Posted in Lists, Writing

10 Best Gifts to Give to Writers

[This post has *nothing* to do with the fact that my birthday is in one month. Nothing at all. Total coincidence.]

If there’s a writer in your life, when gift-giving holidays arrive, you may find yourself scratching your head in bewilderment. What do I get for someone who spends their days hunched over a desk trying desperately to write the Great-American-Something? Advil? Tissues? A therapy appointment? The answer is yes, yes, and yes. But also no. While necessary and appreciated, those gifts are not much fun to unwrap. Instead, give the writer you love something from this list.

10 Best Gifts to Give to Writers

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1. Books & The Ability to Buy More Books

Writers, by nature, are also readers, so books are always welcome. If your writer friend is just starting out, consider getting her one of these excellent titles:

  • On Writing, by Stephen King
  • Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg
  • Writing Irresistible KidLit, by Mary Kole
  • The current Writer’s Market

But don’t limit your shopping to just books about craft. Give us fiction, give us mystery, give us horror. Many writers enjoy reading across genres, so give us a book you love and we’ll probably love it too. Or, if you don’t know what to choose, a gift card to a book store always works.

2. Magazine Subscriptions

Magazines also make great gifts, especially if you get the right ones. Find out which publications your writer friend reads most and get them a subscription. (My personal favorite is Writers’ Digest.) This is the gift that keeps on giving—every time the new issue arrives in their mailbox, they’ll think of you!

WritersDigest

3. The Gift of Belonging

One of the fun parts of being a writer is finding other writers to hang out with and learn from, which is why it’s great that organizations like the Writers’ League of Texas exist. But being a part of the club costs money, as do workshops and conferences. Consider giving the writer in your life a membership to an organization or donate money to help fund an upcoming event.

4. We *Heart* Office Supplies

Some people love shopping for furniture. Others enjoy browsing the aisles at Home Depot. Me? I never pass up a trip to Staples. Folders and binders and push pins and pencils! And Sharpies! Soooooooo many colors of Sharpies! If you want to bring a smile to a writer’s face, give her a gift basket of office supplies. Printer paper, pens, highlighters, Post-It notes, erasers… You can even throw in a rubber band ball or a staple remover. The geekier the better.

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5. Tech Support

Not everyone gets as excited about sushi-shaped erasers and giant paper clips as I do. If you’re looking for a more practical gift, consider one of these:

  • Voice Recorder – Handy for when great ideas arrive while driving. Also great for recording stories or chapters for revision or practicing for poetry readings.
  • Scrivener – Personally, I haven’t yet tried this writing software, but I’ve heard great things.

6. Coffee & Chocolate

Coffee and chocolate are writing fuel. By giving your writer friend a bag of Dove Dark Chocolate Squares or a large café au lait, you are giving her the gift of energy and inspiration and the ability to face rejection. In short, you are giving her a little bit of yummy magic. Who doesn’t love yummy magic?

Not sure of your friend’s favorite drink or chocolaty snack? Get her a gift card to her favorite coffee shop or bakery instead.

7. Homemade Inspirations

Personalized gifts are the best. If you’re feeling crafty, MAKE something for the writer in your life. Here are some of my favorite homemade gifts:

My cousin Kelley made these word blocks for me years ago, and I’m still finding surprising new poetic combinations.

WordBlocksCollage

My friend Emily knows the main character of my middle grade novel is a gamer who loves Galaga, so she gave me this needlepoint of his favorite game. It hangs on the wall in my office.

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Emily also made me this Writer’s Block Unblocker, which comes in handy.

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8. Literary-Themed Trinkets

If you like the idea of creative gifts but are not the crafty type, let someone else do the work for you and shop at one of these sites. They offer everything from novels printed on t-shirts to coffee mugs for grammar nerds to inspirational posters and jewelry.

9. Snail Mail Love

For just the price of a stamp and a little of your time, you can make a writer’s day. Writers love writing, and everyone loves finding something other than junk mail in their mailbox. So send a snail mail letter that your writer friend can read outside in the grass when they need to take a break from the computer screen. Or, better yet, send them a postcard. Postcards are like little missiles of inspiration, especially if they’re from somewhere exotic. That’s why mine decorate the wall above my desk.

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10. The Gift of Publicity

The #1 gift you can give a writer doesn’t even cost the price of a stamp. That’s the gift of promotion. Did one of their short stories appear online? Send the link to a friend! Did their blog make you laugh? Post it on Facebook! Did they publish a book? Give it a good rating on Goodreads and then tell everyone about it! The BEST gift you can give a writer is sharing her work with the world.

 🙂  Happy gift-giving!

Posted in Lists, Reading

11 Modern Picture Books That Make Great Baby Shower Gifts

Books make the best gifts. Period. And buying a book for a baby shower means not having to set foot inside a Babies R Us or search through online registries full of products called Chew-Choos and Boogie Bulbs. I don’t know what either of those are, and I don’t want to.

Plus, these particular books make great gifts because they were all published after the year 2000. Everyone loves the classics—Where the Wild Things Are, The Giving Tree, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, everything by Dr. Seuss—but many families already own those well-loved titles. If you choose a book off this list, there’s a good chance the baby-to-be’s parents don’t already have a copy. (Unless of course they’re teachers or librarians, in which case they’ll be impressed with your impeccable taste in literature.)

It’s important to point out that these aren’t board books (the thick-paged tomes made for young babies with a stronger appetite for grabbing and chewing than for reading). Most of these are aimed at children ages four through eight, but they still make great baby shower gifts because:
A) Books don’t go bad.
B) It’s never too early to start a child’s library.
C) These are books that parents will enjoy reading too. They’re creative and sweet and thought-provoking and hilarious and, in the case of I Want My Hat Back, a little bit shocking. Plus, a couple of the books in this list will help prepare Mom and Dad for some of the precious predicaments they’re likely to encounter in parenthood.

One more note: I do not believe in genderizing gifts for kids, especially books. You won’t find any advice here about gender. If you’re wondering if the book is good for girls or boys, the answer is yes. I would give any book on this list to any child.

MollyLou

1. Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon

Written by Patty Lovell, Illustrated by David Catrow – 2001

“Molly Lou Melon had buck teeth that stuck so far out, she could stack pennies on them. She didn’t mind. Her grandma had told her, ‘Smile big and the world will smile right alongside you.’ So she did.” I love everything about this book, from the quirky little character to the colorful illustrations to the great message about being yourself even when faced with adversity.

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2. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Written and illustrated by Mo Willems – 2005

If you’re not acquainted with Mo Willems, you should be. He’s written dozens of children’s books and they’re all amazing (and difficult to keep on our library shelves) but Knuffle Bunny is my favorite. This cute father/daughter story about what happens when a beloved stuffed animal gets left at a Laundromat uses a combination of color drawings and black and white photographs to create unique images. Also, it’s the first in a series of three books, so it lends itself to more great gifts in the future.

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3. The Incredible Book Eating Boy

Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers – 2007

Henry loves books. The problem is he loves to EAT them. Luckily, he figures out there’s a better way to ingest the information, one that doesn’t make him sick to his stomach. Oliver Jeffers uses a unique artistic style that adds layers of pleasure to this cute, creative story.

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4. All the World

Written by Liz Garton Scanlon, Illustrated by Marla Frazee – 2009

Rock, stone, pebble, sand
Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep

The simple words and beautiful pictures in this book will stay with you long after you read it.

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5. The Boss Baby

Written and illustrated by Marla Frazee – 2010

Having a baby changes everything. This adorable book paints a hilarious (and accurate) picture of what life is like once the new “boss” arrives.

Shark

6. Shark vs. Train

Written by Chris Barton, Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld – 2010

Who will win? Shark? Or Train? Well, it really depends on the scenario. I mean, swimming is kind of a no-brainer, and when it comes to carnival rides, Train has an obvious advantage. But what about selling lemonade? Or roasting marshmallows? This book is hilarious. I love it.

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7. Press Here

Written by Hervé Tullet, Translated by Christopher Franceschelli – 2011

This interactive picture book is SO simple and SO creative. It’s one of those books that made me scream, “WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THIS?” Well, I didn’t, but I’m really glad Hervé Tullet did.

Hat

8. I Want My Hat Back

Written and illustrated by Job Klassen – 2011

The bear’s hat is gone. He wants it back. This simple tale will help teach kids how to make inferences while they read, but it does have a slightly controversial ending. (See, now you HAVE to read it!)

Monster

9. The Monsters’ Monster

Written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell – 2012

I love the artwork in Patrick McDonnell’s comic strip, Mutts, and I’m partial to all children’s books that are spooky, creepy, or Halloween-related, so this one is right up my alley. The Monsters’ Monster is not actually creepy though, it’s sweet.

OnceUpon

10. Once Upon a Memory

Written by Nina Laden, Illustrated by Renata Liwska – 2013

Does a feather remember it once was a bird?
Does a book remember it once was a word?

This poetic picture book will put a smile on your face and one in your heart.

GrandfatherGandhi

11. Grandfather Gandhi

Written by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus, Illustrated by Evan Turk – 2014

This nonfiction picture book, co-written by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, teaches kids a powerful message about how to turn anger into peace, and darkness into light.

 

*** BONUS BOOK ***

HaikuMamaHaiku Mama: Because 17 Syllables Is All You Have Time to Read, by Kari Anne Roy – 2006

Yay! The perfect time
to strip down naked and scream–
when Mommy’s on phone

This one’s for Mom. This collection of hilarious (and honest) haiku covers everything from nap time to potty training.

***

Happy Shopping!

[Is there a modern picture book that needs to be on this list?
Share it in the comments!]

Posted in Lists, Reading

10 Books to Get You Through the Holidays

WHOOSH!

That was the sound of November zipping by. Yep, it’s true. December is already here and that means gifts and trees and eggnog and stockings and lights and shopping and traveling and ribbons and hot chocolate in reindeer mugs and singing one-sided versions of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” at the top of your lungs in the shower. At least, for me it means all of these things.

I love the holidays, but even I know they can sometimes be a little stressful. For that reason, you should choose your December reading material carefully. Nothing too heavy, nothing too brainy, nothing you’d be embarrassed to read on an airplane or surrounded by your family. Nothing that will make you cry (unless you like that sort of thing).

Here are a few books I recommend for that crazy window between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. These reads will get you through the holidays and keep you smiling even when flights are delayed or cats are playing King Kong with your Christmas tree. (Psst! The books in this list also make great gifts!)

[Note: All book blurbs are from Goodreads unless otherwise stated.]

Short & Sweet

One problem the holidays present is simply finding time to read. If you’re not going to be stuck on a plane at some point, you may be wondering if it’s even possible to finish a book during this hectic season. For busy bees like you, I recommend alternatives to traditional novels.

These collections of essays, poems, short stories, and six-word memoirs are perfect for the reader who can’t commit to a full-length book this month. Pick them up, read a little bit, put them down again, and carry on with your chaotic day. (Watch out, though. Some of them may not be as easy to put down as you think.)

The Shortest:

Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, edited by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser

NotQuiteWhatIWasPlanningDeceptively simple and surprisingly addictive, Not Quite What I Was Planning is a thousand glimpses of humanity—six words at a time.

When Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,” he proved that an entire story can be told using a half-dozen words. When the online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs, they proved a whole, real life can be told this way, too. The results are fascinating, hilarious, shocking, and moving.

From small sagas of bittersweet romance (“Found true love, married someone else”) to proud achievements and stinging regrets (“After Harvard, had baby with crackhead”), these terse true tales relate the diversity of human experience in tasty bite-size pieces.

This book is strangely compelling. You’ll find yourself creating your own six-word autobiography before you know it.

2015 Texas Poetry Calendar, edited by David Meischen and Scott Wiggerman

From the Dos Gatos Press website:

TXPoetryCalendarInside you will discover 103 poems as diverse and original as the state itself. Texas State Poet Laureate Dean Young opens the calendar with a poem on the inside front cover. As you turn the pages, you’ll see names that have appeared in our calendar before, keeping company with poets who are published here for the first time. You’ll find young poets, established poets, and award-winning poets. You’ll find poems that invite multiple readings.

Get a head start on the new year with this poetic calendar. When you get to August, you’ll see a poem by yours truly!

Less Short But Still Sweet:

I Was Told There’d Be Cake, by Sloan Crosley

FrIWasToldTheredBeCakeom despoiling an exhibit at the Natural History Museum to provoking the ire of her first boss to siccing the cops on her mysterious neighbor, Crosley can do no right despite the best of intentions — or perhaps because of them. Together, these essays create a startlingly funny and revealing portrait of a complex and utterly recognizable character who aims for the stars but hits the ceiling, and the inimitable city that has helped shape who she is. I Was Told There’d Be Cake introduces a strikingly original voice, chronicling the struggles and unexpected beauty of modern urban life.

Never in a Hurry: Essays on People and Places, by Naomi Shihab Nye

NeverInAHurryIn “Never in a Hurry the poet Naomi Shihab Nye” resists the American tendency to “leave toward places when we barely have time enough to get there.” Instead she travels the world at an observant pace, talking to strangers and introducing readers to an endearing assemblage of great-great-aunts, eccentric neighbors, Filipina faith healers, dry-cleaning proprietors, hitchhikers, and other quirky characters, some of whom she met just once. As inviting and inventive as her poems, Nye’s insightful essays spill forth from the collection with the spontaneity of stories spoken across a kitchen table.

I absolutely loved both of these collections. Sloan Crosley’s essays about killing off her math teacher in the Oregon Trail computer game and getting distracted while cleaning out her closet until she ends up watching TV in her prom dress will have you laughing out loud. And Naomi Shihab Nye’s writing is beautiful. Her descriptions of people she’s met and places she’s traveled will restore your faith in humanity, but that doesn’t mean this book isn’t also funny. My favorite story in the collection begins, “Only once did I take a large group of children on a field trip. A summer creative writing class journeyed by bus to a printing shop to see how pages were bound together to make books and our cheerfully patient guide chopped her finger off with a giant paper cutter.” It’s a wonderful tale.

The Classics:

If you’re looking for something holiday-themed but still want a book you can read in short bursts, try one of these classics. Jean Shepherd’s writing will delight you as much as the famous movie based on his stories, and if “The Gift of the Magi” is the only O. Henry story you’ve ever read, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the clever twists in his other work as well.

A Christmas Story, by Jean Shepherd

AChristmasStoryThe holiday film A Christmas Story, first released in 1983, has become a bona fide Christmas perennial, gaining in stature and fame with each succeeding year. Its affectionate, wacky, and wryly realistic portrayal of an American family’s typical Christmas joys and travails in small-town Depression-era Indiana has entered our imagination and our hearts with a force equal to It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.

This edition of A Christmas Story gathers together in one hilarious volume the gems of autobiographical humor that Jean Shepherd drew upon to create this enduring film. Here is young Ralphie Parker’s shocking discovery that his decoder ring is really a device to promote Ovaltine; his mother and father’s pitched battle over the fate of a lascivious leg lamp; the unleashed and unnerving savagery of Ralphie’s duel in the show with the odious bullies Scut Farkas and Grover Dill; and, most crucially, Ralphie’s unstoppable campaign to get Santa—or anyone else—to give him a Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot range model air rifle. Who cares that the whole adult world is telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid”?

The pieces that comprise A Christmas Story, previously published in the larger collections In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, coalesce in a magical fashion to become an irresistible piece of Americana, quite the equal of the film in its ability to warm the heart and tickle the funny bone.

The Gift of the Magi and Other Stories, by O. Henry

TheGiftOfTheMagiA young woman makes a drastic decision—and her husband has a Christmas surprise in return. A dying girl attaches her fate to that of a leaf. A writer sobs at the sight of a menu. A detective tracks a thief to an unexpected hideout.

An unforgettable collection from a master of the short story—where the ending is never what you expect.

Full-Length Favorites

Maybe you’ve got a long flight ahead of you. Maybe you like to listen to audio books while you shop. Maybe you have no qualms about hiding out from your family in a quiet corner of the garage on Christmas day with a book. Whatever the reason, if you feel like tackling a full-length novel this holiday season, I recommend one of these.

Young Adult / Historical Fiction:

I read both of these books with a smile stuck constantly to my face. Richard Peck and Jacqueline Kelly both have a gift for capturing the details of their settings while also creating characters that appeal to modern-day readers. Russell Culver and Calpurnia Virginia Tate both have voices that will stay with you well into the new year.

The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Parts, by Richard Peck

TeachersFuneral“If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it,” begins Richard Peck’s latest novel, a book full of his signature wit and sass. Russell Culver is fifteen in 1904, and he’s raring to leave his tiny Indiana farm town for the endless sky of the Dakotas. To him, school has been nothing but a chain holding him back from his dreams. Maybe now that his teacher has passed on, they’ll shut the school down entirely and leave him free to roam.

No such luck. Russell has a particularly eventful season of schooling ahead of him, led by a teacher he never could have predicted–perhaps the only teacher equipped to control the likes of him: his sister Tansy. Despite stolen supplies, a privy fire, and more than any classroom’s share of snakes, Tansy will manage to keep that school alive and maybe, just maybe, set her brother on a new, wiser course.

As he did in A Long Way from Chicago and A Year Down Yonder, Richard Peck creates a whole world of folksy, one-of-a-kind characters here–the enviable and the laughable, the adorably meek and the deliciously terrifying. There will be no forgetting Russell, Tansy, and all the rest who populate this hilarious, shrewd, and thoroughly enchanting novel.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly

EvolutionofCalpurniaTateCalpurnia Virginia Tate is eleven years old in 1899 when she wonders why the yellow grasshoppers in her Texas backyard are so much bigger than the green ones. With a little help from her notoriously cantankerous grandfather, an avid naturalist, she figures out that the green grasshoppers are easier to see against the yellow grass, so they are eaten before they can get any larger.

As Callie explores the natural world around her, she develops a close relationship with her grandfather, navigates the dangers of living with six brothers, and comes up against just what it means to be a girl at the turn of the century.

Debut author Jacqueline Kelly deftly brings Callie and her family to life, capturing a year of growing up with unique sensitivity and a wry wit.

Adult / Present Day:

These two modern-day novels are fast reads that will warm your heart on a cold winter night. Simsion’s story of a socially awkward professor falling in love will make you laugh out loud, and Patchett’s Run is a story about family and what a parent will do to protect his children. This one might make you cry, but it will be the good kind of cry.

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion

RosieProjectDon Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.

Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.

The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

Run, by Ann Patchett

RunSince their mother’s death, Tip and Teddy Doyle have been raised by their loving, possessive, and ambitious father. As the former mayor of Boston, Bernard Doyle wants to see his sons in politics, a dream the boys have never shared. But when an argument in a blinding New England snowstorm inadvertently causes an accident that involves a stranger and her child, all Bernard Doyle cares about is his ability to keep his children—all his children—safe.

Set over a period of twenty-four hours, Run takes us from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard to a home for retired Catholic priests in downtown Boston. It shows us how worlds of privilege and poverty can coexist only blocks apart from each other, and how family can include people you’ve never even met. As in her bestselling novel Bel Canto, Ann Patchett illustrates the humanity that connects disparate lives, weaving several stories into one surprising and endlessly moving narrative. Suspenseful and stunningly executed, Run is ultimately a novel about secrets, duty, responsibility, and the lengths we will go to protect our children.

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What are YOUR favorite books to read during the holiday season?

Share in the comments!