Without further ado...

As I mentioned, I do not have children. I do, however, have a niece and many friends with children. I have a lot of experience picking out books for babies and kids, and I think I've given every single book in the Babies and Kids sections of this guide as a gift to a child in my life at some point.

The Monster at the End of This Book: An absolute classic. Who can resist Grover?

Boynton's Greatest Hits: Vol. 1 (Moo, Baa, La La La!; A to Z; Doggies; Blue Hat, Green Hat): A HUUUUUUGE hit with babies and their parents. Sandra Boynton is a modern-day classic in board books, and they teach the kind of things babies love to learn, like animal sounds and letters and colors, with great illustrations. And they're board books, so they're hard to destroy.

Richard Scarry's Biggest Word Book Ever: Right when babies start talking, they're fascinated with words and language, making this book fantastic. Plus it's Richard Scarry, who was a childhood favorite of almost everyone I know. Be warned, though, they're not kidding that it's the biggest book - it's HUGE. It's an open-it-on-the-dining-room-table kind of book. Don't ship it unless you can get free shipping!

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?: This book explores colors and animals with rhyming words and gorgeous artwork. This is a guaranteed winner with both babies and parents.

As I said, I don't have kids, but I still read (and buy) kids books! Again, I've given all of these as gifts, and I think I might even own them all myself!

20th Century Children's Book Treasury: This book is incredible. It has a BUNCH of classic children's picture books all bound together. There's Goodnight, Moon, Stellaluna, Amelia Bedelia, Guess How Much I Love You...and a ton of others. You cannot beat this book for the price - it's like giving a child 40 pictures books for the price of 2 or 3.

Piggie Pie: A fantastic read-aloud story about a witch who needs a piggie to make piggie pie and is frustrated at every turn when she can't manage to get one. This one will keep adults and kids alike giggling.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales: Fairy tales turned on their heads. The feature story about the Stinky Cheese Man is a parody of the classic story about the Gingerbread Man - only nobody wants to catch the Stinky Cheese Man. This book is hysterical, even as a grown-up, and kids familiar with the usual fairy tales will love hearing them given the funny treatment.

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Who did not adore this book as a child (or as an adult if you were grown when it was first published)? I wore out the library copy of both the book and the cassette tape of Shel Silverstein reading selections from the book until my mom finally gave in and bought me my own copy. I still have it. I still get the poems stuck in my head sometimes. The man was a genius. Added bonus: it teaches lessons, too, about not watching too much TV (or you'll turn out like Jimmy Jet!) and other things kids need a little prodding about.

I was, once upon a time, a middle school teacher. I also just kind of like reading young adult (YA) literature from time to time because it can be just as good as adult literature. So these were pretty easy for me to come up with, but this is the age when boys and girls tend to be attracted to different types of books, so I've tried to include books that will appeal to both genders, and I'll discuss gender preferences in my description of each.

Ender's Game: I just re-read this for my book club, so a review is forthcoming, but generally - wow. This is a definite sci-fi story, but there's a heavy focus on the pressure that bright kids are under from adults to perform as expected. Smart kids REALLY identify with this - both genders - and any kid into science fiction will probably love it. More likely to appeal to boys than girls, but a large number of girls I taught also loved this book.

Uglies: Another sci-fi story, and again for either gender, but I'd say that this probably appeals to girls more than boys. In the future, people undergo surgery around age 16 to make them beautiful, no matter what their original features are - they become Pretties. All of the Uglies (children who haven't yet had the surgery) live together and dream of the day they become Pretties. Until some of the kids start to question the practice, and learn about a community far away where people have shunned this practice, believing that more than appearance is changed in the surgery and that people are fine just the way they are born. I've read the two books in the series following this, and they're all good, but Uglies is definitely the best one.

Looking for Alaska: A boy goes to boarding school and becomes fascinated by his weird, wild classmate, Alaska. She clearly has some issues, but he has the instinct to both have fun with and to protect her. An interesting twist on the familiar old boarding school books, and highly recommended for both boys and girls.

Dangerous Angels: This is almost exclusively for the girls, I must admit, and be fore-warned that there is sex and foul language throughout. That said, this book (or rather this collection of the Weetzie Bat books) is both a coming-of-age and a somewhat supernatural story without dumbing anything down just because it was written for teens. I would have worshipped this book had I found it as a teenager; instead, I had my gifted middle school students introduce me to it and I strongly liked it as an adult. But I can absolutely see how a teenager would identify enormously with the story and bond with the characters.

Obviously, I have some knowledge of adult books. I've again tried to consider what might appeal to the different genders, but honestly, by the time most people grow up I find that a good book is just a good book, regardless of whether a man or a woman is reading it. So here are four of my all-time, five-star favorites.

The Thirteenth Tale: A spooky, gothic tale just custom-made for book-lovers. Everyone in my book club - all ages, all genders - adored this book and gave it top marks. I have personally read it twice in the last 12 months.

Water for Elephants: I gave this to my mother for her birthday this year, and she says it's the best book she's ever read. It's story about a guy in a circus, and his life from joining the circus to being an elderly man. It's dripping with plot and character and language.

Between, Georgia: This is probably my personal favorite book of all time. It's the story of a war between families, and of enduring love between families, and of how crazy and wonderful Southern people in a small town can be. It's definitely set firmly in the South, and it's hilarious and heart-breaking at the same time. I think of Joshilyn Jackson as a modern-day Carson McCullers.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: Well, this book won the Pulitzer a few years ago, and deservedly so, in my opinion. It's a long one - almost 700 pages, I think - but the story sweeps you up. It's about two Jewish cousins in New York - one of whom is a refugee from the Europe, fleeing the Nazis - who team up to create comic books in a time when they were first coming to popularity. Chabon is an incredible storyteller.

And that's it! Holiday Gift Guide done! What are some of your favorite books to give as gifts? No really, I'm always looking for ideas, especially for the kids!

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