Sunday Salon: Help! Time for Christmas Shopping

Dear readers, I need your help! I have a huge number of nieces and nephews, and every year I struggle with Christmas gifts for them. This year, for the first time, most of them are old enough to read or to enjoy being read to, so I’ve decided to get each of them a book.

Here’s where you come in. I am no longer a kid myself, I don’t teach school, and I’m not entirely aware of what books children are getting excited about these days. But I know that some of you are well-versed in kid’s books, so I’m hoping you can offer some recommendations.

Here’s the list of kids that I’m buying for:

  1. Newborn boy: His mother claims he’s advanced and ready for War and Peace (ha!), but what I really want is a great book that his parents will love to read to him. (He has plenty of Dr. Seuss already.)
  2. Two-year-old girl: Another good read-to-me book. I’m not sure what characters she’s really into, but I know her family is into horses.
  3. Two-year-old boy: Twin brother to the girl above. So ditto.
  4. 1st-grade girl: Learning to read. One suggestion from her mom was The Princess and the Pea by Lauren Child, but another aunt may be getting that one. She also likes Littlest Pet Shop, Biscuit, and Scooby Doo.
  5. 2nd-grade girl. Reading chapter books at 3rd-grade level. Her mom has suggested a series or a classic—maybe something with fairies or animals, but that’s not a requirement.
  6. 2nd-grade boy. Enjoying the Warriors series by Erin Hunter. Also into college football.
  7. 2nd-grade girl. I don’t know if she’s reading much, but I gather she’s caught Twilight fever from her mom. (Obviously Twilight won’t do, but if there’s a good kids’ book involving vampires, I’d consider it). She’s part of the horsey branch of the family, so a horse book could work.
  8. 3rd-grade boy. Now reading Harry Potter with his mom and liked the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan when his teacher read it in class. Also likes Garfield books.
  9. 6th-grade girl: Loves Harry Potter and is getting into Nancy Drew and just started the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books by Rick Riordan.
  10. 12th-grade girl: Not much of a reader, but she’s recently developed an interest in Shakespeare. She’s also really into horses. I might go with Manga Shakespeare for her but I’m open to good YA suggestions.

So that’s the shopping list. I’d love your ideas!


Notes from a Reading Life

Books Completed

Currently Reading

  • The English Major by Jim Harrison. For my book club.
  • The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (reread). I haven’t read this since college, even though I consider it my favorite Eliot book. (Would be great for the Women Unbound challenge, for those who are participating.)
  • Ghost Hunters by Deborah Blum (audio). Scientific investigation of Victorian spiritualists.
  • The Ode Less Traveled by Stephen Fry. Lessons in writing poetry. I’ve reached the chapter on odes, but I’m taking a break for a few weeks until the semester is over.

On Deck

  • The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan. From Library Thing Early Reviewers.
  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane (audio). Jenny loves Dennis Lehane, and I want to read this before the movie.

New Acquisitions

  • Through the Heart by Kate Morgenroth. An unsolicited review copy. I’m not sure if I’m going to read it, because I’m not familiar with the author, but it looks like it has potential. It claims to be a twisty romantic thriller, which could go either way. 

Books on My Radar

  • The File by Timothy Garton Ash. The author’s account of reading his file kept by the East German government. Reviewed at Lizzy’s Literary Life.
  • A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth. An unreliable, possibly unlikable narrator obsessed with her neighbor. Sounds dark and interesting—just my thing. Reviewed at Stuck in a Book.
  • Elizabeth Gaskell: A Habit of Stories by Jenny Uglow. Jane GS’s post at Reading, Writing, Working, Playing about Elizabeth Gaskell’s life got me interested in learning more about her. This is the bio Jane recommended.
  • Making the Cat Laugh: One Woman’s Journal of Single Life on the Margins by Lynn Truss. A collection of essays about single, cat-owning (or cat-owned-by) life. Doesn’t sound at all whiny, which is a common pitfall of books about single women. I don’t generally feel my life is something to whine about (well, maybe when I need to carry something heavy up two flights on stairs), so I don’t want to read other single women’s whines. Simon’s review at Stuck in a Book made this sound like there might be “companion on the page” material here. (“Companion on the page” is a term a writing workshop friend used years ago about the pleasure of reading about ordinary experiences similar to your own.) And Truss is a grammar geek, too!
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23 Responses to Sunday Salon: Help! Time for Christmas Shopping

  1. I highly recommend The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (or any of her other books) for the first three children. It is the best book for little ones in the world – great plot, easy to read and the children love it.

    How about The Invention of Hugo cabret for the older boys?

    Good luck with your purchases!

  2. My daughter is 7 and she loves Junie B Jones, Judy Moody and, my favorite, Clementine.

    As for classics, Black Beauty, Heidi, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. Maybe Black Beauty for the horsey girl.

    And great picture books for young girls & boys: Olivia, and The Pigeon (Mo Willems) books.

    Good luck!

  3. Lu says:

    For older kids in elementary school (4-7th grade): Misty of Chincoteague by by Marguerite Henry was a big one when I was that age, but that’s because I lived fairly close to the real Chincoteague, so I don’t know how popular that is country-wide (about horses)! Also anything by Kate DiCamillo. I got my sister in the 4th grade The Invention of Hugo Cabret and she loved it (not much of a reader).

    Really exciting YA books: The Compound by SA Bodeen, The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Graceling by Kristin Cashore (for the older girls).

  4. claire says:

    1. Newborn boy: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.
    2. Two-year-old girl: Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. Or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Lois Ehlert, et al.
    3. Two-year-old boy: How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? or other in the series by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague. Or I Stink! by Kate and Jim McMullan. Or other in the series.
    4. 1st-grade girl: Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt. Or Chester by Melanie Watt.
    5. 2nd-grade girl: Many Moons by James Thurber. Or Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne.
    6. 2nd-grade boy: Any Roald Dahl.
    7. ??
    8. 3rd-grade boy: Any Cornelia Funke.
    9. ??
    10. ??

  5. JaneGS says:

    Books are among the best and most treasured gifts. You are a wonderful auntie. With three teenagers, I can share what they liked best.

    1. Newborn boy: Goodnight, Moon (I loved reading this to my babes and it’s a classic every child should have).

    2. Two-year-old girl: Any of Eric Carle’s books, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar (another classic, and for good reason)

    3. Two-year-old boy: Any of Richard Scarry’s word books–fabulous pictures and really fun to look at

    4. 1st-grade girl: Antarctic Antics: A Book of Penguin Poems (my kids adored this book throughout elementary school–funny, great pictures, good poems, interesting)

    5. 2nd-grade girl: The Little House picture books (my daughters had about about 6 between them and were a nice bridge to the Little House series); also my kids loved the Magic Schoolbus series (not to be confused with the Magic Treehouse books, which they also liked)
    6. 2nd-grade boy: Any Roald Dahl (Mathilda was my kid’s favorite by far)
    7. 2nd-grade girl: Charlotte’s Web
    8. 3rd-grade boy: Redwall, by Brian Jacques or Calvin and Hobbes collecton (my son loved C&H, and still does)
    9. 6th-grade girl: The Hobbit or Alice in Wonderland
    10. 12th-grade girl: anything by John Green (my 12th grade daughter really likes his books, and is also into Shakespeare!), or Bill Bryson’s book on Shakespeare (Bryson is both funny and reverant and informative in this book–one of his best!)

  6. litlove says:

    Ooh, fun. I’ll try to think of books I know are transatlantic.

    Small children: anything by David McKee or the Kipper books (small dog). Also AA Milne is a perennial favourite.

    For 7-9, Harry Potter, Cornelia Funke (top end of range), the Ms Wiz books and Horrid Henry.

    For 9-11, all the boys adore Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan (and he lasts beyond 11 to 13 or so), Eva Ibbotsen for girls. Also Anthony Horowitz.

    For older readers, I’d recommend Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines series), Philip Pullman (Dark Materials) and for girls, Daphne du Maurier and Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now.

  7. lhartness says:

    For preschoolers, “Llama Llama Red Pajama” and the subsequent 2 sequels.

    For early elementary, “I Wanna Iguana”

  8. Other than those mentioned, I would suggest (for younger readers) anything my Oliver Jeffers, Where the Wild Things Are and The Jolly Postman/The Jolly Christmas postman.

  9. My 12 year old boy loved The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver and all of my kids (7, 9 and 12) have enjoyed the Redwall series (I read to all three of them at bedtime). I’d also highly recommend the Children of the Lamp series by P B Kerr, the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo and The Companions Quartet by Julia Golding for boys and girls aged 9+.
    For younger ones, I agree that Where the Wild Things Are and the Gruffalo series are brilliant.

  10. Haley says:

    I would recommend the Little House on the Prairie books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read all of them repeatedly growing up. They’d be great for the second grade girls.

    And for the 12th grader, there are several YA fictionalized versions of Shakespeare – I just read Ophelia by Lisa Klein (I admit it, I read YA stuff all the time – my excuse is that I’m an English major going to teach high school!).

  11. Frances says:

    What an array of great suggestions! May I add the new graphic novel version of King Lear from a Candlewick imprint for the oldest? All three Secret Benedict Society books for the sixth grader – love these. Ditto on Claire’s Scaredy Squirrel suggestion. And Hug for the littlest people. Good luck with that shopping!

  12. nomadreader says:

    My first few thoughts:
    1, 2 & 3: Mo Willems. Elephant and Piggie books are fantastic easy readers (I Will Surprise My Friend! is my personal favorite – the rare easy reader I don’t tire of reading). Knuffle Bunny and Knuffle Bunny Too are my favorite picture books.

    4. Perhaps the Mercy Watson books by Kate DiCamillo. They’re early, early chapter books, and they’re fantastic.

    6. Matt Christopher is a fun sports author, if he hasn’t starting on those already. Dan Gutman also writes great sports novels, but none about football that I know of. I am also a huge fan of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. They’re essentially graphic novels in diary form. The font is a handwriting font, and the wimpy kid draws cartoons with the text.

    9. Please, please, please buy her The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt. It’s the first in a fantastic mystery series for girls.

    10. It’s a little off the wall, but you might consider Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan by Paula Marantz-Cohen. It’s told from the point of view of a mom, but part of it deals with conflict with her teenage daughter. Also, her mother suddenly thinks she was Shakespeare’s girlfriend. It’s hilarious, and I think she would enjoy it from the teen’s point of view, as well as the Shakespeare factor.

    You can find full reviews of most of these on my blog too!

    Good luck!

  13. Simon T says:

    Glad the Lynne Truss and Jenn Ashworth appeal! Very different, for very different moods, but both good.

    As for children.. I only read Enid Blyton, so that’s all I can suggest!

  14. Haley says:

    Oh! Also, the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books would be fun for young but reading-on-their-own kids – I loved those growing up!

  15. Constance says:

    I loved Kate Morgenroth’s last book so am delighted to hear there is a new one. She has also written several dark but compelling YA novels. Is that Cynthia Harrod-Eagles part of her Morland series? I read the first two then got distracted but plan to return to them at some point.

    I am a devoted, book buying aunt so here are some suggestions:

    1. Barnyard Dance/Boynton – this is my favorite baby present and parents love it too.
    2. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – very popular with my 2 year old niece
    3. Harry the Dirty Dog/Zion
    4. No Flying in the House/Brock or Betsy Tacy and Tib/Lovelace
    5. Island of the Aunts/Ibbotson or Half Magic/Eager
    6. Encyclopedia Brown/Sobol or Honus and Me/Gutman
    7. Shadow Castle/Cockrell (not sure most second graders would be able to *read* this but suitable to be read aloud to her too)
    8. The Ogre Downstairs/Jones or The White Mountains/Christopher
    9. Shadowland/Meg Cabot
    10. Sherwood Ring or Perilous Gard/Pope; Curse as Dark as Gold/Bunce

  16. Jenny says:

    nomadreader’s suggestion of Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie books is a very good one for those just learning to read. Excellent and sweet. I also trust absolutely anything Cynthia Rylant has ever written for early readers — the Henry and Mudge series, the Poppleton series, the Mr. Putter and Tabby series, and several picture books. For the still younger set, try Christopher Wormell’s books. Many are abecedaries or number books with gorgeous woodcuts, and they come in board book editions, which for tiny kids is an absolute must. (He also does a Nativity called Through the Animals’ Eyes which I absolutely adore.)

    Second- and third-grade girls should love All-of-a-Kind Family. It’s an absolute classic and there are several of them. Boys — you can absolutely not do better than Daniel Pinkwater. Everything he writes is gold.

    For the sixth-grader, I’d suggest Megan Whalen Turner’s wonderful book _The Thief_ and the sequel _Queen of Attolia_.

    For a 12th grader who doesn’t read but just got interested in Shakespeare, I’m going to second the above suggestion of The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, but you might also try one of the Pretties/ Uglies series. Haven’t read them but hear they are addictive. Laurie Halse Anderson also does a lot of great books for that age.

  17. Jenny says:

    Oh and p.s. for first graders or those having books read to them, we LOVE _The Seven Chinese Sisters_ by Kathy Tucker and illustrated by Grace Lin. Modern, funny, and kids never get tired of it (and grownups rarely.)

  18. I can’t provide you with suggestions for all of them, but I recently did this for 3 schoolkids who are my second cousins. The only ones that seem to match up are:
    8) Diary of a Wimpy Kid: A fourth grade boy at the store told me this was his favorite book.
    9) Every Soul a Star. I actually read this once I got it home :) It was SO AWESOME. If she likes Nancy Drew, then she’ll love one of the main characters in this book.
    10) I had the exact same problem here–not much of a reader. But I ended up getting Stargirl simply because I remember loving Spinelli books.

  19. Alayne says:

    It’s hard for me to think of what to get younger kids, except for anything by Shel Silverstein. But for the 3rd and 6th graders I would highly recommend The Chronicles of Narnia. I adored them when I was that age. Still do!

  20. Amy says:

    I have two girls who are still very little (3 yrs & 21 mos) so I agree with other readers’ comments about books for the younger set – Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, anything by Sandra Boynton are all very fun. My 21-month-old loves Where’s Spot? or any of those type of lift-the-flap board books. My 3 yr old loves the Fancy Nancy books, as well as Olivia, and Angelina Ballerina, so those might be possibilities for the 2-yr-old girl (or maybe ideas to save for her for next year!).

  21. Teresa says:

    Wow! Thanks everyone for the great suggestions. There were a few I’d thought of, a few the kids have, but lots and lots that hadn’t occurred to me or that I haven’t heard of at all. I’m going to compile them into one big list to take to the bookstore.

    Keep those suggestions coming, and I’ll let you all know what I choose!

  22. rebeccareid says:

    For the newborn: Sandra Boynton. My little son read Heads to Tails and In Between with me and could “read along” (i.e., point to his body parts like eyes, ears, etc.) before he was a year old! But all Sandra Boyton are great!

    For the two year olds, I’d say Winnie-the-Pooh, the real one, because it’s so great for kids and my 2-yr-old LOVED my reading it to him. But I maybe most parents don’t read chapter books aloud to toddlers (very sad, but probably true).

    Maybe Just So Stories for the 2nd and 3rd graders? So many pretty versions out there. In 6th grade my favorite book was Peter Pan. I read it about 10 times that year. I wanted to be Wendy.

    Don’t know about the older kids. I’m big on finding classics, and I don’t know about the fad books the others mention. Nor do I know any YA.

  23. Teresa says:

    Thanks again for all the great suggestions. I just spent a wonderful hour at Barnes and Noble with your recommendations in hand and came away with some great finds. Alas, several that I was hoping to check out weren’t in stock. I tended to avoid classics because their parents have gotten many of those already. Here’s what I ended up with:

    For the newborn, board books of Goodnight Moon and Hug.

    For the two-year-old twins: Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs by Sandra Boynton for the boy. Have You Seen My Cat? by Eric Carle for the girl.

    For the first-grade girl learning to read: There Is a Bird on Your Head! An Elephant and Piggie book by Mo Willems

    For the second-grade girl reading at the third-grade level: Half Magic by Edward Eager

    For the second-grade boy: The Great Quarterback Switch by Matt Christopher

    For the second-grade girl just starting chapter books: Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo

    For the third-grade boy: Children of the Lamp: The Akhenaten Adventure by P.B. Kerr

    For the sixth-grade girl: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

    For the 11th-grade girl (I goofed in my post; she’s not yet in 12th grade): Ophelia by Lisa Klein

    If the kids enjoy these books half as much as I enjoyed picking them out, I will have done well. Thanks for all your help!

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