2018 Gift Ideas


Friends often ask me for book recommendations for kids and gifts, especially at this time of year. It’s maybe my favorite thing to be asked, honestly. But I want to have a place to send folks for ideas, so this is it. If you have readers on your list, here are my Gift Idea Lists for 2018

Best of the Lists (tl;dr version)

In short form, the top TWO from each of my “major” age ranges; just title, author and target audience.

  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (MG)
  • Skellig by David Almond (MG)
  • A Heart In a Body in the World by Deb Caletti (YA)
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (YA)
  • Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly (Adult)
  • Exit West by Moshin Hamid (Adult)

Gift Idea Lists

The lists consist of books I’ve read this year (for the most part), though not all of them were written this year (not even most of them, really). Each entry includes the title of the book or series with a one sentence “review.” For more in-depth reviews, you can click on the title on my Goodreads “Read” Page.

Picture Books & Early Readers

  • Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo -Best friends roller skating and eating pancakes
  • The Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke – Captivating, Ramona-ish character, lives in Nigeria
  • What Do They Do With All That Poo? by Jane Kurtz – Nonfiction guaranteed to fascinate kids
  •  Kate, Who Tamed the Wind by Liz Garton Scanlon – Heartwarming friendship between a young girl and her older neighbor 

Middle Grade (8-12 years old)

  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill – Simply magic. Fans of Rene Girard pay special attention.
  • Skellig by David Almond – Roald Dahl meets Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – The one and only animal voice you’ll ever need.
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson – Middle school kids solve a compelling mystery while exhuming the history of race in the US.

Between MG and YA (13)

A friend asked me for some recommendations for her daughter, who is on the cusp of YA, but maybe not ready for as much maturity as she thinks she is. Here’s my take on what might work, though I’m skipping reviews here for books mentioned elsewhere in the Lists.

  • When  You Reach Me or Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead – Puzzles and friendship and the seeds of adolescence.
  • Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden or That One Summer by Jillian Tamaki (graphic novels)
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • One by Sarah Crossan or Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay – Teens facing challenging issues and not being entirely lovable in the process (novels-in-verse)

Young Adult (14+)

  • A Heart In a Body in the World by Deb Caletti – “I have to do something,” Annabelle says. Then she runs from Seattle to Washington D.C.
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – Simply the best coming of age story, ever.
  • Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert – Grief, art, intersectionality, and family secrets.
  • Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour – A set designer discovers she can’t design people’s lives, especially not for the girl she’s falling in love with.
  • What If It’s Us? by Becky Albertelli and Adam Silvera – The fluffy, sweet M/M romance we’ve all been waiting for.
  • Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan – Surprise! The author really played you. And you TOTALLY fell for it. Now you have heart eyes.

Children’s Literature Classics

  • Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume – The Judy Blume you skipped when you were a kid because it didn’t have any sex  (YA, but appropriate for MG readers).
  • The Twenty One Balloons by William Pene Du Bois (upper elementary) – A 1948 Newbery award-winner that might have inspired the movie Up.

Graphic Novels

  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang – A girl with ambition and a genderqueer prince in a book with big heart (grade school/middle school).
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale – Will make you remember exactly what social life in elementary school was actually like, or will help kids navigate it themselves (grade school).
  • The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – An intergenerational Vietnamese family memoir (high school & adult).
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden – Coming of age and coming out in competitive ice skating (MG-YA).
  • That One Summer by Jillian Tamaki – Coming of age on summer vacation (MG-YA/adult).

Surviving Evangelicalism

  • Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free by Linda Kay Klein – The title says it all (adult, nonfiction).
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson – Torturous youth group romances, revisited (YA/adult graphic novel).
  • As the Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman – Woke kids forced to go camping with unsophisticated adults who frame their way of thinking as “faith” (YA graphic novel).
  • Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens – Youth group friendships rendered sweetly, with an undercurrent of tension around gender identity (YA).


  • Heating and Cooling: 52 Micro Memoirs by Beth Ann Fennelly – Quick reads, flawless writing, and complete hilarity
  • An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green – A speculative, page-turning romp.
  • Educated by Tara Westover – The most fascinating misery lit of the year.
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – You won’t like her much in the beginning but then you’ll love her fiercely and miss her when she’s gone. Fans of therapy and A Man Called Ove, pay special attention.
  • Exit West by Moshin Hamid – Hamid has a gift for making his characters us, and this book is as important as it gets.


  • How the Dukes Stole Christmas by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan and Joanna Shupe – Four “dukes,” an intergenerational biscuit recipe and some really great romance writers.
  • Born to be Wilde by Eloisa James – The best romance of 2018, hands down, a heroine so alive and real she’ll make you cry.
  • Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn – Second book in the new Rokesby series–the prequel to our beloved Bridgertons


  • I Crawl Through It by A.S. King*
  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Educated by Tara Westover
  • The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

*Note I Crawl Through It is the most important book I’ve read in my graduate program, and I listened to it. It is NOT for everyone. It’s surreal. And I mean that literally: It’s about being a girl and school and self and grief and loss and invisible helicopters and assault and places with no departures. You can read my extended review here.


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