Best Gift Books for All Ages


As a judge for the National Book Awards, I read a lot of books this year. The job is an honor and a privilege, but it is also heart breaking as I regularly fell in love with books that didn’t fit the award’s very specific criteria, or wouldn’t be agreed upon by all five judges.

Now that it’s over and gift-giving season is here, those restrictions are lifted and I find that, as great as the books are that win prizes, they are not necessarily the ones I want to buy for my young cousin for the holiday break.

Below are the books everyone on my list will be getting this year, including several award winners.

9780544106161What The Heart KnowsChants, Charms and Blessings, Joyce Sidman, illus. by Pamela Zagarenski, (HMH)

Speak these words
to send a message to the world:
to chant for what you want,
to bless what you love,
to lament what you’ve lost,
to summon comfort and courage.

This is THE BOOK! I am not kidding.

At last count, I have bought 15. One for Nelle (don’t worry, she doesn’t read my blog) the grown-up cousin who is the keystone of the Von Drasek family, one for late twenties, Kay who taught me to drive, one for Professor Boss who lives down the block and transitioned me into University culture and the neighborhood life. One for my step-sister for her sixtieth birthday. One for my next door neighbor Krista, one of the smartest, most serene, and spiritual people who also has a terrific sense of humor, one for one of my best friends, Sharon who has been there for me for the last 23 years of my life (and quite a few others who are book people and probably do read my blog).

The best poetry speaks to us and tells us we are not alone. This collection of poems provides comfort and courage. Joyce Sidman has given everyone these gifts.

9780714862415_p0_v1_s600How to Boil an Egg, Rose Bakery, (Phaidon)

Eggs are my go-to food. Boil a half dozen on Sunday, I have lunch for a week. I adore a soft-boiled egg on top of roasted asparagus with a sprinkle of truffled salt. It’s no surprise then, that this book is on my list for all ages; I am a great believer in the benefits of families cooking together and there is nothing easier than eggs.

Cookbooks created for children often have excessive warnings (with good reason; grown ups should be asked to cut the carrots with a sharp knife) and are generic in the step-by-step way. The simple beauty of this book based on a favorite food, creates a perfect family gift.

The following have appeared on many best books lists, or were National Book Award finalists and are also on my gift lists.

9781442421080_1e1ae-2The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Kathi Appelt,. illus. by Jennifer Bricking, ( S & S/Atheneum)

This title is not only literary-prize-worthy (see my review in the NYT Book Review), it is also a fine read aloud for the entire family. It also comes in a magnificent audio version, read by Lyle Lovett (Simon & Schuster Audio; listen to a clip here).

Below, the author herself reads from it:

Flora and UlyssesFlora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, Kate DiCamillo, illus. by K. G. Campbell. (Candlewick)

I am pretty sure that I have bought over ten copies of this book to give to all the deserving  seven-year-olds and older  in my life (yes, that includes a few special adults). It is a laugh aloud delight about a cynical well-read girl and her super-hero companion, a squirrel (for a taste of Kate DiCamillo’s humor listen to her interview from Minnesota Public Radio).

F9780375849725_8d093ar Far Away, Tom McNeal, (RH/Knopf YR)

This contemporary spin on thee Brothers Grimm will, as Jennifer Brown writes in Shelf Awareness, “keep readers on the edges of their seats with its overriding sense of danger, lurking like a deep forest surrounding the town.”

9781596433595  9781596436893

Boxers, Gene Luen Yang, (Macmillan/First Second)
Saints, Gene Luen Yang, (Macmillan/First Second)

This two-volume graphic novel deserves all the praise it’s received. It tells the story of the Boxer Rebellion through the eyes of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy, and Vibiana, an outcast welcomed by Christian missionaries, offering an insightful look at a pivotal moment in Chinese history.

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