Holiday Book Recommendations from Free Spirits (Part 1)

We may be biased, but we at Free Spirit believe the best holiday gifts are books—especially for kids. Books are affordable, and because you handpick them from the billions of titles available, they send a personal message from the giver to the receiver: “I put some thought into this!” And if you’re lucky, the book you give can bring pleasure and a positive memory that lasts a lifetime.

Today and Thursday, December 13, Free Spirit employees and authors are sharing their favorite books to give to young readers. Be sure to read Part 2 of this post. Please share your own favorites in the comments!

From Cathryn Berger Kaye, M.A., author of The Complete Guide to Service Learning and coauthor (with Philippe Cousteau) of Going Blue and Make a Splash!
I love books. The touch, the feel, the texture, the story. When I consider books to give to children, two types come to mind: the books read aloud and those absorbed by the reader.

Several classics became treasured readalouds for my daughters, particularly Alice in Wonderland, Little Women, and The Secret Garden. I was adamant about having the internal images of words brought to life through books before cartoons or live action imposed a permanent picture. Plus the shared intimacy of a beloved story creates lifetimes of heartfelt memories. You may notice that each of these books has a young character who is a bit mischievous, and I find this has been a recurring theme in my book selections.

As a child, I simply adored the Eloise books by Kay Thompson, and read them again and again. This rambunctious six-year-old who never ages follows a personal adage: “Getting bored is not allowed.” Through Eloise I lived at the Plaza Hotel and traveled to Paris and Moscow. Thankfully the books remain in print.

As I travel the world today and write and speak about education, I continually look for books that inspire while still having that bit of mischief. Consider these newer titles:

The Watcher: Jane Goodall’s Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter introduces one of my personal heroes and relates how, for Jane, patience became the ultimate virtue in learning about animals.

Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, A Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss tells the true story of a young woman who dresses as a man to fight in the Civil War. Her exploits include danger and intrigue in a fast-paced story that inspires and reminds us why diplomacy always is preferable to battle.

MyLifeAsABookFor middle-level novels, I cheer for My Life as a Book and My Life as a Stunt Boy, both by Janet Tashjian, with amazing clever illustrations by her teen son Jake. These page-turners include a laugh on every page, a protagonist who is a reluctant reader known to get into trouble, and hundreds of stick figure vocabulary drawings that make these books required (and desired) reading for kids.

For young adult/middle school novels, I must mention Carl Hiaasen’s latest delectable book Chomp. This fishy expedition into the world of survival television has two teen protagonists, Wahoo and Tuna. Of course I am enamored by all of Hiaasen’s teen books: Hoot, Flush, and Scat. Environmentalism and teens who take risks on behalf of others are at the heart of all his books, and they are hilarious!

For my favorite adult read this year (some may categorize this book as young adult), please enjoy The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I fell in true love with its magical realism and immersed myself in an astounding world.

Books! Enjoy the journey!

From Elizabeth Verdick, author of the Best Behavior™ and Toddler Tools® series and many other books including Bystander Power (with Phyllis Kaufman Goodstein) and The Survival Guide for Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders (with Elizabeth Reeve, M.D.)
When I was a kid, my older cousin loaned me The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember sitting in my bright yellow beanbag chair, soaking in every word, thinking, “Wow. Just wow.” Today, readers of middle-grade and YA fiction can choose from library shelves full of fantasy/adventure books. But if they haven’t already read J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic story of the hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, they should. It’s a great read-aloud for families and an absorbing read for teens. Read the book before you see the upcoming movie to deepen the experience.

wonderFrom the first line of Wonder by R.J. Palacio (“I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking it’s probably worse”), this book shines. Fifth grader Auggie Pullman was born with facial deformities and has always been homeschooled—until now. Told from the perspective of Auggie and other people in his changing life, this story of transformation is original, funny, heartbreaking, and memorable. The author describes Wonder as “a meditation on kindness.”

From Eric Braun, Free Spirit Editor
When my two sons were younger dudes, one of our house favorites was Sam Who Was Swallowed by a Shark by Phyllis Root and illustrated by Axel Scheffler, about a young rat who dreams of going to sea. He sends away for sailboat plans and builds his vessel through fall, winter, and spring, all while his neighbors warn of the dangers of the ocean: You’ll get tangled up in wild seaweed! You’ll get swallowed by a shark! But Sam follows his dream, and the last we see of him, he is a happy rat living at sea.

From Meg Bratsch, Free Spirit Acquisitions Manager
I randomly purchased The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes one day when my twin nephews weren’t yet two. Truth: I thought it might help wean them off Goodnight Moon. As much as I love that book, we were all getting sick of reading it to the boys each and every night! Luckily, it worked. The House in the Night is gorgeous, calming, cozy, and a treat to read aloud.

LegendFrom Cheri J. Meiners, M.Ed., author of the Learning to Get Along® series of books including Share and Take Turns, Join In and Play, and Cool Down and Work Through Anger
My favorite illustrator, Tomie dePaola, retells a traditional Italian folktale in The Legend of Old Befana. Each year Italian children still await goodies from Old Befana. This story of hope and wonder tells of an ordinary woman whose life is forever changed and how she continues a tradition of giving.

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