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You probably already know that I am a little obsessed with books and book-themed holiday presents. (See here, here, and here. Oh, and also here.) We follow the minimalist-ish tradition of giving “something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read” for our family gifts, and the “something to read” is always my favorite part of shopping. I can’t buy all the books for my own family, so here’s a roundup of fabulous titles for many ages and interests.
FOR SPACE LOVERS
This is such a cool book! Ariel Waldman (the creator of Spacehack ) talked to dozens of astronauts to write this book about what it’s really like to be in space, from weird stories about sneezing and passing gas to tips for getting some sleep in zero gravity. It’s utterly fascinating.
FOR PETER RABBIT FANS
It’s so thrilling to discover that you haven’t read everything by your favorite author! (This is why Suzanne keeps putting off reading The Pinhoe Egg.) Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Kitty-In-Boots was written in 1941, but it was just published this year, complete with illustrations by Quentin Blake. This tale of black cat who sneaks out at night in her beautiful boots is delightful.
FOR YOUNG CHEFS
Alice Waters’ Fanny at Chez Panisse is one of my all-time favorite cookbooks to give kids, so I was delighted to discover there’s a new sequel devoted to French cooking. If I’m giving this to a friend’s child, I might wrap up a copy of Alice Water’s The Art of Simple Food for the parents and give it with a jar of roasted onion and sage jam.
FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE MOURNING DAVID BOWIE
Because aren’t we all? Bowie was an avid reader whose distaste for biographies has been well documented, so instead of some unauthorized tell-all, pick up a copy of 1999’s Strange Fascination: The Definitive Story of David Bowie, a thoughtful, comprehensive look at Bowie’s impact on pop culture. (Tuck in a copy of the David Bowie Retrospective and Coloring Book to ensure extra exclamation points in your thank-you note.)
FOR ART LOVERS
What a cool idea for a book! Anyone who’s spent time with Edward Hopper’s evocative art wants to know the story behind the painting, and this short story collection lets seventeen authors—including Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates—imagine what’s happening around the moment captured in Hopper’s painting.
FOR READERS WHO WANT TO BE IMMERSED IN A FANTASY WORLD
There are a few delightful fantasy stories to give this holiday season. For starters: All the Birds in the Sky, a brilliant book with a terrible cover. (Suzanne and I actually read it for the podcast.) Take one boy genius scientist and one magical girl, add an end-of-world scenario, and bask in a nuanced, complicated story that’s ultimately pretty darn satisfying.
What happens to children who vanish into magical realms when they return to the real world? Eleanor West, a woman who has been through it herself, runs a home for the children who’ve emerged, heartbroken and forever changed, from the land of fairy tales, and now she’s got a murderer on her hands.
FOR YOUNG CODERS
If your little kids are hooked on video games and computer coding, Recently, MIT Media Lab's Lifelong Kindergarten Lab’s ScratchJr is a brilliant, hands-on way to learn how to create interactive animations, games, and stories through simple coding. This book helps kids explore different ways to use ScratchJr. (I love that there’s a companion book for parents, too—The Official ScratchJr Book: Help Your Kids Learn to Code.
I can’t deny it: I am seriously hoping that someone thinks to pick up a copy of this massive (679 pages!) collection of Bob Dylan lyric for my holiday gift. The singer-songwriter might initially seem a peculiar honoree for the Nobel Prize for Literature, but reading his song lyrics as poetry helps it all make sense.
“'There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep and still be counted as warriors.’ This collection of Rich’s poetry is just that kind of space, a mix of political and personal in which empowerment and fragility entwine.
FOR FEMINIST CRAFTERS
It’s no surprise that geek goddess Felicia Day wrote the forward to this quirky collection of craft projects, ranging from subversive hand-stitched merit badges to finger puppets of feminist icons like Ruth Bader Ginsberg. This holiday season just feels like the right time to embrace feminism, doesn’t it?
FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE TO COOK
Maybe it’s because I would eat breakfast all day, but this cookbook was one of my favorites this year. With recipes like cinnamon sausage biscuits, Mississippi eggs Benedict, banana pecan coffeecake, and an amazing variety of egg dishes, it will make you want to have breakfast for dinner every night in 2017.
I love the idea of meal planning, but there are weeks (and months) where I am frankly just burned out by Taco Tuesday and trying to feed people every night. So I loved this new cookbook, which lays out ideas for seasonal, flexible menus, using leftovers and weekend prep time to make weeknight meals a little easier. Like most Food52 cookbooks, this one assumes the people you’re feeding have fairly sophisticated palates, but the recipes are pretty adaptable.
I mean, it’s a book of cookie recipes from Dorie Greenspan. How can you possibly go wrong? (A very nice gift giver might wrap up a box of Dorie’s Melody cookies to give with the book, but you could be forgiven if you made the cookies with the best intentions but accidentally ended up eating them all yourself.)
FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE PHYSICS (OR PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY HATE PHYSICS)
It may seem weird to give a Q&A physics book as a holiday present, but this isn’t your average physics book. Yes, it tackles some of the big questions in physics (momentum, gravity, light, etc.), but it’s less about getting the right answer than about thinking through the question deliberately and thoughtful. (Often, an interesting “wrong answer” gets just as much space in the text as the “right answer.”)
FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE TIM BURTON
Tim Burton’s visual storytelling may have hit a new peak in his adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ odd and eerie novel, and this book is a stunning companion to the film. Pair it with Tales of the Peculiar, a short story collection (with a gorgeous cover) about other peculiar children, for a groovy gift.
FOR PEOPLE WHO NEED A NEW PICTURE BOOK
It’s hard not to get a little preachy when you’re trying to explain to kids why waste is a bad habit to get into, but this lushly saturated gem of a book does a nice job making “do not waste” relevant to living a meaningful life.
Truly, the title alone should be enough to sell you on this funny readaloud about why you probably shouldn’t buy that extra-spicy salsa if you’ve invited a dragon for Taco Tuesday.
I am always on the hunt for a good Hanukkah book, and this one—a companion book to Tashlich at Turtle Rock—is a sweet story about a family’s outdoor celebration of the first night of Hanukkah.
This book is just a sensory delight: The spectacularly lovely illustrations and deceptively simple text paint an enchanting tale about the power of stories and storytelling.
FOR PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO BUILD THINGS
This isn’t a new book, but I think there isn’t a better one to inspire young makers to get their hands dirty learning electronics. If your kids are interested in learning to use electronics, this book might just be their favorite present.
The updated edition of David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work includes technologies—like the 3-D printer, Wi-Fi, and smartphones—that didn’t exist when the original version was published. My son has dog-eared his copy of that first book—I’m hoping he likes this one as much. (Don’t tell him!)
FOR PEOPLE WHO THINK TOO MUCH
The exercises in this book are simple thought experiments—like counting to 1,000 or repeating a word over and over until it loses its meaning—that don’t require any complicated prep but that can really provoke you into deeper awareness. I think this is a great stocking book—your kids probably won’t ooh and aah over it immediately, but on some sleepy January afternoon, it just might blow their minds.
FOR PEOPLE WHO LOVE NONFICTION
In 1845, a bookseller (actually named John Snare) bought a painting of King Charles I, purported to be painted by the Flemish artist Van Dyck. But after obsessive research, Snare became convinced that the portrait was actually the work of Spanish artist Diego Velázquez. But this is no simple reattribution, Snare discovers. It sounds like a novel, and it reads like one, too, but this is a true story.
FOR GRAPHIC NOVEL FANS
The author of the Captain Underpants series has a new book about a part-dog, part-human police officer who’s determined to stamp out crime—including his nemesis, Petey the mad scientist cat.
always say that Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read—there’s almost no blood and gore, but the creeping horror as the small, friendly town transforms into a bloodthirsty mob is palpable. I think this moody graphic novel captures that creepy spirit well. (Jackson’s grandson Miles Hyman did the illustrations, which I think makes this edition extra cool.)
This sleek and stylish, noir-ish take on the Snow White story, set during the Great Depression, probably would have been my favorite present in 9th grade.
FOR FASHION LOVERS
Lots of photos and illustrations make this coffee table book pure fashion eye candy. I was fascinated by the way movies and fashion have influenced each other, from a Karl Karl Lagerfeld collection inspired by Metropolis to hints of Wes Anderson films in Prada.
FOR ADVENTURE SEEKERS
From New Zealand’s glowworm caves to a graveyard for decommissioned ships on the coast of Bangladesh, this books highlights some of the world’s weirdest locales, attractions, and events. (Did you know that there’s actually a festival every year in Spain in which mean dresses in devil costumes leap over babies? It’s called the Baby Jumping Festival.) This is one of those armchair travel books you will find yourself picking up again and again.
FOR KIDS WHO WANT A GREAT NEW BOOK
This story about a boy and his beloved pet fox trying to find their way back together—told in alternating chapters—is tender and heart-wrenching, gentle and harsh. It’s lovely.
Based on a Chinese legend, this lyrical new book from the author of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, is about a girl on a quest to save her storytelling grandmother from the Tiger Emperor.
I’m not sure that this odd, Chaucerian masterpiece is for everyone, but the people it’s for (and I think I must be one of them) will love it like crazy. This tale of three children and their magically resurrected dog traveling through medieval Europe is one of my favorite books of 2016.
We all already know I loved Kelly Barnhill’s newest book, but I can’t not put it on the gift guide list just because I already gushed about it!
A brave robot is shipwrecked on a desert island with no memory of her life before and no knowledge of her purpose. As she adapts to the island and befriends its animal inhabitants, she also begins to discover clues to her identity.