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Give the Gift of Reading

I know we are just past Halloween but the holiday season is rapidly approaching and if you are like me, you are starting to get prepared with gift ideas. As a mother, it feels like kids lack for nothing these days and the influx of toys is constant from friends, well-meaning grandparents, and as straight-up bribes during the Target run. My daughter’s playroom is filled with every kind of toy imaginable. She does play with a lot of them but many of them feel like they are just taking up space, gathering dust.

I both love and dread the holiday season. I really enjoy the hubbub and preparation, the gift-buying and wrapping, the menu-planning, and all the festive anticipation. I particularly pride myself on being an excellent gift-giver. And while I still think this year’s holiday season will still have a lot of cheer, we need to acknowledge that this is 2020, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and so the holidays are simply going to look different this year, just like everything else. As I start to gather gift ideas, I’m struck by the thought that 2020 could be the Year of the Book Gift.

As I mentioned, we’ve got tons of toys in our house. In addition, I think most parents will confess that screen time limits this year have become very, very lenient as we try to muddle through the modified school year. Kids are spending a lot of time in front of TVs, computers and tablets and while I have no judgement about this at all, I think some books as gifts during the holiday season could provide the counterbalance we all need. If you are looking to give the gift of reading, here are some great book ideas for young readers:

Harry Potter: The Illustrated Collection (Books 1-3) is a fantastic set for family read-alouds. My own daughter’s interest in Harry Potter was piqued after hearing about books, movies and video games at school. She wanted to be a part of the elementary school cultural zeitgeist but was dismayed when she saw how long the actual novels were. She’s a pretty strong reader but being only 7, the long middle grade novels seemed out of reach. These illustrated versions created by Jim Kay turned out to be the perfect solution. The gorgeous illustrations were enthralling and attention-grabbing enough to keep her engaged while I read them aloud. The set is definitely pricey but it features the first three books in the series and is worth it if you have several school-aged Harry Potter enthusiasts in your family.

Many people often wonder what new babies need for Christmas. Clothes are useful and toys are fun but parents of little ones often need a fresh supply of books to get them out of that bedtime reading rut. Encouraging early literacy by reading to babies is a great activity and the indestructible nature of board books encourages young children to hold and manipulate books without parents worrying over ripped pages. Most parents already own the usual classics like Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar or the ever-popular Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown so gift-givers may have to branch out to avoid duplication. My personal favorite board book author is Sandra Boynton. Her illustrations are whimsical and silly and her text is simple but hilarious (even for parents). The Going to Bed Book was in rotation for years at my house but Moo, Baa, La La La, The Barnyard Dance, Blue Hat, Green Hat, and Perfect Piggies are firm favorites.

If you are looking for the perfect picture books for preschoolers and early elementary school aged kids, keep it funny. I usually avoid celebrity authors but kids and adults are obsessed with the hilarity of The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak and The Serious Goose by Jimmy Kimmel. Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri are an award winning author/illustrator combo that produced the Dragons Love Tacos phenomenon and their collaboration on Secret Pizza Party is seriously underrated. Finally, underwear is always funny in picture books. Polar Bear’s Underwear by Tupera Tupera and Monster’s New Undies by Samantha Berger will keep everyone laughing.

For independent readers, sets of book series are the way to get them hooked on reading chapter books. Many kids still need the support of illustrations so finding titles with some pictures really pique their interest. The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne features brother and sister duo Jack and Annie and combines adventurous fiction with lots of fact-based learning. There’s something for all kids in this popular series and it’s often sold in short paperback sets of 4 titles. Newbery-award winning author Kate DiCamillo serves up humor for younger readers with her popular Mercy Watson series. Featuring a spoiled pig and her doting human parents, Mercy Watson’s adventures keep kids reading and laughing.

Graphic novels are another great option for gifts. While most kids are familiar with popular series like Raina Telgemeier’s Smile books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney and the Dog Man series by Dav Pilkey so it might be prudent to dig a little deeper in order to find a great gift. Shannon Hale and Jennifer Holm are two renowned children’s novelists who used their relatable writing styles to pen wildly popular graphic novels. Hale’s Friends series explores the ever-changing social landscape of middle school girls and what it means to be real friends. Jennifer Holm’s character Sunny (Sunny Rolls the Dice, Sunny Side Up) also lives through the trials and tribulations of middle school friendships along with the keen sense of not fitting in or being like other girls. Finally, Judd Winick’s (yes, THAT Judd from the Real World San Francisco for all you Gen X-ers!) Hi-Lo series features a fast paced adventure with Daniel, an ordinary boy who meets Hi-Lo, a space boy who falls to Earth and goes on a quest to unlock his past.

These are just a few gift options for the young reader in your life. The holidays will be different this year but kids can always use more things to read. If you need more recommendations, please fill out the Children’s Room “Personalized Book Recommendations for Kids” Google Form and one of our amazing librarians will give you 10-15 more title ideas based on your feedback! Happy shopping!

Kate Tigue is the Head of Youth Services at the Morrill Memorial Library. Look for her article in the November 6, 2020 issue of the Transcript and Bulletin.

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