Christmas Book Recommendations

Ah, what better gift to give and receive than a book? At least, that’s what all the bookstores and publishers are telling us lately.

I’m not including the obvious, such as the Twilight series, or Harry Potter, since I’m sure nearly everyone in existence has already read them (and seen the movies).

Here are a few of my favorites for YA and middle grade readers:

GRACELING, by Kristin Cashore, reviewed in an earlier post  (YA)

THE LAST KNIGHT (a Knight and Rogue novel), by Hilari Bell  (YA)

Michael is a knight errant. Fisk is his cynical squire. The two rescue a lady imprisoned in a tower, only to discover that she’s a murderess. They spend the remainder of the book trying to correct their mistake, with many interesting twists and turns. Besides the usual fantasy elements Bell handles so well, what I loved best about this book is the relationship that develops between Michael and Fisk, how they gradually come to trust and respect each other. I can’t wait to read the next one, already on my bookshelf, ROGUE’S HOME.

WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED, By Judy Blundell. (YA) Winner of the National Book Award for Young People in 2008.

Things are not what they seem when Evie’s step-dad Joe comes home from the war, several months after other soldiers have already returned. Joe drags Evie and her mom off to Florida, where Evie meets her first love, Peter, who shares a mysterious past with Joe. Evie learns some bitter truths about Peter and her parents, and discovers the level of deceit to which she must rise to keep her family from falling apart.

FACT OF LIFE #31, by Denise Vega  (YA)

Kat Flynn’s difficult relationship with her mother–is it ever going to get any better? Can Abra ever be a mom, instead of a teacher or mentor? And then there’s that budding relationship with Manny Cruz, who Kat’s had a crush on forever. Loved this book, and its touching ending always makes me cry.

THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, by Elizabeth George Speare  (MG)

A classic Newbery winner. Kit has come from Barbados to live with her relatives after her grandfather’s death. She lands in Massachusetts during the witchcraft scare, and is soon caught up in the events rocking the town. Still a great read after all these years.

LUNA, by Julie Anne Peters  (YA)

A National Book Award finalist two years ago, LUNA is the story of a teen who wants to change gender, told through the eyes of his sister, Regan. A ground-breaking novel on a topic long considered taboo, LUNA captures the heartbreak, frustration, and ultimately the humanity in Luna’s journey.

And check out DEFINE NORMAL, if you haven’t already discovered it.


Because of a loophole in Colorado law, 14-year-old Kate Hope becomes a partner in her elderly grandfather’s law practice. For her first case, Kate must save a dog from court-ordered destruction. Because her grandfather is ill, she’s pretty much on her own, except for the help of some questionable advisors–a jailbird and a homeless man. An inspiring book for young people with an interest in the law–or those who simply want a good story!


The opening scene makes this book unforgettable. Toyo’s uncle commits seppuku–kills himself by plunging a samurai sword into his belly, and Toyo is present. His uncle does this as a matter of honor, and throughout the book, hanging over Toyo’s head is the fear that his own father will follow suit.

Toyo loves baseball, and makes the team at his western-style school. When his father begins teaching him the principles of the samurai, Toyo realizes he can apply them to his favorite sport. Soon he begins teaching the others on his team. Because of the teachings, Toyo and his father find a new understanding in their relationship, and the baseball team becomes one of the best around.

There is so much more to this book. Give it to a boy or girl who can discover all it has to offer.

TWISTED, By Laurie Halse Anderson  (YA)

Tyler Miller, in trouble for spray painting graffiti on the school, morphs from a shy, small nobody, to a ripped, good looking somebody during the summer before his senior year. He’s been sentenced to community service, and the jobs he does all involve physical labor–hence, the buff bod. Enter Bethany, who’s never noticed him before. That’s the plus side, sort of. On the minus side is Bethany’s brother Chip, a bully and all around jerk.

Complicating things further is Tyler’s tyrannical father, and Tyler’s own suicidal urges. Some of this is pretty harrowing stuff, but the way Tyler finally takes control of his life is powerful.

You can always depend on Anderson to tell a thoughtful, moving, and often riveting story.

CROOKED RIVER, by Shelly Pearsall  (MG)  Reviewed in an earlier post.

Books for the younger set by local (Denver) authors:

MAMA LOVES YOU, by Caroline Stutson. Illustrated by John Segal.

A great book for new moms, demonstrating what we all know–a mother’s love is boundless! Ends with “You’re my star, my moon, my sun; Mama loves you, little one!” How sweet is that?

MARIA’S MYSTERIOUS MISSION, By Claudia Cangilla McAdam. Illustrated and designed by Anna-Maria Crum. Photographs by John Fielder.

A great read-aloud about a llama who journeys to Colorado from South America and becomes the loyal friend and helper to photographer John Fielder. The clever melding of original artwork with Fielder’s photographs is a new concept originated by Anna-Maria Crum.

DO YOU SEE WHAT I SEE? By Claudia Cangilla McAdam. Photographs by John Fielder. Designed by Anna-Maria Crum.

McAdam’s poems enchant, and even adults will be excited about discovering what’s behind each peep hole!

BUILD A BURRITO, By Denise Vega. Illustrated by David Diaz.

Written by Denise Vega and illustrated by Caldecott winner David Diaz, this new counting book for toddlers is bilingual, in English and Spanish. The bold colors and eye-catching design will delight children and their parents.

 What are some of your favorite books? I’ll add them to my list!

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