2021 Book Gifting Ideas
For kids and adults!
Wrapping up another year means wrapping up another Goodreads Reading Challenge! So far, I’m at 57 out of 50 books. The list of books I’ve read this year includes 10 by Jason Reynolds (working on number 11!) and 16 romance novels. That’s what happens when you work through the “Bridgerton” series and discover the genre of genre convention-romance 😉 I’m still not doing a great job of starting, much less completing, non-fiction books. My list is primarily middlegrade, YA and easy-to-read adult literature. But it’s certainly been an enjoyable year of reading. So I wanted to share some highlights from my list, as well as some favorites we’ve discovered with Joss this year, if you’re looking for some book-gifting inspiration!
Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera
Published April 13, 2021; Recommended for ages 8-12 (but adults can enjoy it too!)
I discovered this book at Central Library under their “new releases” table outside the kids area. One reason I picked it up was that I’d recently finished reading “Cemetery Boys” by Aiden Thomas, a 2020 YA book about a transgender Latinx teen who comes from a family of brujos and brujas. Put very simply, Brujas have healing magic, while brujos can help set souls free so they’re not bound to earth, where they will eventually lose the last of their humanity. Yadriel is determined to prove he is a brujo, and the story goes from there. Also recommended – the book’s recommended ages are 13-18, so it’s for an older audience than “Cece.”
Anyway, “Cece Rios and the Desert of Souls” also takes place in a setting with brujos and brujas. So I was interested to read a different perspective on this. In Cece’s village, it’s a crime to become a brujo or bruja. To do so, you have to capture the soul of a criatura – creatures that her village goes to great lengths to keep at bay. But Cece doesn’t think the criaturas are necessarily as dangerous as everyone believes. However, when a criatura captures her sister, Cece determines to rescue her, which means becoming a bruja.
Cece must fight a lot of opposition to do what she believes is right. Plus, all her life she’s been considered “different” and “lesser,” particularly when compared to her older sister. So she finds a lot of courage along the way. And I really loved how her friendships developed with different criaturas.
The Ice House by Monica Sherwood
Published November 16, 2021; Recommended for ages 8-12
This book arrived on our doorstep at TulsaKids. The pandemic meant, among so many other things, hardship for the publication business. But gradually, we’ve begun receiving more advanced copies of upcoming releases. Yes!
“The Ice House” is incredibly timely. The premise is that an unexpected, extended, global winter freeze is keeping everyone indoors. School has gone virtual (what?!), only essential workers are driving, etc. The freeze has been going on for months, through the spring, and when it will end is a popular topic of debate.
Protagonist Louisa’s mother lost her mother early on in the freeze, and is grieving for her deeply. She’s stopped creating art and has no plans to go back to glassblowing even after the freeze ends. Louisa’s friend and neighbor’s father suffers a fall on the ice early in the novel, and he loses his memory, creating a sense of grief for their family as well. Together, Louisa and Luke try to figure out how to help things return to normal, both in their own families and in the world at large. There are some unexpected elements of magic and you have to suspend some disbelief, but I enjoyed it overall.
While “The Ice House” was good, I’d also just finished another book about grief, “The Thing About Jellyfish” by Ali Benjamin, which was a National Book Award Finalist. (Reading age 10+) And of the two, “The Thing About Jellyfish” was the stronger title.
Anything by Jason Reynolds
The reason I read so many books by Jason Reynolds this year is because 1) he’s an amazing writer and 2) I was interviewing him for TulsaKids and wanted to feel prepared! (I was so nervous in any case, but it was a career highlight for sure.) I’d have a hard time recommending just one book of his because you really can’t go wrong! Joss and I read through “Miles Morales: Spider-Man” together, and he enjoyed it, although it’s really for a slightly older audience (YA). The Track series is great (recommended ages 10+); I think the whole series would make an excellent Christmas gift! (You can usually find them and several other Reynolds books at Eleanor’s Bookshop!)
The Jason Reynolds title I’m currently most excited about is “Stuntboy: In the Meantime.” I’m planning to get this for Joss for Christmas. It was just published in November 2021. In the interview, Reynolds was saying that it’s his answer to Captain Underpants. Something that’s fun for kids, irreverent – but with depth as well. I think we will both love this one.
The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik
Published September 28, 2021; YA
First of all, don’t read this if you haven’t read the first book of the series, “A Deadly Education.” And maybe don’t read it if you absolutely hate mind-bending cliffhangers! You could always wait until the third book comes out next year, ha. Anyway, this is a great option for people raised on, say, Harry Potter, who love the idea of a magical school. Only in this case, the magical school is full of creatures that want to eat the students, and there are absolutely no adults present at all. The kids are on their own to learn to survive as best they can. On graduation day, the students take their years of knowledge to the graduation hall, which is jam-packed with monsters. If you make it out, you graduate. If you don’t, you’re dead. It’s INTENSE.
I’ve yet to read a book by Naomi Novik that didn’t fairly blow me away. In the past, I think I’ve picked up one or two, thinking, “Wow, this is long…hope I can make it through.” And then you’re so drawn in it’s over before you’re ready. Specific recommendations include “Spinning Silver,” a retelling of Rumplestiltskin, and “Uprooted,” a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.
Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall
Published May 18, 2021; Romance
I don’t know if this was my favorite favorite romance of the year, but if you’re a fan of the Great British Bake Off, as I am, this one’s a lot of fun. Because it’s basically Bake Off, adapted to a romance novel. The judges and host have different names, but the setting is oh-so-very familiar. Not going to lie, I was thrilled that this book made it onto NPR’s Top 100 Books of 2021, because I’d only read a couple of titles on the list! So it was a relief to see something familiar!
If you discover you love romance books inspired by reality TV shows, you could check out “The Charm Offensive” by Alison Cochrun. It was published in September 2021 and revolves around a (terrible) “Bachelor”-inspired show.
Reading with Joss
It’s been great getting into longer chapter books with Joss this year. While he doesn’t have homework, we are expected to read together for twenty minutes a day, so that’s the majority of our bedtime routine. Recently, he discovered “The 39 Clues” by Rick Riordan, an action/adventure series that follows two kids around the world as they are forced to battle their awful relatives. They’re slightly intense, but with plenty of humor to diffuse the tension.
We also loved reading the two Minalima Harry Potter editions now available. He’s gotten SO into Harry Potter lately, and I think the gorgeous illustrations and interactive elements of these books definitely helped with that. There are several typos in the second one, which is annoying, but they’re still beautiful.
If you’re looking for new books for younger readers, check out these 2021 recommendations from TCCL librarians! Also, KidTimeStoryTime is a good way to discover books. Joss listened to “On Account of the Gum” at school, insisted on listening to it again at home, and now we’ve listened to SO many books via KidTimeStoryTime. Yes, it’s screen time, but at least it’s books! And a lot of the titles I’ve never heard of.
A couple final things. 1) Most of these books I read via eBook thanks to Tulsa City-County Library. Downloading the Kindle app to my phone remains one of the best decisions of my adult life 😉 2) I linked to Amazon throughout because it’s easy and just so you can get a quick overview of the books, but please check with your local bookstores before purchasing! Local favorites include Eleanor’s Bookshop, Fulton Street Books & Coffee, Magic City Books and Whitty Books. All offer online shopping. Eleanor’s Bookshop has a particularly incredible selection of picture books through YA titles. I always end up buying myself a book (or two) from the YA section when we visit. And Joss never has trouble finding a book (or two…or three…) that he needs.
What have your favorite reads of 2021 been so far? Are you gifting books for Christmas – if so, which ones? Let me know in the comments!