There is a secret joy that librarians are allowed at holiday time. Although we are ardent in encouraging people to borrow, not buy, most of us... well, we're kind of into books. We can't help wanting to own them. And though librarians vary in the extent to which they successfully keep themselves out of bookstores - some don't even try - all bets are off when it comes to buying gifts for our family and friends.
I stopped in at WYPR's Maryland Morning to talk to host Tom Hall about this subject. I brought a great huge stack of books and asked Tom to pick out the ones he wanted to know more about. If you miss the broadcast, you can listen to our conversation on the Maryland Morning website by the end of the day. The station has also posted a list of the books I brought to the station, or click "Read more" to see an expanded version (book trailers! whee!).
There are lots of lists around recommending gift books for kids this season - Amazon has plenty, and so does Barnes & Noble, ooh, and the Hornbook has a particularly well-curated and up-to-date list of holiday-themed books. There are lots of very appealing books on those lists - including a number that I just can't resist (The LEGO Idea Book is a must-have, even though it is published by the librarian's nemesis, DK) - but I've tried to pick a few that may be flying beneath the radar of the big retailer and etailer lists.
Here are the books to buy, not borrow, for every type of kid in your life.
Babies to pre-K:
Oh my gosh don't you want Herve Tullet to come do a school visit at your school?
Press Here by Herve Tullet (Chronicle Books, $15). Wildly simple and inventive interactive book that will bring a smile to the face of readers of literally all ages.
Taro Gomi Board Book Boxed Set (Chronicle, $20). Three sturdy books featuring Taro Gomi's bright simple illustrations.
Oh, David!: A Pocket Library by David Shannon board book box set (Blue Sky Press, $10). Toddler David is always getting into trouble, but you just gotta love him. This slipcased set includes Oops! David Smells, and Oh, David!.
BUMBLE-ARDY by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, $17.95). The master's first picture book in decades is just as subversive and lovable as his classics, Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen.
Little Owl's Night by Divya Srinivasan (Viking, $16.99). Austin-based illustrator Srinivasan has made kind of a lot of videos for indie band They Might be Giants - her own book has the same quirkiness but is sweet and quiet too.
Everything I Need to Know Before I'm Five by Valorie Fisher (Schwartz & Wade, $17.00). Little kids get a real sense of accomplishment naming all the letters and numbers, weather, shapes, and colors in this extremely appealing book. All the illustrations are composed of brightly colored toys and objects put together in witty ways.
How Do You Feed a Hungry Giant?by Caitlin Friedman, illustrated by Shaw Nielsen(Workman, $18.95). This is a delightful story with kicky, modern cartoon illustrations and a big heart. A little boy encounters a hungry giant in his backyard and empties the kitchen trying to feed him. The subtle emphasis on sharing and hospitality is perfect for the holiday season. Slides and doors offer lots of surprises, but there are no pop-ups to break or tear.
And this year's extravagant, fragile pop-up book has to be the pop-up The Little Prince Deluxe Pop-Up Book (Houghton, $35), with the original text and illustrations by Antoine de Saint-Exupery engineered into flaps, letters, and a pop-up planet, all executed on creamy thick paper in an oversized format.
Ivy and Bean Super-Duper Collection Books 1-8 by Annie Barrows (Chronicle, $100). Best friends who are total opposites, illustrated by the marvelous Sophie Blackall. Book 8 has just come out, so this will include brand-new material.
The Judy Moody Uber-Awesome Collection: Books 1-9 (Candlewick, $48) or Stink: The Super-Incredible Collection: Books 1-3 (Candlewick, $15) by Megan McDonald. Judy is a little obnoxious, but has a style all her own - her little brother Stink is sweeter, but no less endearing.
Mercy Watson Boxed Set: Adventures of a Porcine Wonder by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, $30). Six adventures of the plucky pig heroine beloved of early readers. These books are cute and gentle, with lively, pretty full-color illustrations.
Box sets and one-offs for avid readers:
I generally do not buy fiction for kids unless it's something they already know and love, or they're going to need it for school eventually, or it's The Lord of the Rings. These are the books that I would consider exceptions this year.
The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales (Houghton, $24.99). Celebrated illustrator Chris Van Allsburgh published a book of enigmatic, intriguing, unexplained pictures some years ago. Since then, legions of kids and adults have used those illustrations as jumping-off-places for their own fantastic fiction. The current book takes the original illustrations and pairs them with custom-written stories by people as talented and diverse as Stephen King and Sherman Alexie. Neato.
Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume. If they're Bone fans, they'll read this graphic novel epic again and again - the big copy is a good investment. Its paperback spine stands up to repeated hard reading.
Inheritance Cycle 4-Book Hard Cover Boxed Set (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, Inheritance) by Christopher Paolini. Boys (and girls) who love fantasy may want their very own slipcased copies of these adored books about a boy and his dragon.
The Secret Series Complete Collection box set (Knopf, $95.44). Mysterious author Pseudonymous Bosch puts his or her pair of youthful detectives through all sorts of shenanigans in this five-book series. Kids who love puzzles and brain teasers will be particularly enamored of these books.
Old fashioned books are also good holiday reads: recent editions of the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace, Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright, and Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking feature new illustrations. Also look for My Father's Dragon, All-Of-A-Kind Family, the Chronicles of Narnia, and of course Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books.
Big beautiful nonfiction for years of browsing:
This is probably the type of book that is the most pleasurable to give. Books like almanacs and weird-but-true books rebound upon the giver for years to come, when the kid steps up with an unexpected fact or snippet of trivia that she or he learned from the book you may not even remember giving her.
Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick (Three Rivers Press, $22.95). This has been out for ages, but it's worth tracking down for your middle-grade graphic novel enthusiast. The drawing style is reminiscent of Bone, the humor is broad, and the history is for real. Larry Gonick is a staff cartoonist for Muse magazine, and has written more than a dozen cartoon guides to subjects like statistics, genetics and sex.
Sports Illustrated Kids 1st and 10: Top 10 Lists of Everything in Football (Sports Illustrated, $19.95). 96 pages of facts, trivia, and SI's amazing photographs. There are lots of SI Kids books out there, so if she's a baseball fan rather than a football fan, get that one. I picked this one because Baltimore, right now, is a football town. Even I'm getting into it.
National Geographic Almanac of World History, 2nd Edition (National Geographic, $24.95). In an age of Google, kids still enjoy sitting down with a book of fascinating facts and beautiful pictures. It's the difference between going out and looking for specific information and allowing information to reach out to us. And a bargain at 25 bucks. DON'T get the 'for kids' version - it is organized in a frustrating, scattershot way.
National Geographic Simply Beautiful Photographs (Focal Point, $35). Inspire them with breathtaking photos of spectacular places.
Super Science: Feel the Force! and How the Weather Works, both from Candlewick. Sliders, doors, pop-ups, and windows help illustrate principles of physics and meteorology. These are fun to read, dense with facts, and sturdy enough to last a long time in the hands of a middle grade kid.
How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by local hero Kevin O'Malley (Walker Children's, $17.99). Lasciviously gory tales of the processes, diseases, and wounds that helped people like George Washington shuffle off this mortal coil, and what happened to their bodies before they turned back to soil. (Don't blame me for that rhyme, it belongs to Loudon Wainwright III.) NPR did a fun segment with Georgia Bragg that is worth a listen.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson (Balzer and Bray, 19.99). American history told from the point of view of a old woman loosely based on Nelson's own grandmother – a witness to history, but not a major participant. Every time Kadir Nelson comes out with a new book, I think, "This is his masterpiece," but then he just outdoes himself with the next book. Beautiful, meaningful, inspiring, but also totally readable.
The LEGO Ideas Book, by Daniel Lipkowitz. (DK, $24.99.) This book addresses a concern lots of parents have begun to voice about LEGO - that the sets have become too specific. In some houses, the kids follow the instructions to build a set once, and then take it apart or lose the pieces and ignore it until they're given another set. The LEGO Ideas Book is a recipe book for bridges, cars, spaceships, animals, etc. that kids can make with bricks they already have. With two three-foot-wide plastic bins of LEGO in my living room, you can bet that someone's getting this book in my house.
The The Cookbook for Kids (Williams-Sonoma). They are spiral bound and lie flat, and the recipes are at an appropriate difficulty level, and appeal to kids.
For the kid who doesn't like to read
Don't forget to give to others this holiday season.
Studies show that owning books is one of the most significant predictors of success in school. FirstBook is a DC-based charity that distributes books and educational materials to children in need – 85 million books so far. A ten-dollar donation sends four new books to schools or programs that serve children from low-income families. You can donate online at FirstBook.org