CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — This gift doesn’t need batteries, is one-size-fits-all, and can transport the recipient to another time or another place, or help him or her discover what is happening in our world now. Books are great gifts, and the Center for Children’s Books at the University of Illinois can help gift givers find the right book for the young people on their lists.
Part of the School of Information Sciences, the center publishes an annual Guide Book to Gift Books that offers suggestions for books aimed at various age ranges and that includes a variety of genres and subject matter. The guide lists about 300 books, all published within the past three years and all reviewed in the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books – a book-review journal for school and public librarians – and designated as recommended titles. It is available for download from the center’s website.
Each year, 100 to 125 new titles are added to the guide book, replacing the oldest ones on the previous list, and carrying over books from the past two years. In assembling the guide, Kate Quealy-Gainer, the assistant editor of the bulletin, aims for a list that is diverse in content and format.
“There is a large push in the publishing world for more diverse books. I certainly saw that as I was gathering up titles,” Quealy-Gainer said.
For example, books for older children contain main characters from many different racial and ethnic backgrounds. That has been a trend for some time in realism, Quealy-Gainer said, but she is seeing more protagonists of color spreading to fantasy books and other genres.
“It’s an important issue. Kids need to see themselves in books, and I was happy to be able to include more books in the guide book this year because of the move in the children’s literature world toward more diversity,” she said.
She is also seeing different formats for various age groups – for instance, there is more poetry available now for readers in grades two through six.
The popularity of graphic novels continues to expand.
“So many young readers enjoy those, and they can be used as a transition to chapter book reading, but they have a lot of appeal on their own. They make really great gifts,” Quealy-Gainer said.
She also has seen an increase in the popularity of realism, magical realism and narrative nonfiction for older readers, and books about contemporary issues for readers of all ages.
The guide is divided into four categories of books – picture books and three sections with suggested grade levels and age ranges. However, each title also lists the appropriate age range for the book, which may differ somewhat from its section.
Here are some of Quealy-Gainer’s picks from this year’s guide:
“Thunder Boy Jr.” by Sherman Alexie. This is a playful, affectionate story of the relationship between a father and son. It is the first picture book by the award-winning author.
“Nobody Likes a Goblin” by Ben Hatke. A quest story and an example of a picture book that will appeal to older kids, it has elements that video gamers will recognize, Quealy-Gainer said.
Books for younger readers (grades one to three, 6 to 8 years old)
“Super Happy Magic Forest” by Matty Long. “This is a wonderful send-up of a classic quest story,” Quealy-Gainer said. “It’s one of my favorite books of the year, if not ever.” A gnome, a unicorn, a fairy, a centaur and a mushroom are searching for items that will return the forest to a super happy, magical place. Readers can search for an item on each page. The book contains both text and elements of a graphic novel, such as speech bubbles. The jokes include references to Super Mario Brothers and Lord of the Rings. Readers both above and below the recommended grade levels will also enjoy this book, Quealy-Gainer said.
“Red’s Planet” by Eddie Pittman. Quealy-Gainer describes this graphic novel as “a fun, intergalactic jaunt” with a female protagonist and a bunch of quirky aliens.
Books for middle readers (grades four to six, 9 to 11 years old)
“Smithsonian Maker Lab” by Jack Challoner. This book offers do-it-yourself projects and experiments for scientists and crafters.
“Ghosts” by Raina Telgemeier. This graphic novel is “a funny, heartfelt, interesting, well-done take on sibling relationships,” Quealy-Gainer said. It tells about a girl’s relationship with her younger sister, who is ill, set against the backdrop of preparations for the Day of the Dead. “It’s an interesting mix of setting, culture and an intense personal relationship that is struggling and shifting,” Quealy-Gainer said.
Books for older readers (grades seven to 12, 12 to 18 years old)
“Bad Girls of Fashion: Style Rebels through the Ages” by Jennifer Croll. Fans of Project Runway will enjoy this book, Quealy-Gainer said. It chronicles fashion history that includes Lady Gaga, Pussy Riot and Madonna.
“A Fierce and Subtle Poison” by Samantha Mabry. A coming-of-age story set in San Juan, Puerto Rico, this book of magical realism deals with the relationship between the male protagonist and a girl who is poisonous. The story includes Caribbean folklore and Puerto Rican history.
“Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune” by Pamela S. Turner. This is a narrative nonfiction book for teens. It is an adventure and epic journey that will attract teens who aren’t currently reading nonfiction, especially those with an interest in manga, Quealy-Gainer said.