I didn’t realize until a few years ago how much the holiday season stirs up feelings of dread for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of the holiday events and celebrations. There are moments I look forward to. Christmas morning with my family. Quietly contemplating the long ago night that a tiny child who would change the world was born in a manger. Those are meaningful times for me.
But the hustle. The shopping. The decorating. All the pressure that comes with seeing all the people in a few short days. We have a big family and some relationships and events are, well… a bit challenging. It’s a lot.
At any rate, I didn’t realize how stressed I was about Christmas until the year that I lost a baby just a few days before the holiday. Somehow that terrible grief unmasked some of the other things I’d been feeling for a long time.
My family is great. My mom and my oldest daughter keep asking me how they can make the holiday season a little easier, and I really appreciate that. (For my teenage daughter, the number one answer is: GIVE ME A CHRISTMAS LIST!)
One of the funny things about being a bookish person is that people don’t generally give me books for Christmas. I suppose that’s partly because they don’t know which ones I’ve already read and what I might be looking forward to. It’s hard to keep track, I get it. (I’d be lost without my spreadsheet and Google calendar.)
But just in case anyone who loves me is checking out my blog posts and hasn’t finished their shopping yet, let me share a few of the bookish things I would love to find under the Christmas tree this year.
What you need to know: Described as a love letter to Syria and its people. Speculative and set during the Syrian revolution. A girl desperate to flee until a fateful encounter makes her consider what it would take to fight for Syria’s freedom instead. I’ve heard incredible things about this book.
What you need to know: A twin’s sister dies under horrific circumstances, and he will do whatever it takes to find out why. I’m not usually brave enough to read horror, but I’ve had really good experiences with the couple horror books I’ve read this year. And this is RYAN LASALA. I adored REVERIE. I’m all in.
What you need to know: A young Romanian writer forced to betray everything he believes in by informing on those he loves joins the revolution to fight for freedom. It’s Ruta Sepetys, y’all. I am really excited about reading this one.
Release Date: February 1, 2022
The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill
Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads
What you need to know: An ogress who secretly delivers gifts to the town. A missing orphan. A smooth-talking mayor who’s very good at pointing fingers. I loved THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, and this story looks just as magical and wonderful. I’m all for a book about the power of generosity and love.
Release Date: March 8, 2022
Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
Amazon | Bookshop | Goodreads
What you need to know: A girl with powerful magic she must keep secret teams up with friends to preserve the balance of magic in her world. I remember people raving about this series, but I never read it. Now I’ve read and loved THE LUMINARIES and I need more Susan Dennard in my life, please, thanks.
What you need to know: A girl travels a war-torn country in search of her sister when she discovers her own magic and becomes swept up in the war. I really wanted to read this when it came out, and just wasn’t able to fit it into my calendar. I read a sample chapter and must have more.
What you need to know: Second book in the Bone Spindle series, a gender-flipped Sleeping Beauty retelling and my top favorite book of 2022. Yes, this is a pre-order. I can’t help myself. I want this one really, REALLY bad. It’s at the very top of my Bookish Holiday Wishlist!
I recently got pre-ordered a book and received this gorgeous metal peacock bookmark as a pre-order thank you. It’s absolutely beautiful. I love the idea of a metal bookmark. They’re a bit expensive, but so pretty.
I like bookish shirts, and I have a couple. This one made me laugh (only a tiny bit maniacally).
I was looking for a shirt that says “I’m with the Banned” but all the shirts that I saw included a certain boy wizard book that I’ve decided not to promote, so I feel a little weird about having it in a shirt.
I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but this year I wanted to post a giant list of recommended titles for the holiday season. Whether you’re looking for stories to fill the weeks at home between school days or filling your shopping bag with gifts for those you love, these titles are among my favorites and the ones I most highly recommend from books published this year. I’ve divided this holiday gift guide into sections so hopefully the list is less overwhelming. If I’ve posted a review of the book, you’ll see a link to next to the publication date.
Without further ado, here are the books I recommend for the 8-12 year old reader in your life this holiday season.
Note: This post contains affiliate links which do not cost anything for you to use, but which help support this blog.
Silly, Funny, and So Much Fun
These books all made me snort with laughter or grin until my face hurt. If your reader enjoys goofy heroes and ridiculous antics, these titles are totally worth exploring.
What You Need to Know: A boy gets hired by his aunt to help her fix her children’s book about a grumpy frog and prize-winning zucchini. Sounds hilarious to me!
Published September 22, 2020
Sometimes what makes a book so magical is that it takes us places we could never visit on our own. These books transport the reader to a setting or into circumstances far outside ordinary life to create a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
The Storm Keeper’s Island/The Lost Tide Warriors by Catherine Doyle
What You Need to Know: This is my FAVORITE middle grade series right now. I love the magic and the adventure and the power of family and friendships. If you haven’t read it, you need to start with book one, THE STORM KEEPER’S ISLAND, but both are excellent.
What you need to know: Clifton Chase Adventures #2. A new 11th century adventure. Magic arrows. A chance to warn a dear friend so he can avoid his death. More Clifton Chase?! Yes!
Published November 24, 2020
Memorable and Moving
It might be just me, but I’m a huge fan of stories with a powerful message about family and healing. These are some of the best, most moving stories I’ve read this year. I hope there’s a special reader in your life who will find these among their holiday gifts this year.
Books are one of my favorite gifts to give (okay, and to receive!) because there’s something for everyone. There were years where we gave a book to each person on our Christmas list. I enjoyed my holiday shopping that year especially because it was a chance to take all that I knew about a person’s interests and try to match them up with a book. This year we’ve chosen to support a local charity organization for the majority of our gift purchases, but there are a few books that still made it onto our gift list. Here are my top picks for the readers on my Christmas list.
For the Fairy Tale Lover
Traitor’s Masque by Kenley Davidson
Page Nine Press
Published December 14, 2015
Traitor’s Masque isn’t a simple retelling of Cinderella. Here you’ll find spies and intrigue and not one, but two handsome princes. If you loved the movie Ever After you need to read this book.
From my review: When Trystan’s secret horse rides are interrupted by a handsome, intelligent stranger, she has no idea she’s just met the crown prince of Andari. To her, he’s just a lonely nobleman, seeking the same healing solitude as she is. So when her stepmother’s tyranny reaches new heights, Trystan leaps at an offer from a friend of her late father’s. The lady offers Trystan the freedom she desperately craves for one tiny favor: deliver a message. Not until she’s agreed does Trystan realize she’s just committed to betray the friend she met in the woods, the man she may be falling in love with: the Prince of Andari.
Goldheart by Kenley Davidson
Page Nine Press
Published May 2016
From my review: After recovering from a kidnapping, Elaine Westover wants nothing more than to live a quiet secluded life with her paints. But as her father’s home falls into disrepair and his business fails, she has little choice but to offer her services painting portraits. When a wealthy man hires her to paint an impossible portrait for a year’s income, Elaine considers accepting the job. At the interview, he makes it clear she has no choice but to accept, and he bundles her off to the attic against her will, promising to release and reward her when she completes his task. Her only friend and protector is Will, a young man she takes to be a servant. He vows to help her in any way he can, and soon she realizes she’s falling in love with him. Will feels drawn to Elaine as well, but when he discovers the connection between his family and hers, he knows he can never let her discover his name without ruining every moment they’ve shared together.
Pirouette by Kenley Davidson
Page Nine Press
Published May 2016
From my review: When twelve princesses of Caelan refuse to dance as commanded by their father, he imprisons them in their pavilion and offers a challenge. Anyone who discovers the princesses’ secret will marry his pick among them and choose the fate of the others. Anyone who tries and fails will be stripped of land and title or life. But it’s the forgotten thirteenth princess who holds the key to the princesses’ rebellion. Ilani may be crippled, but she is by no means powerless.
Into this standoff comes Lord Kyril Seagrave and his companions from Andar. They hunt an exiled, dangerous prince and the truth about whether Caelan means to invade their home. Kyril is supposed to lead the expedition, but near as he can tell, everyone else is more qualified for the job, and he begins to wonder if Prince Ramsey sent him simply to get him out of the way for a while. When Kyril meets Ilani, he feels a pull toward the girl he can’t explain, and he vows to right the grave injustice done when she was crippled at seven years old. But to right the wrongs of the past, the princesses’ secret must be revealed, and before exiled Prince Rowan can turn the situation to Andar’s ruin.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Feiwel & Friends
Available November 8, 2016
Also on my list is Heartless by Marissa Meyer, which explores the story of Alice in Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts. I haven’t read it yet, so I don’t have a content review, but I hope to post one before the year’s end. If it’s like Cinder, then I expect it to be pretty clean with maybe some light, infrequent profanity. Her other villain origin story, Fairest, did have some sexual content.
From Goodreads: Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland and a favorite of the unmarried King, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, she wants to open a shop and create delectable pastries. But for her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for a woman who could be a queen.
At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the King’s marriage proposal, she meets handsome and mysterious Jest. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into a secret courtship.
Cath is determined to choose her own destiny. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
For the Younger Christian Reader
In the Hall of the Dragon King by Stephen Lawhead (Dragon King Trilogy)
Thomas Nelson (reprint)
Published May 30, 2011 (originally published in 1982)
From Goodreads:In the dead of night, Quentin, a young acolyte, is unexpectedly summoned when a mortally wounded knight stumbles into the temple of Ariel. Determined to save the realm of the Dragon King, the dying knight makes a desperate plea for someone to continue his quest. Now Quentin must choose—a life of ease or a dangerous, unknown path.
I haven’t reviewed this series, but I remember reading it in seventh grade or so. The story has overt Christian themes. I liked the whole series. It’s a great choice for readers of high fantasy.
Knife by R. J. Anderson (Faery Rebels Series)
Published January 8, 2009
From my review: Knife, a young faerie confined within her kingdom inside a large oak tree, is determined to escape to the outside world. As a girl, she came face to face with a human, and survived. Since that day, her curiosity about the house and the strange creatures who live inside it only grows. When Knife finds an opportunity to get a closer look, she takes it. But with every new discovery she makes about the outside world, the strict rules and strange customs of her people only feel stranger and well, wrong. Maybe Knife can save them. If she can find out why her people lost their magic to begin with, perhaps she can reverse the spell. But doing so will risk her place among her people, and it may force her to accept truths about herself, her queen, and her human friend that she’s not ready to face.
Curio by Evangeline Denmark
Published January 6, 2016
From my review: In a world in which women are of little value, Grey tries to remain beneath the notice of the ruling Chemists. To draw attention to herself risks her very life and the lives of her family and her best friend Whit. When Chemists punish Whit for protecting Grey, she abandons hope of hiding and vows to help others like Whit, no matter the cost to herself. When the Chemists realize what she’s done, her family protects her by spiriting her away to a world within her grandfather’s curio cabinet. There, among a strange world of clockwork people, Grey must find a hidden ally and a key that may bring an end to the Chemists’ tyranny.
Genius: The Game by Leopoldo Gout
Feiwel & Friends
Published May 3, 2016
From my review: As the clock counts down to Zero Hour, 200 of the best and brightest kids form teams competing to solve a challenge created by a young visionary with world-changing goals. For Rex, Tunde and Painted Wolf, the competition is only part of the challenge. Rex needs a supercomputer housed at the challenge site to locate his brother whose been missing for two years. A war lord threatens to wipe Tunde’s whole village off the map unless Tunde and his friends deliver a powerful weapon to him at the end of the contest. Painted Wolf will do anything to help her friends, but she must keep her identity a secret or her family’s lives are forfeit.
The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten
Published August 27, 2013
From my review: Almost-fifteen-year-old Adam meets Robyn at his group therapy session for teens with obsessive-compulsive issues. It’s hardly the setting for romance, but Adam can’t deny how he feels for her. Robyn seems drawn to him, too. Maybe. But while Robyn’s most troublesome days seem to be behind her, Adam’s life continues to spiral out of control. He’s at the mercy of his half-brother’s anxiety issues, and his mother refuses to get help though the threatening letters she receives only seem to be getting worse. As Adam desperately struggles to hold everyone together, he begins to split at the seams. But it may be the voices of his Group mates which bring him the strength and courage to face greater truths about his family, his condition, and himself.
Gifted by H. A. Swain
Feiwel & Friends
Published June 14, 2016
From Goodreads: In Orpheus Chanson’s world, geniuses and prodigies are no longer born or honed through hard work. Instead, procedures to induce Acquired Savant Abilities (ASAs) are now purchased by the privileged. And Orpheus’s father holds the copyright to the ASA procedure.
Zimri Robinson, a natural musical prodigy, is a “plebe”–a worker at the enormous warehouse that supplies an on-line marketplace that has supplanted all commerce. Her grueling schedule and her grandmother’s illness can’t keep her from making music–even if it is illegal.
Orpheus and Zimri are not supposed to meet. He is meant for greatness; she is not. But sometimes, rules are meant to be broken. Here is a thriller, love story, and social experiment that readers will find gripping–and terrifying.
Freedom’s Just Another Word by Caroline Stellings
Second Story Press
Published September 6, 2016
From Goodreads: The year Louisiana – Easy for short – meets Janis Joplin is the year everything changes. Easy is a car mechanic in her dad’s shop, but she can sing the blues like someone twice her age. So when she hears that Janis Joplin is passing through her small town of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Easy is there with her heart – and her voice – in hand. It’s 1970 and Janis Joplin is an electrifying blues-rock singer at the height of her fame – and of her addictions. Yet she recognizes Easy’s talent and asks her to meet her in Texas to sing. So Easy begins an unusual journey that will change everything.
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas
Published May 3, 2016
From my review: When Zomorod Yousefzadeh and her family move (again), she decides to take the opportunity to start fresh and try to fit in with her new California schoolmates. The first thing to go? Her name. She adopts the classic Brady Bunch Cindy as her identity. After a rough start, she begins to find true friends. But when unrest in Iran turns into an American hostage crisis, Cindy begins to catch glimpses of an uglier side of the Land of the Free. Cruel bumper stickers and slogans send chilling messages to Cindy and her family. Cindy tries to protect her parents from some of the cruelty, and her friends try to encourage her that not everyone feels so negatively about Iranians. Ultimately, Cindy has to navigate her own way through the crisis and find the balance between devotion to her family, pride in her heritage, and the freedom to pursue her own individual identity.
About One Realm Beyond
Cantor D’Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms.
But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment—finding a dragon to assist him on his quest—has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won’t leave him alone.
With the help of his new friends Bixby and Dukmee, Cantor must uncover the secrets of the corrupt guild before they become too powerful to be stopped. But his skills aren’t progressing as fast as he would like, and as he finds himself deeper and deeper in the guild’s layers of deceit, Cantor struggles to determine where his true allegiance lies
Wonder by R J Palacio
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on February 14, 2012
About Wonder I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances?
R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.
Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers on January 28, 2014
About Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy A modern-day fairy tale set in a mysterious museum that is perfect for readers of Roald Dahl and Blue Balliett.
Unlikely heroine Ophelia Jane Worthington-Whittard doesn’t believe in anything that can’t be proven by science. She and her sister Alice are still grieving for their dead mother when their father takes a job in a strange museum in a city where it always snows. On her very first day in the museum Ophelia discovers a boy locked away in a long forgotten room. He is a prisoner of Her Majesty the Snow Queen. And he has been waiting for Ophelia’s help.
As Ophelia embarks on an incredible journey to rescue the boy everything that she believes will be tested. Along the way she learns more and more about the boy’s own remarkable journey to reach her and save the world.
A story within a story, this a modern day fairytale is about the power of friendship, courage and love, and never ever giving up.
Who Could It Be at This Hour? by Lemony Snicket
Published by Little, Brown and Company on October 24, 2012
About Who Could It Be at This Hour? The adventure began in a fading town. Far from anyone he knew or trusted, a young Lemony Snicket started an apprenticeship for a secret organization shrouded in mystery and secrecy. He asked questions that shouldn’t have been on his mind. Now he has written an account that should not be published that shouldn’t be read. Not even by you. Seriously, we recommend that you do NOT ask your parents for this, the first book in his new ALL THE WRONG QUESTIONS series.
Lemony Snicket, in case you don’t already know, grew up to be the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events series.
Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle (Gabriel Finley #1) by George Hagen
Published by Random House Children’s/Schwartz and Wade Publishing on August 26, 2014
About Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle A tangle of ingenious riddles, a malevolent necklace called a torc, and flocks of menacing birds: these are just some of the obstacles that stand between Gabriel and his father, Adam Finley, who has vanished from their Brooklyn brownstone. When Gabriel rescues an orphaned baby raven named Paladin, he discovers a family secret: Finleys can bond with ravens in extraordinary ways. Along with Paladin and three valiant friends, Gabriel sets out to bring his father home. They soon discover that Adam is being held captive by the evil demon Corax—half man, half raven, and Adam’s very own disgraced brother—in a foreboding netherworld of birds called Aviopolis. With help from his army of ghoulish minions, the valravens, Corax is plotting to take over the land above, and now only Gabriel stands in his way.
The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson
Published by Delacorte Books for Young Readers on March 25, 2014
About The Mark of the Dragonfly Piper has never seen the Mark of the Dragonfly until she finds the girl amid the wreckage of a caravan in the Meteor Fields. The girl doesn’t remember a thing about her life, but the intricate tattoo on her arm is proof that she’s from the Dragonfly Territories and that she’s protected by the king. Which means a reward for Piper if she can get the girl home. The one sure way to the Territories is the 401, a great old beauty of a train. But a ticket costs more coin than Piper could make in a year. And stowing away is a difficult prospect–everyone knows that getting past the peculiar green-eyed boy who stands guard is nearly impossible. Life for Piper just turned dangerous. A little bit magical. And very exciting, if she can manage to survive the journey.
Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light by Jaimie Engle
About Clifton Chase and the Arrow of Light Clifton Chase is the latest target for bully Ryan Rivales. But after he finds a mysterious arrow in his closet, he takes Ryan’s bet to see who can hit the target. Ryan nails the bull’s-eye, but Clifton’s piece of junk arrow sails out of sight and when he finally finds it, something isn’t right. Somehow, Clifton has been magically transported back to 1485 England, where he meets two princes bullied by their tyrant uncle who locked them in prison to steal their throne. Only after Clifton learns the true meaning of friendship, bravery, and sacrifice can he help the princes escape and find the courage to face his own bully. Befriended by a dwarf, a mythical bird called Simurgh, and a cast of comical characters, Clifton’s fantasy adventure through medieval times is perfect for boys and girls of all ages, and the young at heart. For those who like fantasy kids books like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter.
The Map to Everywhere by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis
Published by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers on November 4, 2014
About The Map to Everywhere Wherever you need to go–the Map to Everywhere can take you there.
To Master Thief Fin, an orphan from the murky pirate world of the Khaznot Quay, the Map is the key to finding his mother. To suburban schoolgirl Marrill, it’s her only way home after getting stranded on the Pirate Stream, the magical waterway that connects every world in creation. With the help of a bumbling wizard and his crew, they must scour the many worlds of the Pirate Stream to gather the pieces of the Map to Everywhere–but they aren’t the only ones looking. A sinister figure is hot on their tail, and if they can’t beat his ghostly ship to find the Map, it could mean the destruction of everything they hold dear!
In New York Times bestselling author Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis’s first installment of a fantastical new series, adventure, magic, and hilarity collide in the treacherous skies and dangerous waters of the Pirate Stream. Heart-pounding escapades and a colorful cast of characters will have readers setting sail through this wholly original and unforgettable tale.
The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer Holm
Published by Random House Children’s on August 26, 2014
About The Fourteenth Goldfish Galileo. Newton. Salk. Oppenheimer.
Science can change the world . . . but can it go too far?
Eleven-year-old Ellie has never liked change. She misses fifth grade. She misses her old best friend. She even misses her dearly departed goldfish. Then one day a strange boy shows up. He’s bossy. He’s cranky. And weirdly enough . . . he looks a lot like Ellie’s grandfather, a scientist who’s always been slightly obsessed with immortality. Could this pimply boy really be Grandpa Melvin? Has he finally found the secret to eternal youth?