Classics make fine gifts, but if you don’t know if they’ve read it already, here are some great books just out or nearly so (Kids’ interest levels, reading competence and maturity vary greatly, so age /grade levels are merely a guide) :
Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. Sophisticated teens and young adults – and anyone else — will be completely absorbed within the first five pages of the 650-page series opener by the author of Ender’s Game. You’ll bond, instantaneously, with the characters. Rigg is a boy who can manipulate the past. The result is an amalgamation of adventure, politics, and time travel that invokes issues of class and the right to control one’s own life, according to Publisher’s Weekly. Brimming with philosophical and scientific mysteries, yet a page-turner with a heart-pounding climax. Epic and there’s more to come. Teen/young adult
2. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley. A graphic novel that is also epic in scope. IN this and five sequels, Scott must defeat seven evil ex-boyfriends of a certain girl …..and stay alive. He’ll learn something about what it takes to win the heart of the woman he loves. Available in a 6-book box-set. No age recommendations.
3. Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier. One day the editors exchanged heated emails about the particular merits of zombies and unicorns. This anthology is a result of that debate. Six authors, led by Black, write in support of the unicorns; six authors led by Larbalestier support zombies. “If you’re strong enough to read all the stories, you will know by the end of the anthology, which is better.” Teen/young adult.
4. White Cat by Holly Black. Mon-style gangster magicians. Cassel, 17, hasn’t got magic powers like the rest of his family. He the straight kids on a crooked bunch – except he killed his friend Lila three years ago. Sleepwalking, he has terrifying dreams about a white cat that wants him to tell him something. Young adult.
5. Center Field by Robert Lipsyte. A boy’s novel. High School junior Mike Semak seems to have it made – baseball team captain and a popular girlfriend. Then he loses his temper with a geeky classmate, Zack, and a mysterious teammate, Oscar Ramirez, arrives out of nowhere with a murky birth date and questionable immigration status. Ethical issues explored. Some stereotypes go unexplored, but the baseball sequences get five stars. Teen/young adult.
6. How to Do Nothing With Nobody All Alone By Yourself by Robert Paul Smith. By-gone pleasures of childhood recalled. Litigious parents should skip this one. Ages 6-12.
7. Book of Totally Irresponsible Science by Sean Connolly. Fun experiments just might get your recipient off to a career in science. Sometimes a blast, literally. Always fascinating. Ages 9-12.
8. Adventure of a Cat-Whiskered Girl by Daniel Pinkwater A girl and her doppelganger and a romp in Poughkeepsie. A kooky mystery, only possible from the quirky mind of Daniel Pinkwater. Ages 9-12
9. The Boneshaker by Kate Milford. Thirteen year old Natalie Minks understands machinery and logic. It’s 1913. When Dr. Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show reaches her town of Arcane, Mo., promising miraculous healing and snake-oil cures, and it becomes clear to Natalie that she is the town’s only hope of survival. The book is enhanced by full-page drawings to help put the puzzle together. Compared to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). Theme: children and the struggle between good and evil. Teen/young adult.
10. Sebastian Darke, Prince of Explorers by Phillip Caveney. Elfling Sebastian and his companions, the tiny but mighty warrior Cornelius and talking buffalope, Max, lead an expedition through the jungle to find the legendary lost city of Mendip. Old fashioned adventure story elements, including comic relief. Third of a series.
11. The Steps Across the Water by Adam Gopnik Being compared to Alice in Wonderland, this book begins in Central Park, New York. Rose, adopted, feels out of place in New York. But one day a crystal staircase rises out of the lake in the park and beckons her into the world of the U Norkians, far more spectacular that run of the mill Big Apple, but the U Norkians need her help. Themes of identity and the meaning of home.
12. Guys Read: Funny Business, edited by Jon Scieszka Aimed to lure resistant boys into a love of reading, this book just might succeed. The anthology features stories by Whimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney, Eoin Colfer, who begat Artemis Fowl, and Scieszka, among others. A great present for Captain Underpants grads. Ages 9-12.
13. School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari Had Charlie Brown known what to call it, at lunch when he saw the little red-haired girl, he might have had arachibutyrophobia – fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth. And in a parallel universe it might have landed him in the School of Fear with Madeleine, Theo, Lulu, and Garrison. But this is the dark side, at an elite school for eradicating children’s fears. These four 12-year-olds are ostensibly sent there to overcome fears of bugs, confined spaces, water, and death, but the school isn’t what it seems. Forced to learn waving and proper pageant smiling for hours on end, the students wonder if they’ll ever escape, but they must face their fears to get away. School Library Journal says its “hilarious for its over-the-top gloominess” and recommends it for Series of Unfortunate Events fans. Ages 9-12.
14. Supposing… by Alistair Reid. Thought provoking, creativity stimulating for divergent thinkers or those you hope to encourage that way. Surprise, the text was written in the 1960s, but the illustrations are new this year. A New York Review Children’s Collection. Presents slightly skewed one-page “what if” scenarios that are guaranteed to engage the make you think. Inappropriate for children only to those who forgot what it was like to be a child. Listed ages 4-8. Really, for us all.