Every December, Icelanders celebrate the holidays—and their love of books—with a “book flood.” This year, we’re bringing Jólabókaflóð to American living rooms with our favorite literary gifts!
Shopping for your own kids or need a holiday gift for the kids in your life? May we recommend books? If gifting literature can be considered one of the love languages, its message to parents of the littlest people in your life is clear: I can see that your child is going to be a scholar and that you are probably uninterested in tracking down obscure varieties of batteries and/or hearing loud and possibly electronic noises at all hours for the next six months. Its message to wee ones themselves is equally clear: Kiddo, you’re in for a great story. If you’re on the hunt for a new addition to your own offspring’s bookshelf, we’ve got more than a few words for you, too: We’ve rounded up the latest and greatest new releases for toddlers, pre-teens, and every kid in between.
- An Incomplete Book of Awesome Things by Wee Society
Inspired by the firmly-held belief that nobody’s too little to fall hard for design, the folks at Wee Society designed this eye-catching board book and its graphic, minimalist illustrations to boost burgeoning vocabularies and spark conversation between toddlers and their adult pals: Are helicopters and lava awesome? What about elbows, or masking tape? Note that neither this book nor A Box of Awesome Things (a new matching game based on the book which features 20 pairs of objects and one pair of blank cards, so readers can create their own additions) includes cavities, garbage, or splinters. Obviously, they are unequivocally not awesome.
- Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
John Green’s latest novel is also his most personal. His uncanny empathy for young heroes and heroines facing everything from bullying to terminal illness has earned him millions of adoring fans; in Turtles All the Way Down, 16-year-old narrator (and would-be detective) Aza Holmes shares the severe anxiety and obsessive compulsion Green himself has experienced since he was 6. He was inspired to write the novel after an episode so acute that medication and therapy couldn’t keep his thoughts from spiraling out of control and robbing him of his ability to work: “Coming out of that, it was difficult to write about anything else,” he has said. “The topic demanded itself.” Though Green has talked about how difficult it is to make other people understand his experience with mental illness, he’s able to bring the reader into Aza’s anguished thoughts—and demonstrate how, though each of us is alone in our own heads, we save each other by seeing each other.
- She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World by Chelsea Clinton
“Sometimes being a girl isn’t easy,” Chelsea Clinton writes in her moving new picture book. “At some point, someone will probably tell you no, will tell you to be quiet and may even tell you your dreams are impossible. Don’t listen to them.” In two-page spreads, her stirring words and Alexandra Boiger’s watercolor portraits celebrate women who (like Elizabeth Warren, in the Senate hearing that launched a thousand feminist memes and gave the book its title) overcame opposition to what they knew they needed to do. Readers will meet the fastest woman of all, Florence Griffith Joyner, as well as a champion of the tiniest women of all (Virginia Apgar, who revolutionized the way we assess newborns’ health). When the stories end and a young character faces a podium still waiting for its history-maker, she knows what to do.
- Rhett & Link’s Book of Mythicality by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal
How does one lead a capital-M “Mythical” life? Rhett & Link—lifelong friends, “Internetainers,” and hosts of Good Mythical Morning (the most-watched daily YouTube show, a science-technology-lifestyle-and-pop-culture hybrid that nets 100 million viewers per month) are more than happy to explain, via personal stories and photos, illustrated guides and charts, and twenty different offbeat tasks. The “curiosity, creativity & tomfoolery” they promote is joyously one-size-fits-all-ages: Thirteen-year-olds and thirty-year-olds alike can and should “throw a party that doesn’t suck” and “say ‘I love you’ like it’s never been said.”
- La La La: A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo
Kate DiCamillo has an unquestionable way with words for little ones: She’s one of only six authors to have won two Newbery Medals, and she was the 2014–2015 U.S. National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature (her theme: Stories Connect Us). That said, her newest tale has almost no text at all: Via Jaime Kim’s mixed-media, acrylic-and-gouache illustrations, she introduces a little girl whose song of friendship meets only silence. As day becomes night and the girl goes to sleep alone, it seems that she might never be heard . . . until she awakens to an answer. La La La is both a conversation-starter for children who long to be heard and understood, and reassurance that there are opportunities for connection all around them.
- American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Debut young adult novelist Ibi Zoboi draws on her own upbringing as a Haitian in Brooklyn (she was born in Port-au-Prince and immigrated to the United States at the age of four) in her lyrical tale of young Fabiola Toussaint’s search for une belle vie—a good life—at the corner of Detroit’s American Street and Joy Road. Magical realism and contemporary politics intersect as Fabiola comes of age: Immigration agents detain her mother when she arrives in America, and the girl is forced to navigate a new world with only her native Vodou spirits for company. Detroit is full of noble and dastardly figures, too: an unfamiliar old man can also be a trickster; a wicked boyfriend is Baron Samedi, lord of darkness and death; and even inanimate objects are witnesses to Fabiola’s trials and triumphs. Her America is both universal and intensely personal.
- Windows by Julia Denos
Who needs fairy tales when countless stories are glimmering right outside your front door? Julia Denos’s gorgeous story feels like a crepuscular sequel to Ezra Jack Keats’s classic The Snowy Day, where an elfin red-clad boy plays make-believe in a city turned winter wonderland. Windows comes alive when the sun begins to set and a modernized version of that spellbound figure goes trotting down the street with a little white dog. These windows are “blinking awake as the lights turn on inside: a neighborhood of paper lanterns;” families are coming together, plants are sleeping in darkening yards, and a raccoon is “taking a bath in squares of yellow light.” E.B. Goodale’s ripening colors link the end of the day to the warm embrace that awaits the little adventurer behind the curtains at home; this impressionistic trek is a beautiful way to say good night.
- The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s globally-beloved His Dark Materials trilogy strikes a delicate balance between first-rate fantasy and bracing existentialism: His characters have nonhuman companions that function as their souls and dizzying magical powers, but their choices have swift and devastating consequences. (There’s no time to play Quidditch in this alternate reality.) Seventeen years after that series set the world on fire, Pullman is reintroducing us to Lyra Belacqua, his brave, beleaguered young heroine, and Dust, which stands for original sin in his universe; Lyra’s now just six months old, and her protagonist’s mantle falls to her protector, 11-year-old Malcolm, a boy who navigates flood-ravaged Oxford in a canoe. The New York Times writes: “After a gentle start, the novel accelerates into an action thriller, with cameos from fairies and river gods. There are boat chases, hints at romance. It will be devoured.” The world is going to blaze all over again.
- Patina by Jason Reynolds
Ghost introduced the world to the Defenders, an elite middle-school track team, and a matter-of-fact young narrator who discovers his speed when he and his mother have to run for their lives. In Patina, Ghost’s fearless teammate takes the baton: Patty is running to prove herself as the “new girl” at a snooty school stocked with classmates she calls YMBCs (“You Might Be Cuckoo”), to demonstrate strength for her adoring little sister and ailing mother (who lost both of her legs to diabetes), and because, well, she has had enough of not being in control. So how does that play out on a relay team, exactly? Jason Reynolds’s young runners are hoping to win a spot in the Junior Olympics, but we root for them for much more than that: Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Warcross by Marie Lu
Players around the globe log on to play Warcross—a massive, multiplayer online game—and escape their “real” lives. The distinction’s rather fuzzy for teen hacker Emika Chen: She’s a bounty hunter, and she makes a living finding folks who make illegal bets on the action. In search of a payday, she infiltrates the international Warcross Championships and becomes its rogue star. That should land her in hot water, but it makes her the perfect spy—and the game’s mysterious creator brings her on to help with tournament security. She soon learns that Warcross is about much more than entertainment, and the opponents she faces are not at all what they seem. So who do you trust when you weren’t playing by the rules to begin with? This immersive, all-out cyberpunk brawl is the kind of game that keeps you up all night.
Featured image: Elsa Jenna