The 2020 Holiday 20

Kenny Brechner - October 19, 2020

A professor of mine once remarked that “when I need to find someone to get something done I look for the busiest person I can find.” I called Professor Bruchey’s comment to mind when looking for someone to delegate my annual selection of holiday gift books, The Holiday 20. Following his reasoning meant that I would have to find someone busier than myself or the task would fall to me. This seemed like a toughie as I’m buried alive in work right now, processing a giant school grant along with running the store in a pandemic with a dubious fourth quarter looming. Fortunately there is someone who works at the store whose industriousness is legend, even among my hard working staff.

That person’s name is Mina and she is a mouse. We began to find piles of rice in the most unexpected places recently, underneath displays, inside boxes in our storeroom. The rice was coming from our neighbor, the Farmington House of Pizza, but Mina was clearly bringing it through the wall to cache at DDG as she obviously liked to read between foraging expeditions. I asked her to rally round and select and annotate this year’s holiday picks. Here is her report.

“Always happy to help,” that is my motto. Help myself to rice and books I mean. Hah! But all right then, when Kenny asked me to step forward and put my editorial teeth to use I said sure. There were four categories that really had an embarrassment of riches this year, and that was Picture Books, Read Aloud Chapter Books, Young Adult and Middle Grade and Adult fiction. I was struck by the unusual strength of literary fantasy this year, with Naomi Novick’s A Deadly Education, V.A. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie Laroux, and Susannah Clarke’s Piranesi all on the table. I had to choose all three! That left only one slot and I couldn’t neglect Liz Moore’s powerhouse of a detective story, Long Bright River.

For picture books I had a real personal struggle in leaving off Carson Ellis’ quirky new In The Half Room, I mean it totally spoke to me. I personally leave half things lying around due to my foraging prowess after all. Still, how could I leave off the genius of Foodie Faces, the wonder of Lift, the subtle brilliance of Sun Flower Lion, or the gravity of The Ranger. I could not!

I had two slots open for Read Aloud Chapter Books and there are four big releases there. I ended up giving a miss to Tony DiTerlizzi’s Kenny and the Dragon sequel, Kenny and the Book of Beasts. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t nearly as cohesive as its predecessor and, more importantly leaving it off the list was putting one in Kenny Brechner’s eyes, namesake denied! Also there was The Magicians author Lev Grossman’s The Silver Arrow, his middle grade debut. It’s a nice story, with some real literary flourishes, but it is perhaps a mite bit too nice. A little more peril please. My picks were the absolutely delightful Our Friend Hedgehog and Skunk and Badger.

With only two slots this year for YA and Middle Grade the strain was severe. I wanted a book grounded in the present and it pained me not to pick Brandy Colbert’s excellent The Only Black Girls in Town, or Nic Stone’s terrific Clean Getaway. I mean that one really spoke to me, we industrious mice are all about clean getaways believe me. But I decided to choose Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal’s I’m Not Dying with You Tonight, definitely a cautionary tale for us nocturnal creatures. I also picked Stefan Bachmann’s gloriously creepy Cinders and Sparrows!

The Holiday 20 has never had a Board Book category before but Kenneth Kragel’s This Is a Book of Shapes was just too wonderful to leave off. Hey, that’s all I have time for, the pantry is calling. If you want to see all my books and reviews you can see them all here! The plain list of books is below. Bye now!

By Susanna Clarke

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Long Bright River: A Novel
By Liz Moore
Publisher: Riverhead 

A Deadly Education (The Scholomance #1)
By Naomi Novick
Publisher: Del Rey

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue
By V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books

Ottolenghi Flavor: A Cookbook
By Yotam Ottolenghi, Ixta Belfrage
Publisher: Ten Speed Press

Maine Bicentennial Community Cookbook: 200 Recipes Celebrating Maine’s  Culinary Past, Present, and Future
By Karl Schatz, Margaret Hathaway
Publisher: Islandport Press

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
By Isabel Wilkerson
Publisher: Random House

Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains
By Kerri Arsenault
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

Chickens, Gin, and a Maine Friendship: The Correspondence of E.B. White and Edmund Ware Smith
By E.B. White, Edmund Ware Smith, Martha White (introduction by)
Publisher: Down East Books

The Detective in the Dooryard: Reflections of a Maine Cop
By Timothy A. Cotton
Publisher: Down East Books

Our Friend Hedgehog: The Story of Us
By Lauren Castillo
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Skunk and Badger
By Amy Timberlake, illus. by Jon Klassen
Publisher: Alonquin Young Readers

This Is a Book of Shapes
By Kenneth Kraegel
Publisher: Candlewick

Foodie Faces
By Bill Wurtzel and Claire Wurtzel
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

The Ranger
By Nancy Vo
Publisher: Groundwood Books

Sun Flower Lion
By Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books

By Minh Lê, illus. by Dan Santat
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Meerkat Christmas
By Emily Gravett
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight
By Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal
Publisher: Sourcebooks

Cinders and Sparrows
By Stefan Bachmann
Publisher: Greenwillow Books

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