I sincerely hope families still have this tradition, because otherwise I fear this post on great Christmas books will be a little late for giving on Christmas Day itself. Remember, though, Christmas season goes for much longer, so consider giving books after Christmas for great reading.
My general principle this year: focus on TrustedAuthorsTM.
What is a TrustedAuthorTM? I'm joking (mostly), when I make the phrase a TM. There are some writers, whether Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, Lucy Maud Montgomery, and J.R.R. Tolkien, who can be trusted for their entire canon. Certain authors can be relied on to write from a certain worldview that is compatible with a Catholic ethic. I feel like I wanted to add a Trusted AuthorTM after the author's name when I write about writers like C.S. Lewis. You can basically trust everything they have written.
Not surprisingly, most of these are not living authors, but there are a few that are go-to authors at our house, and we anxiously await each new book. So who are some of our other TrustedAuthorsTM? John Flanagan (for children; we discovered about a year ago that he has written some grown-up thrillers, but there’s a little too much violence in them for kids), and his Ranger’s Apprentice and Brotherband series; Regina Doman, who writes excellent and compelling fairy-tale retellings; and of course many more. Most of these are known as Catholic or Christian authors, or we suspect as much because their work is entertaining and is in line with a Catholic worldview. And of course Catholic authors writing on Catholic themes (such as saint books) also would be in this category.
Other authors we put in a “good, but be careful” category. A good example of such an author (and there are plenty, I'm just picking one at random) is Wendy Mass. She’s written a slew of popular middle-grade novels, most with some great themes about being yourself. But there are some cautions about her books, and annoying things like having someone “thanking the universe” instead of God. Since I’ve read a few of her books, I’ve been able to have some discussions with my younger readers about her style and what I don’t like about her style.
Some authors we don’t even consider--Philip Pullman, for example. We just won’t even start a book by this kind of author.
What I want for my own children is for them to love and enjoy TrustedAuthorsTM best of all, but be able to read and enjoy stories by “careful” authors with discernment.
Here are just a few good book gift suggestions that would be for Christmas, Epiphany or any other nearby giving opportunity. Consider them pre-screened for your family as wholesome, enjoyable books:
*Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by TrustedAuthorTM Ben Hatke. My kids devoured this second in the series about Zita. Graphic novels can be fun reading, but sometimes the illustrations can be less than appealing. Not so Ben Hatke's works--they are delightful to read and enjoy.
*Habemus Papem: Pope Benedict XVI. Another graphic novel, this one by Trusted AuthorTM Regina Doman, portrays the life of Joseph Ratzinger before he became pope, from his earliest days. Even though I’m not a huge fan of manga, I really love the books by Manga Hero (Should I make a TrustedPublisherTM?). We own and love all the Manga Hero titles. Here’s one small thing we didn’t like about Habemus Papem (that's new from the prior Manga Hero titles): it’s written in the traditional manga fashion, so you read it from the back to the front. This takes some getting used to, and I definitely prefer normal way. It's still a great story and shouldn't deter people from reading it.
*The Prairie Thief by TrustedAuthorTM Melissa Wiley. Wiley writes the lovely blog “Bonny Glen” and she’s definitely a kindred spirit when it comes to reading. She loves and blogs about Betsy-Tacy, the Anne of Green Gables books, and many other TrustedAuthorsTM. She has six children, she’s a homeschooling mom, and in all her free time she writes books, most notably the "Little House" Martha and Charlotte books. The Prairie Thief is her latest middle-grade novel, and it's a little silly, a little sweet and all great read about prairie and family life. Here's a wonderful review that captures what's so terrific about this book.
*Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I can't say whether or not Palacio is a TrustedAuthorTM, because this is her first book, but what a great beginning. Palacio writes about Auggie Pullman, who has a facial deformity that prevents him from going to school--until now. Auggie's experience of belonging and rejection is beautifully crafted. I must admit that when I started it, I thought it might be depressing or otherwise too realistic and gritty, as these kinds of modern novels for kids can be. But instead, it is a gently realistic and hopeful story.
Here are a few really excellent saint books for younger readers:
My Soul Magnifies the Greatness of the Lord: Saint Kateri Tekakwitha by Bernadette Nippert and Brenda & George Nippert. This book was very sweet! I especially liked this for being multifaceted and having a pro-environmental theme that's not done for PC reasons but just naturally in the story and Kateri's life. Best to order this book from Hillside Education (A TrustedVendorTM ? Are you getting annoyed with me yet?)
Juan Diego: Mary’s Humble Messenger by Barbara Yoffie and also Kateri Tekakwitha: Model of Bravery by the same author. These are nice little volumes with the saint stories for little ones.