On Beyond ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’

Elizabeth Bluemle - April 23, 2009

Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! is the Goodnight Moon of graduation gifts: the sure thing, the go-to title, the book many graduates probably get two or three copies of at their graduation parties. There’s a reason it’s so popular, of course: it celebrates new beginnings and the possibilities ahead, all with Ted Geisel’s trademark whimsy and cheer. We always have a nice stash of copies on hand this time of year, but we also like to recommend books off the beaten path. We ask customers questions about the graduate to see if we can come up with a little something extra, something personal and special that will make the graduate feel the gift giver’s careful thought and consideration.

Some of our favorites are handsome editions of classic books, fit to grace a scholar’s lifetime bookshelf. The Riverside Shakespeare is fantastic for literature lovers with every play and sonnet in the canon, and remains a favorite from my own high school graduation. Mine was a boxed set with two volumes, and the tall, slim red-cloth books still have their (slightly worn now) gilt lettering that evokes the magic of the language inside. This is my favorite book in the world, my desert-island necessity, and a good-luck charm of sorts: I pressed Vermont fall leaves in it in 1990, years before I decided to move here. (I like to think the book knew before I did.) Though The Riverside Shakespeare no longer comes in two volumes, it’s still a great-looking book with endless worlds inside.

Another classic we sell oodles of for graduates is Homer’s The Odyssey, either alone or appealingly paired with The Iliad. What better way to acknowledge a new grad’s journey ahead than with the chronicle of an adventurer who perseveres despite every kind of pitfall and obstacle?

For sheer aesthetic pleasure, we also love love LOVE Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things, which showcases 25 of Neruda’s beautiful odes in the loveliest book. Objects as common and essential as spoons and soap are celebrated bilingually on facing pages with paired exquisite pencil drawings. This might be our all-time bestselling graduation present.

For the energetic, service-oriented graduate who loves travel, hands-on work, and cultural exchange, Moritz Thomsen’s Living Poor: A Peace Corps Chronicle, is a charming, honest, funny, and thoughtful chronicle of life in a small Ecuadorian village. This is another of our perennial bestsellers, and it’s almost literally off the beaten path. John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Profiles in Courage is also fine inspiration for civic-minded individuals, and there is a very handsome hardcover edition available. I’d love for President Obama to write about his heroes — and heroines (P. in C. isn’t long on those).

Then there are the graduates who might want a little more assistance with their new lives. For the high-school graduate heading off to college, what could be better than The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College? And for college grads, there’s Lizzie Post’s How Do You Work This Life Thing? Advice for the Newly Independent on Roommates, Jobs, Sex, and Everything That Counts.

For those of us who appreciate the timeless delight that children’s books provide at gift-giving time, here are a few fun titles that, like Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, make terrific graduation gifts for any age student:

Walk On! — Marla Frazee’s hilarious metaphor for anyone learning to turn initially wobbly steps into a solid steady gait.

Harold and the Purple Crayon — you, too, are the agent and artist of your dreams.

Ish — for the perfectionist grad, encouragement to follow one’s joy and take pleasure in the process, not the product.

Finally, there’s a new little gem, Peep, about a small chick afraid to step off a curb — a perfect way to acknowledge those sma
steps that seem like giant leaps, the ones that mainly require a little support and a big leap of faith to accomplish.

What are your favorite books, especially children’s books, to give graduates?

17 thoughts on “On Beyond ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’

  1. Karen Blumenthal

    Sorry to sound promotional, but I wrote The Wall Street Journal Guide to Starting Your Financial Life with graduates in mind. Realizing that I couldn’t teach my own kids all the stuff they need to know today made it clear that people starting out–or those who are just confused–could use a clear and direct guide. The book covers more than 50 topics, and as a paperback, it’s an affordable companion to many of the cool books you have listed.

  2. Suzette

    Elizabeth, this is a great post (I’ve been loving all of yours & Josie’s actually) & you should think of making this an annual graduation time post. I’m going to print it out & put it in my daytimer to have when I need a book & my mind goes blank (it always seems to be somewhere else when I want it.) Thanks!

  3. Kath467

    if you want to stay in the “charming picture book” vein, the recent re-issue of Peter H. Reynolds’ The North Star is AMAZING! I bought a copy for myself to keep on my desk to encourage myself to slog through the swamp and look for the red rowboat on the shore. He’s such a genius, my fave to come along in a very long time.

  4. Ellen Mager

    Kathy, I couldn’t agree more!!! Peter presented The North Star at Winter Institue and I just LOVED it, what a totally perfect book! I had one signed for my nephew &

  5. Lorna

    I love the End of the Beginning by Avi and of course in New England you can’t go wrong with a copy of Walden. Shambala Library has an edition with a great woodcut on the cover and throughout. Its small but substantial and feels so GOOD in your hand.

  6. Maribeth Bush

    I’m thrilled to see Peter H. Reynolds’ ISH listed here as a great book for a graduation gift. What a wonderful surprise, since I was actually reading to see if his recently re-issued version of THE NORTH STAR would be listed. Like others here, I’d highly recommend Peter H. Reynolds’ book THE NORTH STAR as a graduation gift.. for any age (graduation from high school, college, grad school, medical school… )!

  7. Elisabeth

    I like to give the picture book “Yay You” by Sandra Boynton as a graduation gift. Cute illustrations, great sentiments about possibilities and discovering/being who you are AND I get the bonus that it’s not as popular as “Oh, the Places” and probably not a duplicate gift!

  8. Ellen

    OK, I have to ask. Why would you give a recent graduate a book about an obsessive mother who sneaks into the bedroom of her grown son to hold him while he sleeps? If I got that book as a graduate I would have been totally creeped out. The point of graduation is to have a little separation from your parents, after all!


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