26 Authors on the Books They’re Giving Kids This Holiday

This Jólabókaflóð, authors are giving the children in their lives books that will inspire them all year long.

Jolabokaflod Children

A shared love of books is a bond that transcends time and spans generations. Reading books as a child is a powerfully formative experience. So many of our early memories are shaped by the stories we read and by the characters who enter our hearts. Giving a beloved book to a child of any age, even adult children, is a reflection of the hopes and dreams we have for our offspring. We hope that they will enjoy the book as much as we did, and that they will grow into the kind of people with whom we share the unique kinship that comes from loving the same books. Here, 25 authors share the books that they will be giving the children (and a few adults!) in their lives this year for Jólabókaflóð.

 

Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip

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“I’ve always loved the idea of Jólabókaflóð since the very first time I heard of it, nearly twelve minutes ago. I’m equally impressed with Iceland’s brazen attempt to claim that giving books for Christmas is somehow “an Icelandic tradition.” Isn’t that a tradition, like, everywhere? My own family always bought books for Christmas—usually as late as possible on December 24th. (Waldenbooks’ old slogan should have been, Come on in! The mall is closing and you can’t find anything else!). I thought of many books that might please an Icelander on Jólabókaflóð. For example, there’s The Oxford English Dictionary—in the event that one is snowed in, that single gift could keep the fire going for weeks. There are also the many gripping accounts of Shackleton’s Antarctic voyage—even the northernmost Icelander would appreciate reading how someone, at some point in history, had actually been colder than they currently are. In other words, there are no wrong answers, besides of course The Tommyknockers, which is always a wrong answer. But for my Jólabókaflóð selection, I purposefully chose a book that a child could re-read many times over during the oppressive, near-perpetual darkness of an Icelandic winter, always finding something new and surprising in its wordplay and colorful illustrations. I remember coming back to Remy Charlip’s Arm in Arm over and over again as a child. The way it confronted paradox, reveled in silliness and toyed with the very idea of what a book should be has stayed with me for decades, even while writing my own book of children’s poems, I’m Just No Good at Rhyming. That’s why for this Icelandic event of Jólabókaflóð, which to me will never be surpassed as the “tradition that most sounds like something James Brown would shout out during a horn solo,” I would happily give someone Arm in Arm by Remy Charlip.” —Chris Harris, author of I’m Just No Good at Rhyming

 

The Hounds of the Morrigan by Pat O’Shea

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“For sheer delight, I would recommend a hearty, substantial children’s book filled with vividness, tension, and humor: The Hounds of the Morrigan, by Irish writer Pat O’Shea. This book has the heft and emotional punch that a lot of episodic children’s novels lack, and it is also richly funny. One can’t just reread Philip Pullman and J. K. Rowling forever. A reader of fantasy should find out who else is out there, singing in the same basic arena but with her own distinctive voice. Readers in Iceland particularly can find in their oceanic sister island nation, Ireland, a sympathetic source of civic pride, cultural lunacy, magic and foreboding and wonder. As we say around here in the U.S., when eating a particularly fine doughnut or a good hot pastrami sandwich, what’s not to love?” —Gregory Maguire, author of Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker

 

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

books for kids

“For Jólabókaflóð, I would gift my older son, who is currently in the Navy, the books in the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. Think Harry Potter meets a police procedural in present-day London. They feature a truly diverse cast of characters and are a lot of fun. And for our younger son, who doesn’t care much for fiction, unless it has pictures and is funny, we would like to hand him something similar to the complete collection of Calvin & Hobbes comics, the best gift I’ve ever found for him. They not only gave him endless enjoyment, but we have fun discussing the antics of boy and tiger.” —Sherry Thomas, author of A Conspiracy in Belgravia

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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“It’s always so difficult to whittle down favorite books to just one. But whenever someones asks me for a book recommendation—after I emit a low, slow growl (heh.)—one of the first that comes to mind is Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It’s this beautiful, captivating love story, but that’s just one of the many wonderful layers to this novel. It’s also a story about belonging and home and loneliness, and being a Black woman in a country that often acts like you’re not there. It’s also overflowing with so much wit and charm that you’ll find yourself laughing one minute and clutching your heart the next. I loved seeing “me” represented on these pages. The characters are authentic and relatable while also being complex and human; you are instantly pulled into their world. I would give it to anyone who enjoys a good read, but mostly I would give it to my young nieces who are growing up and finding their way through their own complicated, full, and interesting lives.” —Nicole Blades, author of Have You Met Nora?

 

The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein

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“With two young children at home and thousands in law school debt, I left the legal world to pursue my lifelong dream of writing professionally. Unfortunately, no matter what I wrote—novels, screenplays, short stories, and plays—I couldn’t seem to catch a break. Hundreds of rejection letters started to chip away at my self-confidence and my belief in myself as a writer. Years passed and I finally accepted my dream would never come to fruition. I decided to return to the law when my sister and best friend, Hema, gave me a copy of The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein. She told me that I was already whole as a person and exhorted me never to give up on my dream. Her words inspired me to give it one more try, so I wrote Trail of Broken Wings. The novel went on to become a bestseller and started my career as a writer. I plan to give the book to my daughter who hopes to pursue a career in the arts. I want her to know that no matter what obstacles or disappointments she faces she is already everything she needs to be and is loved completely and unconditionally just for being her.” —Sejal Badani, author of The Storyteller’s Secret

 

Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain

 

 

“A book I cherish is Pudd’nhead Wilson, a lesser-known Mark Twain book; it’s the perfect Jólabókaflóð gift. The plot centers on two similar looking boys, one born into slavery and the other into white privilege and the absurdity of what ultimately happens when it’s revealed that the children were switched at birth. What I love the most about the book is Twain’s erratic narrative structure. Pudd’nhead Wilson pivots from a book about antebellum Missouri to a crime novel, and then back again to social injustice in the South. And I love all of it. I relish Twain’s development of rich, complicated characters—the messy, even maddening storylines that distract you with humor and then abruptly drop you off a cliff. Twain’s arguments about human behavior, like nature versus nurture, are powerful. He lambasts small-town life, racist politics, religion, slavery, and entitlement—all themes that resonate with modern readers today. By the end of the book, every character is left limping away. It’s brilliant. For those reasons, I would gift Pudd’nhead Wilson to my 8-year-old daughter, Ella, the future writer. But it might need to sit on her shelf for a few years.” —Kate Winkler Dawson, author of Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City

 

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

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“I would give In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak, to a child of any age!” —Andy Ricker, author of Pok Pok

 

His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik

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“I would give Naomi Novik’s His Majesty’s Dragon to my eldest son, Cameron, who is an avid reader with an interest in military history. He would be thoroughly tickled by the central conceit—the Napoleonic Wars, but with aerial combat using dragons!—and he would be swept up in the tale of Captain Laurence, who is torn from command of his naval ship to take a place in the ranks of the Aerial Corp by chance discovery of a hatching dragon egg. And I am absolutely certain he would also fall in love, as I did, with the enormously clever but wonderfully child-like Temeraire (the dragon of the title). In fact, if anyone reads this novel and doesn’t fall in love with Temeraire, then I’m not sure they are a person I want to get to know…” —Lexie Elliott, author of The French Girl

 

The Polish Officer by Alan Furst

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“I remember when my daughter Sloane was born I had this thought, along with all the other thoughts and feelings that come with being a first-time Dad, that the little baby in my arms has never seen even a single Hitchcock film. Not one. I saw myself in the years ahead introducing her to the thrills of “The Lady Vanishes,” “The Thirty-Nine Steps,” and all the others, including my favorite, “North by Northwest.” Okay, I wasn’t your standard father. Jólabókaflóð, if I’m pronouncing it right, gives me the chance to introduce her to another great auteur, one whose medium is the page rather than the screen: Alan Furst. Like Le Carré, Furst recreates the world of European espionage, with all its murky secrets and even murkier settings. Only, he’s working a decade or two earlier, when the bad guys were German instead of Russian. And each of Furst’s books tells the story of the brave men and women of the underground of a different overrun European country (although everyone seems to have a reason to pass through Paris sooner or later). Why am I drawn to Furst? Is it because he is a Long Island boy, as I was? Or that he lives in Paris, as I did? No, it’s simply what’s on the page, which you’ll have to turn as soon as you possibly can. So, for the holidays, I’m giving Sloane The Polish Officer. It’s not the first of the dozen books he’s written, but the exemplar of what makes Alan Furst enthralling.” —Mitch Silver, author of The Bookworm

 

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

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“As an author with a penchant for the strange, unusual, and disturbing, one of my favorite books is William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Hardly anyone will tag this allegorical classic as a horror story, but for me, the way this tale quickly descends into madness has all the hallmarks of the genre. And what makes it even more frightening; the characters are young boys—upstanding kids stranded on a deserted island. It’s a fantastic narrative that forces us to ask ourselves, are we good or are we evil? As for who I’d give it to—anyone who wants to delve into the dark and desperate corners of the human condition. This is one of the creepiest pieces of classic fiction you can find.” —Ania Ahlborn, author of The Devil Crept In

 

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson

“The book I would press into the hands of every lonely, only child is Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson. I was given this book as a nine-year-old, somewhat at sea in the wreckage of my parents’ marriage, and it was exactly like being thrown a life preserver. Not only was there a letter from the unflappable Moominmamma personally addressed to whom, in my naïveté I believed to be me ( “Dear Child” it began, in twirly handwriting) but the book was a glowing window through which I could gaze into the lives of a family of wood trolls who, I am sure, would have welcomed any lost child under their roof. I am every bit as much in love with this book now as I was then. Rereading it is like stepping into a sunlit attic and discovering childhood treasures. Not only are Tove Jansson’s words pitch-perfect, her exquisite line illustrations fill the book with surreal joy. Here is a story in which the best kind of magic happens; in an enchanted valley on the other side of the Lonely Mountains where discarded eggshells turn into clouds to float upon, water turns into raspberry juice, and where anything is possible. If you haven’t already discovered Moomintroll and his family, I urge you to do so as soon as possible. We could all use this particular kind of magic in our lives right now.” —Debi Gliori, author of Night Shift

 

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel

“My Jólabókaflóð gift this year would be This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, a heartwarming and thoughtful novel about a family with five boys, one of whom decides he wants to be a girl. This book makes a great gift for any young adults, or any friends who are moms (or moms-to-be like my agent Carly Watters) because as the title suggests, even though the family in the book is dealing with some extraordinary circumstances, parenting is always complicated, and handling challenges with compassion is what it’s all about.” —Andrea Dunlop, author of She Regrets Nothing

 

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

“I would give a copy of Caroline Leavitt’s Cruel Beautiful World to all of my friends’ 20-something daughters. Leavitt perfectly captures the rapturous freedom of the 1960s and tells a gripping story, but more importantly, she illuminates how easy it can be to slide from a seemingly loving relationship into one that’s destructive and abusive. Today’s young women must learn how to navigate a mercurial and sometimes hostile world while demanding fair treatment and respect. For those reasons alone, Leavitt’s book is a must-read.” —Fiona Davis, author of The Address

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“When I was working as a librarian in the young adult department of the Phoenix Public Library, it was the height of the Harry Potter and Twilight craze. This was not a bad thing as I was a huge fan of Harry Potter and it was fabulous to talk to teens about what they were reading and it was usually magic or vampires. And then, this book by Markus Zusak came across my desk. It had been out for a couple of years, but the title The Book Thief intrigued me. I started reading about Liesel Meminger, and her mission to save books from the Nazis in Germany in 1939, on my lunch hour and couldn’t stop until I finished it late that night. And of course, I then had to get every teen, heck, every librarian I knew to read the book, too. A story about survival, friendship, loss, and monumental courage as told from Death’s irreverent point of view, this is the book I would gift to any reader or book lover for Jólabókaflóð.” —Jenn McKinlay, author of Every Dog Has His Day

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

“I have a twelve-year-old daughter who is suffering—as so many of us have—the pain, rejection, and pettiness of that passage into adulthood that we call middle school. This holiday season, I will give her A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. She will open it, look hard at me, and (very politely) say, “Thanks, Mom. But I read this in, like, third grade.” I will tell her, as gently as I’m able, that Meg Murray just might have more to show her, now that she is older. I’ll give the gift hoping that not once, but many more times as she moves into (and through!) adulthood, she’ll careen through space and time with Meg, Calvin, Charles, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which. Travelling across those fictional wrinkles will fortify my daughter well, for the many wrinkles to come in her own time.” —Marie Marquardt, author of Flight Season

 

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

“‘Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin.’ As a child I remember being excited by Winnie-the-Pooh because it was the first book I’d discovered that didn’t open with the words, “Once upon a time”. Here I was starting a story right inside the head of the main character—literally. ‘It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it…’ Nowadays, I realize that I had been instantly captured by A. A. Milne’s conversational, inside-out perspective. ‘Anyhow, here he is at the bottom, and ready to be introduced to you.’ It was Edward Bear who introduced me to a fresh, alert, quirky and directly emotional way of reading, and, in due course and over the years, to a similar style of writing—to aim at, at least. In that sense, my career as a writer has been all about searching for that captivating ‘bump, bump, bump’: trying to get myself back inside the head of Winnie.” —Robert Lacey, author of The Crown

 

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

 

“I worry that too many books are ruined by being assigned in high school. The Catcher in the Rye should be something dangerous and heretical, not a book Mr. So-and-So makes you read for homework. So I’d try to subvert the system of official endorsement by giving Catcher to a niece or nephew when they’re too young to have been assigned it, and possibly even too young to have heard of it. I’d make sure it was an edition with the red-and-white sketch of the carousel horse on the cover, too, maybe the least reassuring image of a carousel horse in literary history. Thus, The Catcher in the Rye just might carry the “irresponsible uncle” patina, rather than the 500-word-essay glaze.” —Josh Feldman, author of Start Without Me

 

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

“I’ll be giving The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley to my 11-year-old daughter. She absolutely loved the Newbery Honor book, The War That Saved My Life, finishing it in a single day over the summer and declaring it her new favorite. She was so excited to learn there was a sequel coming out this fall, and I’m sure she will love this one just as much.” —Megan Miranda, author of The Perfect Stranger

 

Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

 

“A fun book I am giving this year is Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. My son gave it to me years ago. I’ll give it to adult readers and teens who are looking for a book that pushes plot lines and is very creative. As a writer of nonfiction, I find young-adult literature refreshing and just downright fun to read. I like to give books that stretch a reader’s mind and that offer possibilities never before considered. This book engages and entertains. Isn’t that why we give and recommend books?” —Jon Kerstetter, author of Crossings

 

Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

Valerie: “I would give Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson to my son Christopher. It is a new biography of this great genius and the reviews have been brilliant. David McCullough calls it ‘…a tour through the life and works of one of the most extraordinary human beings of all time…’ My son has always said that Leonardo Da Vinci is the historical figure he would most like to meet. This is a book he will read with pleasure, savor, and keep in his bookcase forever.” —Liv Constantine (the pen name of sisters Valerie and Lynn Constantine), author of The Last Mrs. Parrish

 

Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz

Lynne: “I would give my daughter, Theodora, the book Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz because I think it’s important for her to know the amazing things women have done to shape our world, and that she has the power to achieve whatever she sets her mind to. When she was a little girl and I was teaching her about history, she always used to ask—what about the women? She wanted me to tell her about women who had made history like Amelia Earhart and Hellen Keller. Despite the progress women have made, it’s still an uphill battle for equality. I hope she’ll be inspired to continue to work tirelessly, persevering toward every goal that she sets for herself, and confident that she can succeed in whatever endeavor she chooses to pursue.”  —Liv Constantine (the pen name of sisters Lynne and Valerie Constantine), authors of The Last Mrs. Parrish

 

Watership Down by Richard Adams

“The book I’d gift would be Watership Down by Richard Adams. It was one of the first ‘real’ books I ever read and has been a favorite from grade school to the present day. I’d gift it to the first of my brother’s children to ask me for a book recommendation.” —Michael Fiegel, author of Blackbird

 

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko

“The book I’d most like my granddaughter to have this holiday is The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko. I first became aware of this book when I was teaching a writing class about how to incorporate a romance plot into books of other genres, and a student recommended it as an example of an atypical romance. This delightful story is about a strong princess heroine who rescues her prince and lives happily ever after, but not in the traditional way. I grew up on stories about handsome princes who rescued fair maidens, but I always thought that was only half the story. When I wrote my very first novel, I purposely created a heroine who rescues herself now and then. The Paper Bag Princess does that and more, and she sends a message to all little girls that they can be the master of their own fates. That’s a message every girl needs to hear.” —Victoria Thompson, author of City of Lies

 

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

“Having children is, usually, mental quicksand. You spend way more time than is justifiable negotiating the purchase of a supersized make-your-own-edible-glitter slime kit, or the merits of frustration-enhanced, mystery collectible figurines. Silver lining: you get to offset the rubbish with books, and (more importantly) get, as a parent, the great gift of revisiting your own childhood wonderland—those words and scenes once tattooed on your forming brain and still there, vibrant, waiting to be discovered again: ‘By the light of the silvery moon.’ ‘Curiouser and curiouser.’ ‘Isn’t it funny how a Bear likes honey? Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!’ Frog and Toad ‘together alone…’ When Aslan dies. Pippi dancing with burglars. That moment the giant peach starts rolling down the hill—away forever from the horrible house and the nasty aunties. Just over a year ago I discovered by chance that a dear friend of mine, a brilliant, supremely educated and freakishly well-read poet, didn’t read as a child. Of course, because he’s not a parent, he didn’t have an inkling of what he’d missed and thus didn’t know he was living with a conspicuous void, but I was almost doubled over with a great hungry ache of absence on his behalf. Could an adult who never went as a child possibly visit the Enchanted Forest for the first time? Delight in the Chocolate Factory? Are we ruined for it all by years of filing income taxes or comparing health insurance plans? More than likely we are, but if children need those glorious fantasies the way they need air to breathe, then there is a glimmer of a sliver of hope for the uninitiated adults. I’d give my friend James and Giant Peach.” —Minna Zallman Proctor, author of Landslide: True Stories

 

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

“I would give Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five to my 13-year-old son, Vaughn. When I was in tenth grade, my English teacher put this novel on my desk. Mr. O’Connor was cagey about his motivations, but I believe he intended the book to serve as map and compass for a reader momentarily adrift: Remember? This is where you were headed. I inhaled Billy Pilgrim’s satirical odyssey through the apocalyptic war-scape of firebombed Dresden. The mesmerizing and mock-serious tale trued the wheels in my brain, tugging me back toward a life fully engaged with words and stories. The same may not happen for my newly minted teenager. Vaughn is his own person, with his own passions; to this point, reading is not one of them. I have learned to grit my teeth through this, to honor him as he is, but my wife and I still quietly harbor the fantasy that books will take hold of his mind and already lively imagination in the same way they gripped ours. Vonnegut can make it happen. I’m proof.” —David Howard, author of Chasing Phil

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay

“I am so lucky to have a seven-year-old boy because it means that I have gotten to experience the magic of Hogwarts through the eyes of a child. This year I’ll be giving my son the illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is my favorite of all the books. I was a little sad to see that Buckbeak was replaced by the Knight Bus on the cover, but I can’t wait to see Jim Kay’s gorgeous paintings bring this story to life.” — Guinevere de la Mare, author of I’d Rather be Reading

About Guinevere de la Mare

Guinevere de la Mare

Guinevere de la Mare is a writer based in San Francisco and the founder of Silent Book Club, an international network of book lovers who host introvert happy hours in more than 40 cities. Her first book, I’d Rather be Reading (Chronicle Books), is a love letter to books and readers.