Gifts are not always found wrapped in paper and ribbon on special occasions. Rather, gifts can come at any time during the year in many different forms. In this list, the ‘gifts’ I find in the books are as varied as the discovery of a magical ability, a new friendship, a reward a long time coming, a loving relationship or a pretty object made out of something mundane and every-day. May all of our lives be enriched with unexpected gifts.
The Talking Eggs: A Folktale from the American South retold by Robert D. San Souci and pictures by Jerry Pinkney. Two sisters, one kind and good and the other nasty and cruel meet with an odd, magical old woman who gives them each a justly deserved reward for the work that they do for her. This story has its roots in European folktales. In this version, the story has immigrated to the United States, where it takes on a very Southern feel. San Souci captures this feeling in his lively text, while Pinkney’s illustrations are (as always) a joy to look at.
The Rainbabies by Laura Krauss Melmed and Jim LaMarche. A couple who long for children find a dozen tiny babies after a rare and lucky moonshower (a rain during a full moon). After several trials where the woman and the man must protect and care for the babies, the rainbabies’ parent comes to claim her children and reward the happy couple for their virtue. This book is a beautiful modern folktale with stunning painted illustrations.
The Snow Spider by Jenny Nimmo. Gwyn has dreaded celebrating the day of his birth ever since his older sister, Bethan, disappeared on the night of his birthday many years before. However, on Gwyn’s special ninth birthday his grandmother reveals that he is a magician and gives him five peculiar gifts that turn out to have magical qualities. Will Gwyn be able to use his new powers to find his long lost sibling?
Horton Halfpott, or, the Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or, the Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset by Tom Angleberger. You would never think that the loosening of a tight piece of clothing would be the cause of major upset at Smugwick Manor, but indeed, it is the cataclysmic event known as The Loosening that allows Smugwick Manor’s most downtrodden kitchen boy, Horton Halfpott, to aid in solving a diabolical mystery, deal with nefarious land bound pirates and fall in love with an eligible young heiress.
Sandry’s Book by Tamora Pierce. Sandry, a noble who lives in a fantastical world, was tested for the gift of magic and told she did not have any. After a tragedy in which she loses her entire family, Sandry is discovered by one of the most powerful mages in her world and told she has an unusual type of magic. After a series of mishaps, Sandry moves into a small house with three other children who also have rare gifts. Sandry and her new friends must learn to use their extraordinary skills to benefit their own lives and be of use to the world.
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen. Sixteen-year-old Jessica has always felt that she was born to run. She never feels as alive or as happy as when she is running around her town with her dog, Sherlock. Jessica has long been one of the top runners on her track team and is looking forward to winning another meet. All of this ends abruptly when the track team bus is involved in a terrible accident that leaves one of Jessica’s teammates dead and Jessica an amputee, with only one remaining leg. Jessica is certain her life is over. It will take a special gift from Jessica’s friends and family to help her realize her running dream.
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson. Ginny has always been in awe of her giddy, artistic Aunt Peg. After her aunt passes away due to brain cancer Ginny receives a ticket to London and 13 blue envelopes, to be opened when Ginny reaches specific destinations. As Ginny travels from place to place, following her late aunt’s instructions, she discovers more about her aunt and herself than she could have ever imagined.
The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud. Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice that is just beginning his magical education. Before Nathaniel can get too far, an older, more experienced and very nasty magician named Simon Lovelace humiliates him in front of his teachers. Determined to get revenge, Nathaniel summons a djinni named Bartimaeus and sends him to steal a powerful artifact from Lovelace. The real gift in this book is Bartimaeus himself, both to the reader and to Nathaniel. The djinni’s wisecracks and hilarious side comments make him the star of the show. A colleague also highly recommends this book in audio format, which she says is amazing for family road trips.
The Repurposed Library: 33 Crafts That Give Old Books New Life by Lisa Occhipinti. This book is a great read for bibliophiles and e-reader fans alike. Occipinti presents readers with 33 do-it-yourself projects that all use, you guessed it, books. This volume is accompanied with instructions and gorgeous photographs of finished projects. Any of these unique craft projects (I’m absolutely making the kitchen implements holder) would make a great gift.
The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. Gretchen Rubin was married, with a rewarding career and two wonderful children. However, she had a thought while riding the subway. Life is short – time to focus on the things that really matter. Rubin decides to embark on a yearlong project designed to enhance her happiness. Along the way, the author shares her triumphs and discoveries and gives her readers a blueprint for beginning their own happiness projects.
Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell. Gail Caldwell writes a deeply touching story of her friendship with fellow author Caroline Knapp. The two women find in each other the kind of relationship that is built on acceptance of, and love for their strengths and flaws. Caroline does pass away due to cancer, but her friendship with Gail still lives on in this book. Heartbreaking and bittersweet but not overly melodramatic, Let’s Take the Long Way Home captures the joy of deep friendship and a soul-level connection.
A Secret Gift: How One Man's Kindness--and a Trove of Letters--Revealed the Hidden History of the Great Depression by Ted Gup. Gup is going through his late grandfather’s belongings when he comes across a suitcase full of letters. As the author reads through them he discovers that his grandfather, Sam Stone, was a secret benefactor during the Great Depression. Stone put an ad in the local newspaper telling families to write letters of their troubles. The 75 neediest would be selected to anonymously receive a cash prize. Gup pens a beautiful story of hard times, American experience and one extraordinary man who did what he could to aid people in distress.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Flavia de Luce is the youngest of three sisters growing up in 1950s England. Her passions are chemistry and poisons and she spends most of her time tinkering in her inherited laboratory. One morning Flavia hears a strange noise coming from the family garden. Going out to investigate, Flavia discovers a dying man, who manages to gasp out a single word before he expires in the cabbages. Flavia could not be more delighted by this interesting event and immediately sets out to solve the mystery of the murdered stranger. Flavia is a spunky, interesting and very well written heroine. Her most recent (and holiday themed) mystery is I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.
Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hern. In a fantastical version of feudal-era Japan, youth Takeo witnesses the death of his entire village at the hands of a cruel warlord. After his escape, Takeo is adopted by a different warlord – the noble Lord Otori. It is within the household of Lord Otori that Takeo discovers he was born to a special tribe of assassins, all of whom inherit supernatural abilities. As he learns to control his gifts, Takeo must seize his destiny as the man who will overthrow the warlord who slaughtered his family and step into a position of power in his world. This is the first book in a trilogy.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. In the year 2044, real life is horror on earth. Like most of the world’s population, Wade Watts spends any free time in OASIS – an online virtual paradise. By chance, Wade discovers across a puzzle (the first in a series) left behind by the legendary creator of OASIS. It is said that whoever solves all the puzzles will win treasures beyond imagination. Now Wade is in a fight for his life as he races against ruthless players from across the globe to be the ultimate champion.
Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence by Nick Bantock. This book begins with a postcard. A woman named Sabine sends a gorgeous postcard to artist Griffin, commenting on a change he made to a work. Griffin is stunned – not only has he never met this Sabine, she has seen artwork of his that he has never shown to another soul. Soon the two form a wonderful connection that begins to blossom into a long distance relationship. The first in a trilogy, Griffin and Sabine is a book made up of letters, some of which the reader can actually take out and read.
--Jenna Zarzycki works at the King County Library in Woodinville