When it comes to Holiday Gift Guides there are several different strategies bookstores employ. The most common, and the simplest, is to use the Holiday Gift Guides produced by regional trade organizations. Others of us, whether from being gluttons for punishment, or through what Poe called “the mad pride of intellectuality,” produce our own in one form or another.
One such approach is for a store to produce, print and distribute their own catalog. By far the best of these that I have ever seen, I say at the risk of imperiling my pal Elizabeth Bluemle with a surfeit of self esteem, is Pig Tales, that she produces for the Flying Pig. It is sensational. I use a different, more efficient, but less exalted strategy. I make a guide called The Holiday Twenty which I produce for two area newspapers to use in their Holiday inserts. That guide, and those books, then become the focus of our in-store display, advertising and handselling efforts. We also have an online version to go with it.
In any case, for those of us in this guide-producing subculture the end of October marks a busy time of finalizing picks for different categories and blurb writing. Having just gotten my copy done I stand ready to share my picks in the categories that are relevant to children’s books.
The gift book of the season is clearly The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Deluxe Pocket Boxed Set. If you are not sure why, it is either because you haven’t seen it yet or you have deeper personal issues than those which can be properly addressed in a Holiday Gift Guide. I can assure you that it does not matter how many other boxed sets of the Lord of the Rings you already own, this hobbit-sized version is completely desirable and must be possessed by any right-thinking person. The imprinted titles on the spine, the well designed box, the agreeable price, the tasteful use of color and Tolkien Runes, all conspire to demand that Tolkien lovers be given this edition as soon as the Holiday Season allows. They cannot wait any longer than that. (Honorable mention to the very fetching Moomin Deluxe Slip-cased Anniversary Edition!)
We have four picture book picks. There were a very high number of exceptional wordless offering this year, but I tried to maintain some balance to meet different handselling scenarios. This year our picks are as follows:
Sparky, by Jenny Offil
Delightful illustrations, subtle humor, charm and unexpected tugs on any but the hardest heart strings make this story about adapting to the nature of a pet one of the finest picture books published this year.
Jim Curious, by Matthias Picard
This wordless three-dimensional picture book provides a truly jaw dropping undersea adventure. It comes with two 3–D glasses because Jim Curious is an experience made for sharing.
The Book with No Pictures, by, B.J. Novak
Unless you are worried about having too much fun, sharing a picture book sans pictures with the young readers in your life, The Book with No Pictures is a perfect fit. Laughter and imagination are sure to accompany every reading.
Full Speed Speed Ahead! How Fast Things Go, by Cruschiform
The best science-based picture books take one simple concept and develop them to spectacular effect. In Full Speed Ahead, each spread lists a speed on the left and then some animals or machines that go that speed on the right. For example, three things moving 2 MPH are a Tegenaria spider, an Excavator, and a person walking. With every new spread the speed increases. It’s sensational fun, at whatever speed you read it, not to mention educational!
For novels, I went with two YA and two middle grade. Namely…
Death By Toilet Paper, by Donna Gephardt
Ben Epstein has lost his Dad. He and his mom are living on the financial edge and are about to fall off if the “Grand Plan” cannot be implemented before they are evicted. Full of humor and tenderness, this deftly told story will engage its young audience deeply, and with warmth and support.
Half Bad, by Sally Green
Here we come to a book that grabs readers from the first moment they enter its pages. Half Bad affords the sublime fascinations of an alluring, unsafe narrator set in a deeply grey political landscape whose powers are determined to be black and white at terrible cost. Its readers find themselves carried and then swiftly captured in an irresistible current of intrigue and imagination as visceral as it is elegant.
The Glass Sentence, by Sylvia Grove
The Glass Sentence features a highly imaginative and engaging premise which is clearly related and accessible, while also possessing roots grounded intricately in social and political history and cartography. This tightly knit and compelling world offers deep satisfaction for all readers of interest who will regale themselves with its dire actions, complex villainy, highly absorbing characters, and sublimely engaging interior and outer landscapes.
Dorothy Must Die, by Danielle Paige
All is not well in Oz and Dorothy and her lackeys are the reason. A terrific romp through a classic fantasy world with a narrator that modern teens will relate to, Dorothy Must Die is big fun from start to finish.
I’m always interested to see, make note, and take stock of the books publishers are spending money on for the Holidays. The core of our Holiday handselling, however, lies in the books we stand behind the most ourselves. And in this regard, producing a gift guide clarifies the mind wonderfully, quite as much as the smell of tubs of burning slow-match did for Jack Aubrey before going into action.