Gift Ideas for Children and Teens
It is a great pleasure to recommend 20 fantastic 2017 children's and YA titles for holiday gift-giving. Before we get into it, I'd like to highlight two of my personal favorite books from the past year--in general and for gift-giving. (And look for our Best Children's and Teen Books of the Year on December 19!)
Xu Bing and Becca Stadtlander's picture book, Look! What Do You See? (Viking, $18.99, ages 7-10), "is written entirely in code" and they "need you to crack it." A note explaining this Top-Secret Assignment gives readers a clue: the first 12 spreads are classic American songs and the last five are translations of Chinese songs. Each folk song is written in Xu Bing's distinctive Square Word Calligraphy and is accompanied by a charming illustration, the content of which gives readers a hint to the subject of the song. Look! is both a fantastic puzzle and a new language for young readers to delve into, with a how to "write your own Square Word Calligraphy" primer in back.
The world of Laini Taylor's Strange the Dreamer (Little, Brown, $18.99, ages 12-up) glitters and shines brighter than any holiday display. Stories of the mythical city of Weep were orphan Lazlo Strange's only escape from a drab, monastic life. Sarai, the daughter of a human man and malevolent goddess, lives in hiding in the actually-not-so-mythical-city of Weep, where the people still bear physical and emotional scars of the damage done by her god family. When Weep warriors appear in Lazlo's town, there is nothing 20-year-old Lazlo won't do to accompany the warriors to the Unseen City. There, Sarai will find him, and readers will be utterly transported.
Scroll down for 20 more adventurous, exciting, humorous and heartfelt gift-book recommendations for young readers. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor
Gift Ideas for Children and Teens
Children's & Young Adult
The 12 Days of Christmas
by Greg Pizzoli
Greg Pizzoli's (Good Night Owl) jolly art marries perfectly with the exuberant classic Christmas carol in this illustrated version of The 12 Days of Christmas.
Readers may know these lyrics--at least the parts about the partridge and some golden rings--but Pizzoli imagines the chaos implicit in receiving so many gifts of live birds and musicians. One elephant child lavishes another with the multitudes named in the song while a horrified adult elephant tries to stave off the resulting pandemonium with a broom and a jumbo-sized bag of birdseed. The cheerily overstuffed spreads work as both sight gag and allegory for holiday excess and its attendant headaches. Pink and lime green put a bright spin on Christmas red and green, and Easter egg cameos from the cast of The Watermelon Seed, Number One Sam and Pizzoli's other works put the icing on the fruitcake in this festive delight. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Greg Pizzoli imagines bright and funny scenes of disarray as one child gives another the gifts named in the classic carol.
hardcover, 56p., ages 3-6, 9781484750315
Pizza! An Interactive Recipe Book
by Lotta Nieminen
Lotta Nieminen ingeniously merges the children's cookbook with a board book format in Pizza! An Interactive Recipe Book. After Nieminen lists the ingredients required for pizza, she provides 10 straightforward steps, most paired with a die-cut means of interactivity. For step eight, "scoop the sauce onto the hot crusts, and spread it around with the back of the spoon," readers can spin a wheel to create the impression that sauce is swirling onto a pizza crust. Even adults may find it hard to wait their turn to "knead" the dough in step four: a clear plastic sheet over a spongy yellow surface has the tactile allure of Play-Doh. Here's hoping Nieminen, whose Cook in a Book series includes Pancakes! and Tacos!, stays hungry. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: This interactive board book harboring a pizza recipe is a work of engineering art.
board books, 16p., ages 2-4, 9780714874098
She Persisted: Thirteen American Women Who Changed the World
by Chelsea Clinton, illus. by Alexandra Boiger
She Persisted: Thirteen American Women Who Changed the World isn't your typical collection of profiles of women who made history. Chelsea Clinton looks beyond the usual suspects: she spotlights not Rosa Parks but Claudette Colvin, Parks's antecedent in bus-riding civil disobedience, and she includes non-household names like labor organizer Clara Lemlich and Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith. Each biographical passage incorporates the titular refrain; as Clinton, shooting straight and with superb aim, writes at the outset, "Sometimes being a girl isn't easy. At some point, someone probably will tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don't listen to them." Alexandra Boiger's illustrations handsomely capture each subject's singularity. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Chelsea Clinton's aspirational book honoring great American women shows that getting mad can get you places.
hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781524741723
Better Together: A Book of Family
by Barbara Joosse, Anneke Lisberg, illus. by Jared Andrew Schorr
Barbara Joosse (author of the endearing Mama, Do You Love Me?), zoologist Anneke Lisberg and collage artist Jared Andrew Schorr craft the engaging Better Together: A Book of Family with poetic text (including plural group names), a lift-the-flap format and inventive die-cuts. "One frisky meerkat flops in the dirt/ dusty musty/ All alone...?" Open the flap to see Uncle cleaning the meerkat because "mama's gone a-hunting." The back matter explains that adults "take turns taking care of the pups while others find food." In a homey living room, a light brown-skinned baby appears with the reassuring message on the inside flap that there is a multiracial family to care for the baby including "someone to teach and someone to play,/ and keep you safe the livelong day." --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Better Together highlights similarities between animal and human behavior, enhanced with strong visual cut-paper images and playful lift-the-flaps.
board books, 22p., ages 3-5, 9781419725388
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
by Erika L. Sánchez
Fifteen-year-old Julia Reyes dreams of being "a famous writer who wears flamboyant scarves and travels all around the world." In this imagined future, she can go wherever she wants and do whatever she pleases. But as a first-generation Mexican American girl and younger sister to Olga--who cemented her status as the "perfect Mexican daughter" by dying at age 22--Julia feels trapped by her family's expectations and cultural expectations. It's only when she finds mysterious items in her sister's bedroom that Julia begins to wonder if Olga was the perfect girl she always seemed to be.
In the beautifully written I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika L. Sánchez (Lessons on Expulsion) captures the hearts and trust of teen readers, struggling at the crossroads of familial and personal identities. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Following the death of her seemingly perfect sister, 15-year-old Julia struggles to find her own identity beyond that of an obedient, first-generation Mexican American daughter.
hardcover, 352p., ages 14-up, 9781524700485
The Science Timeline Wallbook
by Christopher Lloyd, illus. by Andy Forshaw
The Science Timeline Wallbook is a six-foot-long timeline folded into one big book, containing more than 1,000 pictures and tiny captions (handy pocket magnifier included!), that tells the story of science from prehistoric times to the present day. Point a finger anywhere and learn about pesticide use in 2500 BC, the 1633 invention of the first manned rocket by a Turkish engineer or the decoding of human DNA in the 2003 Human Genome Project.
This compendium of scientific facts was written in association with the American Museum of Natural History and includes a newspaper-style "Chronicle" of key moments in the history of science and a 50-question quiz. Visual learners, science and history buffs and philomaths, rejoice! --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: More than 1,000 intriguing science history facts are packed into a fold-out, six-foot-long timeline.
What on Earth Publishing,
hardcover, 24p., ages 6-14, 9780993284755
The Little Book of Little Activists
by Penguin Young Readers
In her introduction, Bob Bland dedicates this inspiring collection of young revolutionaries to parents who strive to "teach children about racial and social justice without robbing them of their innocence." The small book is packed with images of children participating in marches, protests and other peaceful actions for change. The kids' words of wisdom--like 11-year-old Kennedy's quote, "Don't be scared to say what you mean and share what you believe. If you do it kindly and respectfully, you can get your message across"--will ignite hope and motivate young audiences to action. Eye-catching colors and dazzlingly diverse subjects grab short attention spans and hook them on the excitement of making a difference. A magnificent gift for any occasion, and a book every child should have on the bookshelf. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: This collection of photographs and quotes celebrating children who work to create change in the world will inspire young readers.
hardcover, 48p., ages 5-9, 9780451478542
Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere
by Kira Willey, illus. by Anni Betts
Breathe Like a Bear teaches kids how to flex their mindfulness muscles and be calm, focused, imaginative, energized and relaxed. Kira Willey offers up fun activities that are sure to captivate young audiences and start them developing positive energy-producing habits for their physical and mental well-being. And as Michelle Kelsey Mitchell points out in the foreword, "Children who practice mindfulness are better able to self-regulate, have improved social skills... and demonstrate higher self-esteem." Accentuating the engaging exercises are delightful illustrations of animals and nature portrayed in strikingly bold colors. This enjoyable, interactive book is a sneaky way to promote a healthy approach to life with the small people you value most. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A kids' yoga expert details engaging, daily exercises that teach children the value of mindfulness.
hardcover, 96p., ages 4-10, 9781623368852
50 Cities of the U.S.A.: Explore America's Cities with 50 Fact-Filled Maps
by Gabrielle Balkan, illus. by Sol Linero
In this follow-up to The 50 States, Gabrielle Balkan explores 50 cities across the United States, celebrating along the way the people and culture that have shaped the cities.
Each city's map, on its own spread, is annotated with short text and colorful icons. Key features include a "Welcome Box" providing a quick introduction to the city, a sidebar detailing a timeline for a perfect day and spotlights on neighborhoods and inspiring locals. Eight cities that didn't make the cut are rounded up in an end-of-the-book wish list to encourage further discovery. Explorers, wanderlusters and geography buffs will spend hours poring over each page. And the fun doesn't stop after digesting all 2,000-plus facts--as an added bonus, there is a 50-item search-and-find that launches from the endpapers. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: This oversized, interactive companion to The 50 States introduces readers to 50 cities across the United States.
hardcover, 112p., ages 7-12, 9781847808707
Dream Big Dreams: Photographs from Barack Obama's Inspiring and Historic Presidency
by Pete Souza
The presidency of Barack Obama, the United States' first African American president, was historic. It was marked by major successes (universal access to affordable health insurance) and smaller but no less powerful moments, many of which were captured by former chief official White House photographer Pete Souza (Obama: An Intimate Portrait). In Dream Big Dreams, Souza presents more than 75 full-color photographs of the former president connecting with people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities. The big, handsome book is divided into six categories/exhortations: "Be Kind and Respectful, Work Hard, Make Time for Family, Show Compassion, Have Fun and Dream Big Dreams," with Souza's personalized captions for each absorbing photo. A beautiful keepsake for young fans of American history. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Former White House photographer Pete Souza captures iconic moments in Barack Obama's historic presidency in an inspirational photo book designed for young readers.
hardcover, 96p., ages 8-12, 9780316514392
Maya Lin: Thinking with Her Hands
by Susan Goldman Rubin
Maya Lin, a shy young person, member of a Chinese-American family, an architect and an environmental artist, has been well known since she was an undergraduate architecture student at Yale, when she won the competition to design the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. This book, filled with dramatic photos of Lin and her many projects (including the ark-shaped chapel at the Children's Defense Fund and the Civil Rights Memorial for the Southern Poverty Law Center), is an attractive, thoroughly researched biography that will inspire young readers to develop their own talents. An author of many art books, Susan Goldman Rubin is especially skilled at writing about the architect's thought processes and methods of working with diverse materials. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: An intriguing look at how a creative, introspective child became a world-famous architect and artist.
hardcover, 112p., ages 9-12, 9781452108377
A War of Gifts: An Ender Story
by Orson Scott Card
Conservative, religious Zeck Morgan never asked to be recruited for Battle School, but religion isn't grounds for exemption. Now Zeck is training for war in the middle of what should be the holiday season. When two Dutch boys share a Sinterklaas gift, Battle School is rocked by the discovery of a loophole: religion isn't allowed, but Santa Claus and gifts are not religious. Should Zeck allow the other boys their fun, or is this gift exchange a mockery of faith that must be stopped? Orson Scott Card's War of Gifts is a fantastic blend of sci-fi and spirited (and spiritual) holiday fun. While set in the Ender universe, and featuring Ender as well, readers unfamiliar with the original book will still delight in this mischievous holiday tale. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer
Discover: The discovery of a loophole in the rules leads to a rebellious gift exchange in Battle School.
hardcover, 128p., ages 12-up, 9780765398291
Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution
by Bernie Sanders, illus. by Jude Buffem
Bernie Sanders, former candidate for the United States presidency, current senator from Vermont and a tireless spokesperson for a more progressive society, speaks directly to young people in Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution. He urges readers to "revitalize American democracy" and join "an unstoppable political movement that fights for a government that represents all of us, not just the billionaire class." Budding politicians and idealists will soak up the facts and figures related to today's vital issues (such as the economy, health care, education, the environment, criminal justice and immigration) and can use each chapter's resource pages to "Mobilize" and "Learn More." Bold infographics and large sectional headlines help teens navigate the text easily, in this adaptation of Sanders's Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Bernie's ideas will resonate with thoughtful teens who want to change the political climate.
hardcover, 240p., ages 14-up, 9781250138903
The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine
by Mark Twain, Philip C. Stead, illus. by Erin Stead
An unlucky beginning leads to unlikely adventure for Johnny, the hapless hero of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, co-authored by Mark Twain and Philip Stead (A Sick Day for Amos McGee). Johnny's only friend is a chicken named Pestilence and Famine. When his cruel grandfather orders the bird be sold, Johnny and his chicken set off for market. Along the way, they meet an old woman with magical seeds and hear of Prince Oleomargarine's disappearance.
Imagined conversations between Twain and Stead, co-authors writing more than a century apart, add wonderful depth to Purloining, reminding readers that the story's recent discovery is as remarkable as the tale itself. Beautifully understated and nuanced illustrations by Erin Stead add the finishing flourishes to this remarkable work. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer
Discover: A poor boy forced to sell his chicken receives magical seeds and is sent on a quest to recover a stolen prince.
hardcover, 160p., ages 8-12, 9780553523225
by Christopher Franceschelli, illus. by Peskimo
Raise your sippy cups in salute to the newest member of Christopher Franceschelli's (City Block) funky, chunky Block Books series, illustrated by British design team Peskimo.
Longer and inestimably cooler than the average board book, these charmers feature die-cuts and gatefolds galore. Two children peek beyond a wall into a sprawling construction site where cheerful workers demonstrate their mighty machines. While most construction-themed board and picture books stick to common construction tools like backhoes and bulldozers, Buildablock offers a more encyclopedic listing, with gatefolds revealing an enormous tunnel borer and a bridge builder so long it takes up four pages. Construction fans will happily add these rarities to their vocabularies as well as pick up strong action words like "burrow" and "span." Hand this upbeat treat to your budding builder. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: Packed with die-cut pages and gatefolds, this construction-themed board book stands out in a crowded field.
board books, 90p., ages 2-5, 9781419725692
Kid Authors: True Tales of Childhood from Famous Writers
by David Stabler, illus. by Doogie Horner
Kid Authors, the fourth installment in David Stabler and Doogie Horner's Kid Legends series (Kid Presidents), is a collection of stories about the humble beginnings of 16 famous authors, including classic writers Langston Hughes and Laura Ingalls Wilder and modern authors J.K. Rowling and Jeff Kinney.
Stories are organized into three sections: "It's Not Easy Being a Kid" (overcoming obstacles), "All in the Family" (influential family members) and "The Write Stuff" (writers' inspirations). Vibrant, cartoonish vignettes with humorous asides on every page illustrate well-researched, accessible text filled with lesser-known facts, such as Lewis Carroll's penchant for building snow mazes for his siblings to solve.
This is an ideal gift for aspiring young writers who may need proof that even the most famous authors had to start somewhere. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: Satisfying for budding writers and curious readers alike, this biographical collection is filled with surprising facts and inspirational anecdotes.
hardcover, 200p., ages 8-12, 9781594749872
Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power!
by Mariko Tamaki, illus. by Brooke Allen
Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types is the perfect home away from home for five young Lumberjanes eager to earn their badges. The girls of Roanoke cabin--April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley--are no strangers to adventure, much to the exasperation of Jen, their "camp counselor extraordinaire." From climbing uncharted mountains to chasing surprisingly smelly unicorns, these Lumberjanes live life to the fullest, embracing above all the camp motto: "Friendship to the Max!"
Mariko Tamaki's novelization brings the Lumberjanes from comic books to fiction in Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power! Enhanced with fantastic illustrations by Brooke Allen, one of the creators of the Lumberjanes comics, Unicorn Power is a hilarious and thoughtfully modern take on the classic summer camp adventure that is destined to delight. --Kyla Paterno, former children's and YA book buyer
Discover: Five girls on their quest for badges in summer camp find themselves amid unicorns and other paranormal entities.
hardcover, 256p., ages 12-up, 9781419727252
That Inevitable Victorian Thing
by E.K. Johnston
In the thought-provoking romance That Inevitable Victorian Thing, Canadian author E.K. Johnston (Exit, Pursued by a Bear) explores what happens when Victorian Era coming-of-age traditions collide with the modern complexities of online dating in a richly imagined future where the British Empire still exists.
Eighteen-year-old Margaret, the Empire's Crown Princess, poses as a commoner during Toronto's debut season before starting a life of duty to the crown. She befriends Helena and August, who've always planned to marry each other despite what the genetic match-making Computer says about their suitability. But as Margaret and Helena's friendship blossoms into something more, both in person and on the net, Helena and August's relationship suffers from secrets and uncertainty, proving love is no less complicated when it's predetermined. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: In a future where the British Empire still reigns supreme, young adults make society debuts through galas and tea parties, while a digital service matches them with partners.
hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9781101994979
This Is Our Constitution: Discover America with a Gold Star Father
by Khizr Khan, Anne Quirk
This Is Our Constitution examines the nation's founding documents at a level middle-grade readers will easily grasp yet not find condescending. Gold Star father Khizr Khan's awe and appreciation of the content is contagious, and his candid asides--featured in speech bubbles throughout the book--create a personal connection with the reader: "My wife and I were amazed when we discovered that this amendment wasn't passed until 1920. Imagine, for nearly 150 years the women in this great democracy did not have the right to vote!" This Is Our Constitution injects enthusiasm and energy into learning about the government. And for adults who choose to share in the experience with their young readers, the refresher is motivational. A beautifully meaningful look at the U.S. Constitution. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: Learn about the U.S. Constitution through the eyes of an immigrant who earlier lived without many of the rights taken for granted by Americans.
hardcover, 224p., ages 10-up, 9781524770914
Baby Loves Thermodynamics!
by Ruth Spiro, illus. by Irene Chan
Ruth Spiro continues her mellow campaign to take toddlers beyond entry-level concepts (shapes, colors et al.) in her Baby Loves board book series. In Baby Loves Quantum Physics!, a toddler wonders if her cat, who is hiding in a box, is awake or asleep; according to quantum physics, "Until Baby looks in the box, Cat is both asleep and awake." In Baby Loves Thermodynamics!, a toddler's enthusiasm for body-warming daylight ("Good morning, Sun!") and apples from trees ("Baby eats the apple. YUM!") sets up a science lesson ("SUNLIGHT + AIR + WATER = FOOD FOR THE TREE"). Irene Chan's flat, chunky art is so uncomplicatedly jubilant that it's not readily obvious that there's a serious attempt to teach science afoot. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Two board books distill big science concepts into toddler-sized bites.
board books, 20p., 9781580897686