If you’re anything like me, you didn’t go anywhere near anything retail today. I hate crowds and I hate consumerism and I hate spending money I don’t have, so Black Friday isn’t really my thing. Instead, I’m holed up with some cute babies planning to crochet most of my Christmas presents and buy books for the rest. Because ipods will be old in 6 months, plastic toys will break, and nobody needs another tie. The perfect book, on the other hand, won’t be thrown in a drawer and forgotten a day or a year from now. The right book can open your mind and your heart. It can remind you how beautiful life is, draw you closer to Christ, or get you actually laughing out loud. With little ones, it can form the imagination, instill a sense of good and evil, or introduce you to Scripture. To help you out, I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favorites for various different ages. I know I’ll miss a ton, so please add your favorites in the comments!
When shopping, please check out Better World Books. Their prices are usually the best (or close to it) and they donate books and money to increase literacy around the world. Definitely a cause I can get behind. Or go with DealOz–they’ll search about a jillion sites to find you the best price on the web.
For little Christians
Babies (and their parents) love board books, especially those that are Mass-appropriate. The Saving Name of God the Son uses very theological language–not so child-friendly. But the images are gorgeous and the language is beautiful. As every parent knows, children memorize lines from books. Why not teach them the prologue to John’s Gospel instead of a litany of places Spot isn’t?
If you’re going to give a boring (but edifying) book, try pairing it with one of the Lift the Flap Bible books. They’re a little text-heavy for toddlers, but the many flaps will keep them entertained as you read or–wonder of wonders–listen to the homily. Plus, they’re cute and durable, a rarity among board books. My niece and nephew love them–and haven’t destroyed them, despite 3 years of tugging.
Now listen up–this is important. My favorite children’s Bible is the Jesus Storybook Bible. It’s a Protestant Bible so it’s missing some bits and you MUST change the words of the Last Supper–maybe even with a sharpie–but other than that, it seems to be theologically fairly sound. What matters is that the stories are so beautifully told that children–and adults–love it. It’s interesting, it’s entertaining–please, if you know a child who is (or will be) between 18 months and 10 years old, buy him this book for Christmas. You’ll be so glad you did. Don’t believe me? You can read lots of it by looking inside it at Amazon. Go do it now, I’ll wait…. See what I mean?
For kids who are a little older and ready to start hunting, try an alternative to Where’s Waldo? The Can You Find books–Can You Find Jesus, Can You Find Followers of Jesus, Can You Find Bible Heroes, and Can You Find Saints1–have the same search-and-find feel with the added bonus of catechesis. The illustrations are fabulous and there are helpful parent guides in the back. Depending on the kid, maybe age 5 and up? It’s hard to know–I tend to hang out with crazy smart toddlers. Natalie loved these books when she was 3.
For Kids Aged 8 and Up
I love catechesis as much as anyone, but sometimes you just want to buy a book that’s fun. For kids who love to read (or need to learn to), try some good, old-fashioned fantasy. E. Nesbit and Edward Eager write lovely books about normal kids who find a touch of magic to liven up their boring summers. The characters (the non-magical ones, anyway) are very real and their relationships complicated but beautiful–they always made me want to spend time with my siblings, an almost miraculous feat when there were still books to be read.
We can’t forget the Chronicles of Narnia–beautifully written, subtly Christian,2 and practically Scripture in my family. Each child received a boxed set3 for first communion, although our parents had been reading them to us since infancy. I have distinct memories of going to pick my mom up from work 45 minutes early so we could sit in the car and listen to our dad reading the Chronicles. Every child should read these books–every adult, too. While you’re at it, buy the first movie (but not the next two). Read the book first, then get lost in Narnia as you watch the movie. I could go on for an entire post about everything that’s wrong with that movie, but when push comes to shove, it takes you to Narnia. Narnia baptized my imagination–definitely top ten in my required reading list.
Bear in mind that I don’t actually have any idea about reading levels. Most kids probably couldn’t read these until more like 5th grade. But some will be ready much earlier. When in doubt, get a book they’ll grow into, right?
Isn’t that an awful word? But it’s the least awkward way to say 10-14-year-old girls, which is what I’m going for. Really, these are some of my favorite books ever, ever, ever.
L.M. Montgomery of Anne of Green Gables fame wrote some of the most beautiful, moving fiction I’ve ever encountered. Particular favorites include The Blue Castle, Pat of Silver Bush, Mistress Pat, and all her collected short stories. I literally own every book she ever wrote, boxed up and waiting for my nieces to be old enough to love them. There’s an ache in Montgomery’s heroines; she sums up the single girl’s suffering perfectly in Anne of the Island:
Anne was always glad in the happiness of her friends; but it is sometimes a little lonely to be surrounded everywhere by happiness that is not your own.
Little girls love Montgomer’y’s Anne and The Story Girl. As they grow, they’ll love all the others as well. If you know a girl who loves to read4 and has a sensitive, imaginative soul, please introduce her to my dear friend Anne Shirley. She’ll thank you forever.
Louisa May Alcott fits a similar type of girl. She, too, can get quite wordy and is often trying to teach a lesson.5 But for the right kind of girl (and most girls are the right kind at least for Little Women), she’s lovely.
Noel Streatfeild‘s books are easier reads. They’re about family and adversity but without the long, long descriptions of Lucy Maud and Louisa May. Start with Ballet Shoes–there’s even a good tomboy in that one for girls who aren’t so girly.
Gail Carson Levine wrote Ella Enchanted, one of my favorites for this age group.6 It’s light and easy to read, unlike some of the older books I’ve recommended, and it’s about princesses! Most of her books are–love them! Shannon Hale fits a slightly older audience, as does Juliet Marillier, but both have that fairy tale, good vs. evil feel that’s so enthralling. Their adult books are also excellent, but make sure you only give those to adults.7
I could give you a list of 30 more authors who I find fun or entertaining, but these books are more than that; they’re transformative. I’m sure I’ve missed some great ones, though–notably books for boys! Help me out in the comments and tune in tomorrow (the next day? The day after that?) for some fiction recommendations for adults (and young adults), followed by non-fiction some time thereafter.
**Nobody gave me any money for these reviews. I don’t even know how that happens to a person.**
- Which, for whatever reason, isn’t on the website with the other three. [↩]
- Subtle when you’re little, anyway. [↩]
- In the original order, thankyouverymuch. Don’t you DARE read The Magician’s Nephew before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe! [↩]
- These books are terribly dull if you don’t. [↩]
- Oh, but if you like her at all you absolutely MUST read Louisa May Alcott Unmasked. It’s not for children, although there’s nothing scandalous by modern standards. It’s just some of the pot-boilers that Jo deplored in Little Women. Terribly entertaining! [↩]
- Do not judge it by the movie–they’re totally different stories. [↩]
- I love Marillier’s Sevenwaters series, but be warned–there’s some intense violence and at least one rape. Stick with Wildwood Dancing for teens and tweens. [↩]