Give the gift of literature to young readers this holiday

Thanksgiving is over, and the holiday shopping season has officially begun for even the most reluctant of shoppers. Knock it out with this literary gift guide that runs the gamut from picture book to young adult: It’s full of real-life heroes, magic and mystery. (See our sidebar for choices themed specifically to the season.)

Tons of picture books explore being scared of the dark. Astronaut Chris Hadfield takes this common fear and turns it inside out with “The Darkest Dark” (Little, Brown and Co., $17.99). Inspired by his own childhood, “Dark” shows how someone can come to love the adventures out there in the dark. Young Chris loves playing astronaut, but when it’s bedtime, he wants to crawl into his parents’ bed instead. (There are glowy-eyed monsters afoot, after all.) He’s strictly forbidden from getting out of bed — until the night of the moon landing, when he crowds with the adults around a tiny TV to watch the magic. “Outer space was the darkest dark ever” — but full of opportunity in its mystery. Brothers Terry and Eric Fan mix digital images with ink and graphite to create appropriately otherworldly illustrations. (Ages 4-8)

Hillary Clinton’s concession speech exhorted little girls everywhere to believe in their own value. Reinforce that message with Debbie Levy’s powerful picture-book biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark” (Simon and Schuster, $17.99). Levy traces Ginsburg’s life from a childhood noting deep-rooted prejudice against fellow Jews and other minorities to her success in law school, the courtroom and finally to America’s highest court. It’s a story that illustrates how dissenting doesn’t have to mean being disagreeable. Vibrant illustrations from Elizabeth Baddeley, including augmented typography, add to the storytelling. (Ages 4-8, though even older readers will enjoy the lessons and might dive further into the resources provided in a fact-filled endpaper.)

Already seen “Fantastic Beasts” and on the hunt for some Potter-esque fantasy? Look for the Golden Circle, the distinctive mark of a group of magicians known as the Alchemists’ Club. Young Archie Greene has been marked — though he doesn’t yet know why. Find out along with Archie, his cousins Thistle and Bramble, and other apprentices in “Archie Greene and the Alchemists’ Curse” (HarperCollins, $16.99), the second book in a series from D.D. Everest. (Ages 8-12)

Jeff Nichols’ movie “Loving,” about the real-life Virginia couple who set the scene for striking down laws against interracial marriage, might not be for kids, but the lessons of acceptance are all-ages appropriate. Enter Patricia Hruby Powell’s “Loving vs. Virginia” (Chronicle Books, $ 21.99), a “documentary novel” about the case designed for middle-graders. Written in free verse and including archival photographs as well as excerpts from laws and speeches and spare yet affecting drawings from Ezra Jack Keats-award winning illustrator Shadra Strickland, “Loving” offers insights into the couple who never imagined they would make civil-rights history. (Ages 8-12)

Darling Dimple has been banished from pot scrubbing, pressed into service (literally) as the linen ironer to Princess Mariposa. When she discovers a forgotten closet crammed with frocks, the action begins in “100 Dresses: If the Magic Fits” (Random House, $16.99), Susan Maupin Schmid’s start to a planned trilogy. Turns out that each dress can disguise Darling as someone else, which comes in handy as she discovers just how much trickery is afoot in the castle. Perfect for fans of fairy tales with a modern twist. (Ages 8-12)

Petite Francophiles and mini foodies alike will dive into the armchair travel offered by “Fanny in France” (Viking/Penguin, $19.99), organic pioneer and restaurateur Alice Waters’ follow-up to “Fanny at Chez Panisse.” “France” also follows her (now-grown in real life) daughter Fanny, this time at age 9 as she travels to visit her famous mother’s Gallic pals. She tastes sea urchin fresh from the surf, assembles a salade niçoise and watches a sheep farmer turn milk into cheese. This coffee-table book for middle-graders, with its lively watercolors from Ann Arnold and accessible French-inspired recipes, could propel your kids into the kitchen faster than a rerun of “Master Chef Junior.” (Ages 8-12)

When Nico’s older sister Sarah disappeared, Nico was secretly a bit relieved: Even though the trauma weighed heavy on her parents, Nico remembers how mean Sarah could be to her. Four years pass, and the unthinkable happens — Sarah is found. But the girl who comes home is different than Nico remembers. Is it because of what she’s suffered? Or is this girl not really Sarah at all? Cylin Busby plays “The Stranger Game” (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $17.99) to the hilt, crafting a twisty-turny young-adult version of the unreliable-narrator novel perfect for page turning. (Ages 13 and older)

When people move into Vassa’s Brooklyn, “suddenly their shoes are cuter than they are. … They put on tiny feathered hats and go to parties in warehouses.” Familiar, perhaps, but everyone’s favorite artisan ’hood gets a darkly folkloric reboot in Sarah Porter’s “Vassa in the Night” (Tor Books, $17.99), a reimagining of the Vassilissa folktale complete with Baba Yaga as an evil storekeeper with a penchant for beheading shoplifters. Vassa spends three nights battling magic, but this richly imagined story is also a meditation on belonging and the everlasting pull of home. Creepy, lush and delightful. (Ages 13 and older)

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Insight and Books

Was Jeff Davis Avenue named after a different Jefferson Davis?
Was Jeff Davis Avenue named after a different Jefferson Davis?

Pop quiz: Jeff Davis was ________________________. (a) A populist governor and U.S. Senator from Arkansas in the early 1900s. (b) A comedian on the TV show “Whose line is it anyway?” (c) The first and only president of the Confederacy. (d) An artist who creates mementos out of old vinyl records. OK, technically all four of those men were...
Letters to the editor: April 26, 2018
Letters to the editor: April 26, 2018

Re: April 23 letter to the editor, “Mafia? Comey flatters Trump.” I’ve stood blithely by while insults are hurled back and forth between opposing political and social factions without ever saying or writing a word of protest. But now one of your readers has gone too far. As co-captain of the Hooligan golf group in Georgetown, I must...
Commentary: Help pre-K kids manage feelings instead of suspending them
Commentary: Help pre-K kids manage feelings instead of suspending them

What about the four-year-old who tears posters off the classroom wall? Or the pre-K student who threw his shoes? Those are two of the responses we’ve received to our report about the 101,000 times Texas school districts suspended students in pre-K through second grade in a single year. We can imagine how frustrating and disruptive it was for...
Commentary: Austin City Council shouldn’t gut important ethics law
Commentary: Austin City Council shouldn’t gut important ethics law

The Austin City Council votes Thursday on whether to eviscerate one of Austin’s most important ethics and conflicts-of-interest laws. This law requires that at least two-thirds of the Planning Commission, who are appointed by the mayor and council, to be “lay members not connected directly or indirectly to real estate and land development...
Why Austin isn’t getting as much affordable housing money as you might think

Facing an urgent need to fund more affordable housing in Austin, the City Council set its sights on some tax dollars it figured no one would miss. New tax dollars. Specifically, the shiny new tax revenue that materializes when government-owned land, which doesn’t pay property taxes, becomes private housing, commercial...
More Stories