Books to Give Kids You Don’t Know Very Well, Part Four

Continuing my series to help you with the challenge of recommending kids books for holiday gifts, below are my picks of short story collections (what an amazing year it’s been for them), books for Wimpy Kid lovers and some middle grade and YA sleepers.

Coming soon; nonfiction and holiday books.

Short Story Collections

Ages 9 and Up

Guys Read: Thrilleredited by Jon Scieszka, illustrations by Brett Helquist, HarperCollins/Walden Pond, $16.99

The Guys Read series is back with a compilation of mystery stories by rock-star authors including M.T. Anderson, Gennifer Choldenko, Bruce Hale, Anthony Horowitz, and James Patterson. These are page-turning tales of pirates, smugglers, and detectives.

The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg, HMH, $24.99; Brilliance Audio

For a weirdly compelling collection, look no further than The Chronicles of Harris Burdick. In 1984, Van Allsburg produced a book of 14 captioned illustrations, titled The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, using the conceit that each drawing came from a different story. The illustrations are humorous, mysterious, whimsical and at times absurd, with images like a wallpaper bird coming to life and flying out a window. The idea comes full circle in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick, a book of stories inspired by the pictures, written by fourteen authors including Kate DiCamillo, Gregory Maguire, Stephen King, Lois Lowry and Cory Doctorow. Or, maybe not. According to the introduction by Lemony Snicket, the writers will confirm or deny their involvement.

Young Adult

Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant, includes stories by Garth Nix, Holly Black, Cory Doctorow and Cassandra Clare, Candlewick, $22.99

For Young Adult readers, there’s no better introduction to steampunk than this collection. How do we define this science fiction sub-genre? Is it fantasy set in a parallel world? Or is it science fiction with Victorian manners and modern technologies based on steam engineering? These stories of mad inventors, child inventors, mysterious murders and steampunk fairies are the perfect entry into this fascinating world.

Wimpy Kid Lovers

Tale of a Sixth Grade Muppet by Kirk Scroggs, Hachette/LBYR, $12.99

The Wimpy Kid kids who have already glommed onto The Strange Case of Origami Yoda and its sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back, (Abrams/Amulet) by Tom Angleberger, will also love Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet by Kirk Scroggs with the author’s cartoons generously embedded in text.

Middle Grade Sleepers

Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick, Scholastic, $29.99

OK, OK, this is not a sleeper. In fact, it’s on most of the year’s best books lists, but I am including it because it may be overshadowed by Hugo, Scorsese’s movie based on Selznick’s previous title, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. In Wonderstruck, Selznick once again sails into uncharted territory and takes readers on an awe-inspiring journey. Readers young and old will enjoy spotting the inter-textual references to  E. L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.


The Falcon Quinn series, Jennifer Finney Boylan, HarperCollins, $16.99

The perfect choice for fans of Harry Potter who think they have read “everything.”  The first title in the series, Falcon Quinn and the Black Mirror,  supplies this crowd with everything they want. Protagonist with hidden talent/curse? Check. Strange secluded boarding academy? Check. Developing loyalties? Check. Frighteningly powerful nemesis? Check. Slyly subversive humor? Check. The second volume, Falcon Quinn and the Crimson Vapor arrived in May and the 4th graders are now haunting my doorway for number three.

Ashtown Burials #1: The Dragon’s Tooth, by N. D. Wilson, RH/Random House, $16.99

If I could pick just one title from the avalanche of fantasy novels for ages 10 and up, this would be it. The story centers on twelve-year-old, Cyrus who lives with his sister and teenage brother in a run-down motel. When a mysterious tattooed stranger visits the siblings, the plot takes off like a roller-coaster ride.

YA Sleepers


Blood Red Road, by Moira Young, S&S/McElderry, $17.99; S&S Audio

A mash-up with the heart-pounding violence of Road Warrior crossed with the romance of Fire and Hunger Games, this fat read is for those teens who need to be swept away.

12 Things to Do Before You Crash and Burn, by James Proimos, Macmillan/Roaring Brook, $14.99

What if your dad was a famous TV self-help guru? What if he was a terrible dad? What if he died? And then what? Hercules Martino, aged 16 is sent to spend two weeks with his Uncle in Baltimore who had a falling out with his dad years ago. Proimos’s spare immediate language, sense of humor, and pitch perfect voice captures the young man’s anxiety, anger, confusion and yes, lust.

The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson, HarperCollins/Greenwillow, $17.99

For girls who want a romantic fantasy with a snarky, strong female protagonist who goes through a transformative experience, this is the one to grab.

Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman, Hachette/LBYR, $19

But, wait! It’s not a sleeper (all five prepub reviews have starred it), but I have to mention Daniel Handler’s (AKA Lemony Snicket’s) novel-length break-up letter, Why We Broke Up. In bite sized vignettes, we witness Min, the quirky, smart, artsy high-school student fall for Ed, the school’s charming star athlete and then leave him. Maira Kalman’s paintings portray all the mementoes of the relationship in heartbreaking detail. For the teens dying to get  their hands on the next John Green.

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