Books: always the best gift

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.

For Adults:

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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22 Comments

  1. Ari
    Posted December 11, 2013 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    As always, thank you for the book recommendations. Thank you.

    admin Reply:

    Thank you. xo

  2. Posted December 11, 2013 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Yeah!! I love your book lists and couldn’t agree more than books are the best, best, best presents. The Fault in our Stars was one of my favorites this year too. Caroline hasn’t read it yet- I was nervous to give it her. Maybe now though I will…

    admin Reply:

    Grace loved it. There is obviously a sexual reference or two, but I was comfortable with that, personally. Isn’t it a marvelous book?

  3. Posted December 11, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Wahoo!! Love more recommendations from my book whisperer. xoxo

    admin Reply:

    Thank you! xoxo

  4. Posted December 11, 2013 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Adding to lists right now. What does it say about me that I’ve read more on the older children’s list than the adult’s.

    admin Reply:

    it says you have the same book taste as I do, since my favorite reads this year were formally YA, and it’s a category I find myself turning to more and more often. xox

  5. Posted December 11, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    The book whisperer! I love that name for you!

    Just added many of these titles to my kids’ Amazon wish lists and the one adult pick I hadn’t read to mine. What a gift it is to see these thoughtful recommendations today. xo

    admin Reply:

    Thank YOU, friend. xox

  6. Posted December 11, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    What a great list, Lindsey. I LOVE Miss Rumphius, but we haven’t read Roxaboxen, so I’ll put that on Zoe’s list. And I think Stella would love The Giver. Thank you!

    admin Reply:

    I love Roxaboxen! Let me know what you think.

  7. Posted December 11, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Great list! Books for my daughter that are awaiting some wrapping paper include The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, The Penderwicks, Mirette on the High Wire, and the Clementine books. Not sure if 6 is too young for some of these, but I think she’s ready. I know I am! I’ve got On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes on my list…let’s hope I’m on Santa’s good list. Also love to see that I’ve already read 3 of your 5 picks for adults. :)

    admin Reply:

    Grace adored Calpurnia. Great call. I need to check out that book about looking and walks … xoxo

  8. Posted December 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I love your list, Lindsey! Yes, I give oodles of books, to my kids, friends, relatives, people who aren’t even “readers”. :) This year, I have a stack of sports-related books, including ones on John Wooden, Drew Brees, Larry Bird, etc. But, one of my favorite books to give is Miss Rumphius. It is the perfect book about living well. Thank you for the great list of your favorite books to give and why. You always inspire me.

    admin Reply:

    Do you know OPEN by Andre Agassi? It is my favorite sports book ever (though, truthfully, my experience of the category is limited). It’s one of the very few books (literally, fewer than 5) that Matt and I have both read and both loved. xo

  9. Posted December 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Terrific list! I absolutely loved The Fault in Our Stars.

    I’ve read Wallace Stegner, but not Crossing to Safety. Looks like I’ll have to add it to my TBR list based on your hearty recommendation.

    admin Reply:

    I am literally jealous that you have Crossing to Safety ahead of you. It is extraordinarily beautiful!!

  10. Posted December 11, 2013 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I love your list! The Fault in Our Stars has been on my must-reads for a while now. I feel the same about Terry Tempest Williams. And I’m deeply honored to see Ordinary Day here, as a book you still choose to share. Thank you for that! Maybe you should start another blog, called The Book Whisperer. . .

    admin Reply:

    Katrina I think you should start The Fault in our Stars TONIGHT. I felt a weird resistance to reading it for some reason and finally did and I LOVED IT. Also, I sent Ordinary Day to someone yesterday as a thank you gift … definitely something I still choose to share. I described it as the single book that has had the biggest impact on me as a mother. Thank you for that. xoxo

  11. Posted December 11, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    I always love your lists! I especially needed the recommendations for big kids! Thank you!

    admin Reply:

    That’s my personal favorite category! xox

  12. Posted December 12, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Lindsey! Whenever I come here, I add to the stacks on my bedside table! Fault in Our Stars is there now as is Dani’s latest. My 9 year old daughter just started The Hunger Games. I thought she was a tad young, but she is devouring it like nothing she’s read before and that says something. My son has Roth’s series on his Christmas wishlist. Now I’ll have to read them too. I’m a huge Stegner fan….especially Crossing to Safety.

    admin Reply:

    I can’t wait to hear what you think of both The Fault in Our Stars and Still Writing. xo

  13. SarahLW
    Posted December 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for these recommendations, Lindsey. I am going to print out this post and keep it in my purse for après Christmas shopping for me. ;-)

    admin Reply:

    I hope you like something you find!!

  14. Posted December 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    I loved Wonder and The Fault in our Stars SO much. Love that you give these as gifts. Such a good idea. xox

    admin Reply:

    Aren’t they amazing? xox

  15. Margo
    Posted December 14, 2013 at 1:25 am | Permalink

    I too purchased The Gift of an Ordinary Day based on your recommendation Lindsey and similarly reflect on it often. This year I gave Lily (age 6) Little House in the Big Woods which we are just finishing. She gets book 2 in the series under the tree. I love that it talks of a time when things were not so easy, and boy, does it bring me back to reality when I read about everything Ma does in a day. No more complaining about being tired from me!

    admin Reply:

    I had the same reaction! My GOD those people worked hard … Ma makes us both look like slouches!

  16. Posted December 15, 2013 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Fabulous list – I bought my 10yr old daughter Wonder and she devoured it in a day! I am currently reading the fault in our stars as well – I had not thought to give it to my daughter to read but will now that I herd from you .

    What is even more funny is that I was just on Dani Shapiro’s site reading a post (my first introduction to her) and then your post next and found a book of hers – a big sign from the Universe indeed – off to check that one out, thanks xxx

    admin Reply:

    I can tell you without hesitation that Dani’s work is on the very, very short list of that which has most influenced me. I hope you love her – my favorite book is Devotion. Let me know what you think!

  17. Hilary Levey Friedman
    Posted December 16, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Just bought two of the kids’ ones you recommended. Roxaboxen totally makes me cry…

    admin Reply:

    Can’t wait to hear what you think!!

  18. Posted December 16, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Such great suggestions! My daughter and I loved Ivan, and I loved reading Still Writing. The Katrina Kenison book is on my nightstand but I haven’t started it yet. And my students always recommend The Giver, but I have not read that one either (it always seems to come up when we study Marxism). Thanks for the great suggestions!

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I think you would love both Magical Journey and The Giver! Let me know what you think if you read them. xox

  19. Posted December 16, 2013 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m determined to read Wonder by the end of year. I WILL!

    admin Reply:

    I resisted it for some reason and then absolutely loved it when I finally read it!

  20. Posted December 17, 2013 at 3:46 am | Permalink

    Thank you Lindsey! I will put The Fault in Our Stars on my list! And Crossing to Safety as well. I started it many years ago, but don’t think I was ready for it.

    My favorite children’s book to give is Mordecai Gerstein’s The Mountains of Tibet, although it might be out of print…And I love Going On A Bearhunt by Helen Oxenbury. Do you know that one? My mantra from that is: “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, gotta go through it!”

    Merry Christmas and Happy, Healthy New Year to you and your family!
    xxPriscilla

    admin Reply:

    Oh, I love Going on a Bear Hunt – and how right you are that that anthem is relevant for ALL of us in life! I don’t know The Mountains of Tibet – must check it out. I think you would LOVE The Fault in Our Stars (and Crossing to Safety too) … xoxox

  21. Jane Kennedy
    Posted December 18, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    With 4 young grandchildren (3 months to 4 years) this list for small children looked great and we bought all of them. Thanks for a great list!

    admin Reply:

    I hope they like them!!

  22. Posted January 1, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Such great recommendations! THank you! I think Oliver is too young for Wonder but I can’t wait to share it with him. I love your adult recommendations – I haven’t read When Women were Birds so I will be sure to pick those up.