Chex Mix is awesome. I am like Santa.
Here is a list of reasons why books make the best gifts. (This is not self-serving. I don't mean my books. I mean books in general.)
1) They are long lasting. It takes on the order of, say, ten or fifteen hours to read a book during which whole time your loved one is thinking in the back of her head how much you must love her for getting her such a lovely gift. Then, after she's finished, it will sit on her shelf in her living room or her bedroom and remind her of you.
2) They are personal, intimate even. When you get your loved one a book he really loves, he not only enjoys the book, he feels full of warm, fuzzy feelings that you picked it for him, that you knew him so well you knew how much he'd like it, that you think so highly of him you matched him up with this really great book.
3) Don't know how to pick the book that will result in #2 above? Books have a solution to that problem too. Walk into, say, the Gap and describe your loved one's personality and interests to the people working there, and they will not be able to pick out a sweater well suited to your loved one. Walk into a bookstore and do the same, and the people there absolutely will. Today, as part of Small Business Saturday, authors will be visiting local independent bookstores across the country to help you pick the perfect book for your loved one. (Find one near you with this handymap and/or google your favorite bookstore to see what they have going on today.) They aren't selling their own books, you understand; they are going to meet you, listen to you talk about your loved one, and offer the perfect book. (Authors tend to be very well and widely read, and this is our superpower. We are like Santa in this way.) That way you get to say to your loved one not only have I given you this great book but it was picked out personally for you by [insert name of fabulous author here].
4) Even if -- perhaps, especially if -- your loved one owns some kind of e-reader, a book still makes the perfect gift. Now it's retro and nostalgic (sort of like the holidays themselves, especially for those of you still eating Chex Mix)(which should be everyone because Chex Mix is awesome). Now books stand out. Now your loved one will say, fondly, "Oh, I remember reading real books. How lovely." Personally, I like to go back and forth -- one ebook, one paper, one e, one paper. Your loved one will love having an actual object to unwrap and hold and smell and flip through and examine the cover of and then, finally, read and reread and look at and remember.
5) As regular readers will recall, books make great Christmas trees. Here's ours from last year. You can't do this with an ebook, my friends.
Children's Books (Sometimes) Suck
I have learned many (often horrifying) things in my three-plus years of being a parent. One is this: lots of children's literature sucks. This shouldn't have been surprising, but it was. When it had been thirty years or so since I'd read any children's books, I assumed that all children's literature was awesome because all of the children's literature I remembered was awesome. Which is why I remembered it. OF COURSE, children's literature, like all other kinds of literature, has some gems and lots of turds.
I found this out by going to the library solo with my daughter. When we can, the three of us go together. That way, my husband reads to D while I pick out really good books to take home with us (or vice versa) (not books picking out really good versions of me to take home with them -- though that would be awesome -- but I read and my husband picks out books). But if you go just you and your three year old, she randomly picks things off the shelf that catch her eye and wants to read them then and there. Do you have a kid who will just sit quietly in the library and read to him- or (let's face it, probably) herself while you browse? Bless you.
As most writers are, I was a huge and wide reader as a child. So pre-parenthood, I could name lots and lots and lots of awesome books I remembered reading as a kid. That turns out not to be because kids' books are universally awesome but because I repressed the ones that weren't. I know this because D picks out books that MAKE NO SENSE where NOTHING HAPPENS and characters are POINTLESS and the whole thing feels phoned in and depressing. And I mean, these are children, you know? They're innocents. They deserve better. My ONLY goal when I read to D is to teach her to love books and reading. How can I do that if the books suck?
When we read aloud, my husband changes all the characters into accented foreigners: often British or Scottish, sometimes German, occasionally Irish or Minnesotan (not foreign but a good accent). I change firemen to fire fighters and policemen to police officers, and in books where EVERY animal or anthropomorphized character is "he," I change half the dinosaurs or sheep or pigs or cars or whatever to "she"s easily enough. We also don't read about Barbie, guns, or thinly veiled moralistic crap. Because D is adopted, I sometimes have to edit books that assume every single child on earth is parented by two married heterosexual people who had sex, became pregnant, and gave birth. This is what I was wary about going in. But it turns out there's shelf after shelf of terrible books out there just as necessary to avoid -- offensive not because they're sexist or racist or homophobic but because they are just SO bad.
Narrative, people. Even children need narrative. Here are some new-since-I-was-three books we've found to love. What other newish and fabulous children books do you know?
P.S. This is also, once again, why we need small bookstores and librarians: for help culling. And good writers and illustrators and artists and editors and book-makers: for making the world a better place.
About The Author
Laurie Frankel writes novels (reads novels, teaches other people to write novels, raises a small person who reads and would like someday to write novels) in Seattle, Washington where she lives on a nearly vertical hill from which she can watch three different bridges while she's staring out her windows between words. She's originally from Maryland and makes good soup.