Hunting for the Elusive ‘Fancy’ Christmas Present

Elizabeth Bluemle -- December 4th, 2018

A customer came in today to scout some possibilities for her seven-year-old’s Christmas presents. Young Rose’s wish list includes “a fluffy fluffy robe,” “a real pink clock,” and “a fancy readable chapter book just for me.” This last item is what she came in for, and Rose’s mom wanted to spot some titles to run by Santa.

The words “readable… just for me,” Rose’s mother explained, means that she wants a chapter book she can read on her own without adult help. Rose reads at around an easy reader level 2, so it turned out to be a bit of a challenge to find a chapter book that fit the description.

The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem from HarperCollins was our first thought. It’s sparkling, delightful, one of our store favorites—our staffer Emily alone has sold what seems like dozens—and it most definitely meets the fancy test. Sadly, the reading level was determined to be too challenging for Rose just yet, so it was reluctantly set aside. (Maybe next year!)

Then we searched high and low for a fancy, substantial early reader collection. The Dr. Seuss Big Books of Beginner Books (satisfyingly thick editions of five early reader classics collected in each book) are perfect for Rose’s reading level, and they are certainly bright and appealing. Rose’s mom liked them and thought Santa might agree:

But we are still on a hunt to find the elusive fancy early reader chapter book.

We thought that the George and Martha picture books by James Marshall might squeak by the reading level test, so when we get a copy in, we plan to show our customer the beautiful anthology, George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends Collector’s Edition.

But this book is also not fancy-fabulous so much as adorable-fabulous, so it may not quite fit the bill. And the reading level question is complicated by the fact that the new anthology of these stories contains not just the stories, but additional, wonderful (but definitely not level 2!) appreciations by several children’s book luminaries.

ShelfTalker readers, any thoughts on possibilities we haven’t considered? I put this request out to my children’s bookselling colleagues, and Sara Grochowski suggested The Princess in Black series, which would be absolutely perfect if they were collected in a single very fancy omnibus edition. (Ahem, Candlewick!)

We loved the specificity of Rose’s Christmas wish list, and her mother said she has always had the most unexpected, creative ideas for these lists. Two years ago, when she was five, Rose asked for a nugget of gold from the North Pole. (!) Her mom has no idea how Rose got the idea for this wish, but happily, Santa received her request and was able to grant it:

Apparently, Rose keeps her gold and letter from Santa very safe. And she is a very lucky child to have a mom who is such a careful scout! She also has an older sister, now 14, who writes fantastic letters to Santa, which always begin, “Dear Santa, I hope you and the missus are well,” and always end, “Don’t forget my sisters! I love them more than anything.”

It’s possible that their mother and I both got a tiny bit teary about that last line.

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