Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Choosing Books for Gifts

I recently received an email from a relative asking for book suggestions for her teens and college age sons.
At first I had two thoughts:
What books do I think each would enjoy?
Word of mouth is powerful.
In this case, her daughter stayed with us this past summer—so I know what types of books she likes. For the others, it is harder to come up with titles. Different books speak to different readers, and it can be tricky when giving suggestions and buying books for others.
So how does one find the “right” book? (Or books, because one book is never enough.) 
1. One of my favorite approaches is to peruse the shelves of a bookstore or library. (Of course, here in Germany, where typically only bestsellers are imported, a bookstore isn’t the same experience. But every time I go back to the states, I visit at least one bookstore and feast.)
2. Lists of books. Many organizations publish year-end lists online, such as the New York Times, Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publisher’s Weekly. But often we want to find a book that is more specific, a great book that isn’t a bestseller. One can search online and find all sorts of lists, for example, the recent lists about dog books posted by Leda Schubert and cat books posted by Kathi Appelt). For children’s books an extensive list of lists can be found at Chicken Spaghetti.
3. Bloggers' book reviews. There are many wonderful blogs. Kidlitosphere Central has a great listing for those who want to discover and explore blogs that review and talk about books.
4. And of course, word of mouth. If someone gives me a book recommendation, the chances that I’ll buy that book are quite high.
I’ve always given books as gifts. (Which is one reason for our overflowing shelves and our substantial library of children’s literature—a home library that has more English books than either the international school or national library in one country where we lived.) 
Beloved books will be read over and over again and they will be treasured for years. Uma Krishnaswami  wrote a blog post this week about her first book. I also still have my first ragtag books from childhood —Snow Treasure, an Enid Blyton, and Island of the Blue Dolphins.
It's delightful to choose the “right” book for a gift, especially when the child immediately falls into the pages, losing herself in another great story.

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