Annual tasks, whether at home or at work, that involve organizing and evaluating items with some degree of personal attachment, are always soul-testing endeavors. There is a lot of character development and personal reflection to be found in cleaning out the attic, to be sure, but when it comes to the bookstore the annual task that comes to mind is preparing the Holiday 20: our annual list of the top books for Holiday giving.
The term “top books for Holiday giving” may not come across as a model of precise definition, yet it touches on a very real distinction. This year, for example, I really wrestled with picking two books for the picture book category, which sounds preposterous given the number of good picture books published.
What I found, however, was that despite there being some really great picture books published this year, most of my favorites, such as Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, Ideas Are All Around, Super Happy Magic Forest, and With Any Luck I’ll Drive a Truck, did not fit the category. They either had too narrow an audience or were too topically distinct.
This brought the definition into focus. What is a “top book for Holiday giving?” For a picture book it is one which, when you hand it to someone and open the first page they are quickly immersed in a rich experience marked by wonder, warm sentiment and personal engagement. It causes the reader’s horizons to loosen at their moorings and be made subject to fresh ports of call before resettling pleasantly. That is the quality which top books for Holiday giving must have.
Every year some categories have a good many to choose from, while others offer a more barren yield. This year fiction was very strong, while non-fiction was not. Middle grade fiction was stellar while picture books were all to seek (though I am happy with my picks). Strong Maine Books were in profusion while great Cookbooks were somewhat in remission.
In the end, however, the main thing is to tweak the list so that all its residents meet our core definition of holiday gift worthiness and are poised to give great satisfaction to their recipients. If that means having three Fiction titles instead of two and only one Holiday themed book, so be it. This is an occasion for boldness and innovation along with tradition. And so it was with this year’s Holiday 20. Judge for yourself!
Interactive and Unusual:
Give and Take
By Lucie Felix (Candlewick Studio)
By Anne Carson (Knopf)
By Ben Winters (Mulholland Books)
By Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown)
By Blake Crouch (Crown)
Spaceman: An Astronaut’s Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe
By Mike Massimino (Crown Archetype)
The Genius of Birds
By Jennifer Ackerman (Penguin Press)
By Blue Butterfield (Islandport Press)
Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White
By Melissa Sweet (HMH Books for Young Readers)
The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery
By Ronald Chase (Down East Books)
This is Not a Picture Book!
By Sergio Ruzzier (Chronicle Books)
Du Iz Tak?
By Carson Ellis (Candlewick Press)
Bears Behaving Badly
By John McDonald (Down East Books)
Smiling Sushi Rolls
By Takayo Kiyota (Tuttle)
The Twelve Days of Christmas: A Peek-Through Picture Book
By Britta Teckentrup (Doubleday Books for Young Readers)
Young Adult and Middle Grade:
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill
By Megan Shepherd (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
The Lost Property Office
By James R. Hannibal (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)
Knights of the Borrowed Dark
By Dave Rudden (Random House Books for Young Readers)
Simple Victories: Recipes, Advice + Hundreds of Ideas for Home Cooking Triumphs
By Julia Turshen (Chronicle Books)
Cooking for Jeffery: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
By Ina Garten (Clarkson Potter)
If you would like to see my blurbs for these titles, they are here.
(Note: Smiling Sushi Rolls is a replacement title for a humor entry. Bad Little Children’s Books was subsequently removed from publication. Discussion of that important topic is occurring throughout the publishing industry; I hope that a constructive dialogue is the end result.)