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The best books to give young readers this holiday

As an author of young adult novels, a parent and an avid reader, I’ve always felt there’s nothing better than a new book for the holidays.


t As a child, I loved unwrapping a carefully chosen volume and I always looked forward to the quieter days after big celebrations, when I could slip away and lose myself in a story. If you have some young bibliophiles on your shopping list, try some of these suggestions for all ages and interests.

General recommendations

t For young readers: Winter holiday vacations offer lots of opportunity for creativity. I recommend books that will spur the imagination and, when paired with a related activity, will encourage your young readers to channel that creativity into action.

t For older readers: I always loved getting a couple of books in a series as a gift, so that when I’d finished one, I didn’t have to get up from my cozy chair in order to start the next one. Here are some series/collections that will keep young readers comfortably nestled inside by the fire.

Recommendations by interests

Artists in action

t For young readers:

  • I love these Rosie Flo’s and Johnny Joe’s coloring books. They give kids a chance to really use their imaginations as they draw heads onto bodies or fill in quirky and fanciful scenes. Pair a couple of these wonderful coloring books with a new pack of markers or crayons and you’ll keep kids busy long after you’ve finished the holiday dinner leftovers!
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  • Matisse’s Garden by Samantha Friedman, illustrated by Cristina Amodeo, and The Iridescence of Birds: A Book about Henry Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan, pictures by Hadley Hooper. If you have a budding artist on your gift list, introduce him or her to the work of Henri Matisse through these two new beautifully illustrated picture books. Any young artist would be happy to receive one or both of these along with a painting set from Alex Toys.…
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  • Ashley Bryan’s Puppets by Ashley Bryan, photos edited by Rich Entel. Open this wonderful book and fall into the fanciful world of Bryan’s handmade puppets. Bryan, an artist and poet who makes puppets from objects found near his Maine studio such as driftwood, bones and other treasures from nature, infuses them with references to African folk tales and a whole lot of personality. This book, along with some fabric, a hot glue gun and even some purchased driftwood to get your young puppeteer started, would make a splendid gift.

Explorers, risk-takers and mover-shakers

t For young readers:

  • Neighborhood Sharks by Katherine Roy: I’m a big fan of Katherine Roy’s beautiful illustrations (she illustrates my books!) Her exciting non-fiction picture book debut, about the great white sharks that feed off the Farallon Islands near San Francisco, is full of current research and interesting facts. It’s a great gift for the budding marine biologist on your list.
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  • Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill: perfect for young explorers! The colored pencil illustrations are beautiful and transporting. Kids will love going along on Shackleton’s incredible journey.
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  • Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts: There’s a lot of talk right now about helping kids to take risks and to be comfortable with failure. This charming picture book features a young engineer (who may just be related to Rosie the Riveter) who learns that the path to success is paved with spectacular and very creative misses. A great gift for boys and girls!
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  • A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell and Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, with pictures by Matt Myers: Do you know a young reader who likes to mix things up? Your young anti-authoritarian will love these two picture books that turn the very idea of a storybook on its head.

t For older readers:

  • The Paddington books by Michael Bond: With the Paddington movie coming out this holiday season, there will be a lot of movie-related merchandise, including abridged versions of the classic stories about the bear from “darkest Peru.” Keep on walking and get the bear lovers on your list the original Paddington books, which never fail to delight with their sly humor and the antics of one beloved bear.

Classic for all seasons

t For younger readers:

  • White Snow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin: This Caldecott Medal-winning picture book from 1947 is an oldie but goody worth rediscovering. While everyone needs a couple of copies of The Night Before Christmas or Herschel and the Goblins around the house, I don’t think holiday-themed books generally make very good gifts. By the time you open it, the holiday’s over. But White Snow Bright Snow celebrates the season in a delightful way, and takes kids through the rest of winter and on into spring.

t For older readers:

  • All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor: If you are a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or friend of… ahem, a certain age, you need to know about Lizzie Skurnick Books. The publisher brings back beloved favorites of classic young adult literature, including brand new reissues of all of the novels in Sydney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family series. These wonderful books, about five sisters growing up in a Jewish family on the lower east side of Manhattan in the early 1900s, are a must read for girls (and boys) in your life. A complete set makes for a gift that keeps on giving.

Budding history buffs

t For younger readers:

  • This is the Rope by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome: In This is the Rope, Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the National Book Award for Brown Girl Dreaming, shares a tender and simple story about a jump rope that survives down through the generations in an American family. The rich history of African Americans and the Great Migration is bonus background to the universal story of parents trying to make a better life for their children and the mixed emotions that go along with that desire. I love this story, and when combined with a treasured family artifact, this would be a meaningful gift for any child on your list.

t Older readers

  • Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: If you know any young readers who think they don’t like history, show them they’re wrong with these irreverent graphic novels. Hale (yes, that’s his real name) takes on important moments in American history (The American Revolution, Westward Expansion, World War I) and reveals hilarious and unexpected sides to history you never knew.

The in-be-tweeners

For older readers:

  • Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier: If your tween readers haven’t yet discovered Raina Telgemeier’s wonderful graphic novels about tween-ness, now’s your chance, with Sisters and Smile now available in a boxed set. Kids love Telgemeier’s gentle and humorous take on braces, crushes, school, sisters, parents and pets.

Need more gift ideas?

t Here are some additional gift ideas for the young readers on your list.

  • Kids’ reading journal:
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  • Bookplates:…

t S. S. Taylor is the author of the middle grade series The Expeditioners, about the children of a famous explorer who find themselves on a mysterious treasure hunt. The second book in the series, The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair, just came out. She loves talking to kids about writing and reading and she lives with her family on a farm in Vermont. You can find her at

Image: Monica H./Flickr

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