An AAR Gift Guide: Children and YA

Following on from our Gift Guide for lovers of Romantic Mysteries, we’re now presenting some ideas for you if you are going to give books as gifts to Children and Young Adults. AAR staffers have come up with some of their favourite books; a mixture of classics, and more recently published tales to suit a variety of tastes.

Anne suggests a selection of classic children’s books, saying that there are some that today’s children might be familiar with. She remembers growing up watching Heidi on TV, but recalls that the most recent adaptation was in 2005, so that younger girls might not have heard of it. The same is true of books such as The Secret Garden, The Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island, and many others. These classics live on because parents (and relatives) give a nice copy to a child and say “This was my favorite book growing up.” The book doesn’t always “take” the first time, but maybe later?…

I would certainly say that perhaps the complexity of the writing in some of the books we regard as children’s classics is – today – beyond many in the age group they are aimed at, but they’re terrific books to read to your child. Mine loved having Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen(which I remember from school in the 1970s!), Clive King’s Stig of the Dump and Dodie Smith’s 101 Dalmatians and The Twilight Barking read to them when they were younger.

Another favourite is Anne of Green Gables – Blythe says that for her, it never gets old and that she loved it as a girl and then loved reading it to her children. There are some nice editions out there, but personally, she prefers a good paperback that can be dog-eared and worn into the ground (which is what her original copy looks like!)

Still on the theme of the traditional, last year, my youngest (then aged 12) asked for a complete edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (she especially wanted one that has the original endings and not the sanitised versions now found in some editions!) I got her the Wordsworth Classics edition, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham, which she loves and dips into all the time.

And when my kids were younger, no pre-Christmas bedtime was complete in my house without a reading of Twas the Night Before Christmasby Clement Clarke Moore. Our version is sadly now out of print, but there are plenty of other editions to choose from.

For the Middle-schooler (or lower, if you have an advanced reader), Caroline recommends Jane, the Fox, and Me by Fannie Britt and Isabelle Arsenault.

Helene, on the outs with the Mean Girls in her class and worried about her weight, takes comfort and companionship from her copy of Jane Eyre. This is a pretty and lovely Canadian graphic novel translated from French. Not only will a young reader enjoy it, but it might pique her interest in reading Jane’s story too!

Melanie’s current favourite picture book is Julia’s House for Lost Creatures. She loves both the creatures and the story (Julia’s lonely by herself, but her new housemates don’t clean up after themselves! What a mess!), and it works really well for little kids (her 3-year-old niece loves it, as does her 6-yr-old cousin, athough it’s too early to tell with her 18-month-old nephew because he’s still at the pulling out pages stage…).

Like mother, like daughter, my eldest is a huge fan of historical novels, and for the budding historian aged 11-15, she recommends Theresa Breslin’s The Nostradamus Prophecy, a fast-paced historical thriller, and for older fans, Eve Edwards’ trilogy of novels set in Tudor England, The Other Countess, The Queen’s Lady and The Rogue’s Princess, three novels linked through the brothers who are the heroes, and in which the historical detail is very well observed and written. And although this was mentioned in another of our Gift Guides, I can’t pass up the chance to wholeheartedly recommend Sherry Thomas’ Elemental Trilogy (The Burning Sky, The Perilous Sea and The Immortal Heights) which is a wonderfully gripping mixture of magical fantasy adventure and romance, perfect for older teens and YA readers.

And finally, Haley has given us a fabulous list of recommendations for children, teens and YA readers:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling and illustrated by Jim Kay. 

If you have a child in your life that is coming to the age for reading Harry Potter the first time, let it be this edition. I wish I’d had this version when I was eight years old and got Harry Potter as my Christmas gift. Kay’s illustrations are detailed, whimsical, and so true to the story. Each page as some kind of detailing, even it is just made to look like stains, or little potion bottles lining the bottom, or perhaps clouds. The full page illustrations of the major characters are fantastic. I am planning to give this to some adults I know who, like me, are lifelong fans.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

This book won the Newbery award so it doesn’t need any lauding from me, but I will say this is a book that stuck with me. Ivan is a gorilla who lives in a cramped enclosure at a shopping mall. He likes to draw and fantasizes about eating human food. Other than that, he keeps to himself. As a narrator, he is succinct because, as he explains, gorillas are serious and quiet – not like chimps and humans. When a baby elephant joins to menagerie at the mall, it spurs Ivan’s desire to free the other animals. This is based on the true story of Ivan the Gorilla who lived to be 50 years old, and sadly spent 27 of those years in a 14×14 concrete enclosure at a shopping mall, until public outrage got him moved to a zoo. This book made me cry like a baby in the best way and I recommend it for animals lovers young and old.

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner

Skippyjon is my favorite picture book character. This silly Siamese kitten dreams of being a chihuahua bandito who would fight evil in a cape and mask. The illustrations are beyond adorable (who wouldn’t love Skippy’s giant ears?) and the story is fun and lyrical. Plus, if the child in your life enjoys it, there are several more in the series to continue with. This book is good for kindergarten age and up.

Is There a Dog in This Book? by Viviane Schwarz

This picture book is a go-to favorite for when I need a read aloud. The cats in the book are worried that a dog as gotten in and need the reader’s help in hiding. The interactive flaps add an extra layer of fun to the story. This is great for preschool aged children.

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Another Newbery winner, and perfect for older elementary age children. This free-verse story about a young girl living in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl is one that I read as a child, and has stuck with me since. The free-verse format lends a sparseness to the narration that is perfect for the setting. Hesse’s poetic approach to such a difficult time period makes this a great book for introducing young readers to the history of the Great Depression in an accessible way.


A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

This may have been my favorite new book of 2015. It is YA, but seems to be more grown up that some other books in the genre. This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, or perhaps East of the Sun West of the Moon, set in a world where humans live precariously alongside dangerous fae. The world that Maas has built is anything but Happily Ever After. Feyre’s family is on the brink of starvation and poor when she kills what she thinks is a wolf in the woods. That wolf was actually a fae in disguise, and as retribution, Feyre must go live with the High Lord of the Spring Court. The whole reason to read this book is Tamlin, the High Lord. He is everything you want in a sexy leading man. This is perfect for those that love fairy tales or fantasy romance. I would save this one for older teens, as the sexuality is more frank (although not explicit) than some YA. I also think it is perfect reading for adult romance fans as well.

The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

I love this whole series, and I love Meyer. The first book is Cinder, which is a sci-fi adaption of Cinderella. I was hooked from the start on the idea of a cyborg Cinderella, and an evil queen who lives on the moon. Each book in the series continues the storyline, while introducing a new set of characters and new fairy tale. Book two is Scarlet, and adds a spaceship driving delivery girl Red Riding Hood and a genetically mutated wolf man. Book three is called Cress and introduces Rapunzel, who is stuck in a satellite rather than a tower, and space-pirate Captain Thorne. The most recent book – Winter – just came out and I adored the version of Snow White that Meyer wrote. Winter is the princess of Luna who is slowly going mad. Rather than prince charming, her love interest is her guard Jacin (who plays the role of the huntsman ordered to kill Snow White.) The series also has a novella about the evil queen Levana called Fairest and several short stories that will soon be released as a collection. Meyer does excellent romance, action, as well as humor. All of the characters are fully formed and you’ll remember them long after you stop reading.

Penryn and the End of Days series by Susan Ee

The first book, Angelfall, starts six weeks after a Biblical-esque apocalypse started on earth. An angel came down to deliver a message to mankind, but was shot down, and now the angels are decimating the human population. Penryn is trying to protect her mentally-ill mother and handicapped sister when a run in with the angels throws off her plans. She is forced to team up with an injured angel, Raffe, to save her sister. These books have action, romance, and a touch of horror. Each one is a book you’ll want to read in one sitting. Excellent for teens or adults who like paranormal romance and don’t mind things getting a little creepy.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor

Karou is a teenager with an unusual background. You see, she was raised by monsters in a shop that deals in magic and teeth (yes, teeth). This series is still one of the most unique stories I have ever read. Taylor’s writing is beautiful, and sometimes harsh. The second book, Days of Blood and Starlight, broke my heart. The sexy angel warrior, Akiva, is one of my all-time favorite leads and the world-building is impeccable.

The Rephaim series by Paula Weston

This series originates from Australia (as does the author), so some of the books haven’t been released in the US yet. The first two are available, and international readers can easily get all four. (They are definitely available from Amazon UK – ed.) I loved them so much that I ordered the last two from a seller in the UK so I wouldn’t have to wait until their US release dates. The first book, Shadows introduces the reader to Gaby, who is living in Pandanus Beach after a tragic car accident that killed her brother. She has nightmares about fighting demons and, when she turns one of those nightmares into a story and posts it online, it attracts some paranormal attention. These are action packed and the story line moves quickly. I think the whole series probably takes place in the span of less than two weeks. Great for teens, but be warned there is some language and sexuality that isn’t seen as often in the cleaner YA books that are released in the US.






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12/18/2015 3:47 am

I really second Jane, the Fox and Me. All the people I suggested it to, loved it.

Reply to  Paola
12/18/2015 6:00 pm

That one sounded good to me too. I just ordered it for a Christmas present for my niece.

Reply to  Blackjack1
12/18/2015 9:57 pm

Yay! It really is a lovely book.