Subscribe to The Horn Book


>We’re working on a feature for the May issue, “What Makes a Good Graduation Gift Book?” and it’s causing me to think about how complicated gift-giving can be. As Betty Carter says in the article, any gift of a book comes with an agenda: here’s what I like or think is important and/or here’s what I think you like or should find important. In either case, here’s what I think about you. I remember the time an acquaintance gave me a Madonna CD for my birthday, and my acerbic friend Ruth remarked, “that’s the kind of present a straight girl gives a gay man . . . she doesn’t know very well.”

Me, I generally give a gift card rather than a book, a dodge that Anne Quirk rightly denounced as cowardice. Richard is braver and/or more thoughtful, and almost always comes up with gifts of books or music that reveal he keeps a close eye on my tastes as well as what I already own. But for my last birthday he gave me a copy of Arthur Phillips’ The Song Is You. It was a good guess, all about love and music and iPods, sort of a higher-minded High Fidelity, but reading it was complete hell–the prose was simply way too rich for my taste. But I gamely soldiered on, a few pages here and there, always packing it in my bag for vacations but never getting much beyond page 75. You have to, right, when it’s a present from someone who loves you?

He eventually noticed that it was languishing, however, and took it for his own enjoyment. (Perhaps this was his motive for buying it in the first place, the way I bought him Simon Mawer’s The Glass Room, which, fortunately, he loved and I am loving.) But today, triumph! I just got an email from him quoting from the Phillips, “her breath a cumulus the size of a peach,” adding, simply, “slows you down, doesn’t it?” Uh huh.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >It's true that giving books as gifts to adults can be tricky. They pretty much have settled down in their tastes. And they tend to bristle if it appears you're trying to impose your ideals on them. But with children, we adults are helping them to search out what they like and don't like. Why not give a favorite niece (or nephew) Almost Astronauts, even if she doesn't usually read nonfiction for fun. Maybe she will like it – maybe she won't. But at least you've exposed her to a new kind of reading that she might not have ventured into on her own. If she gets to page 10 and says – eh, this is not for me, that's OK. Next time I'll give her something different.

  2. >Lloyd Alexander's "The Extraordinary Journey of Prince Jen."
    A wise book about a young man setting out into the word for the first time and almost getting smooshed by it. A gentle reminder that a diploma doesn't mean you know everything there is to know.

  3. Peni R. Griffin says:

    >Personally, I want to give every teen-ager in the world a copy of *Lions and Shadows,* by Christopher Isherwood. It seems to me the ultimate book about the deadly seriousness and importance of both friendship and self-absorption at that age.

    But I'm weird.

    The problem with getting adults books is to find one that they'd like that they haven't already gotten for themselves.

  4. kristin cashore says:

    >Oh, agreed, choosing gift books is so hard! I'm confident with one my sisters, who tends to love what I love, and with my Dad, because some books just call out his name to me. And my baby twin nieces are pretty easy to buy board books for :). But beyond that, I'm often helpless. Makes me wonder about the complicated algorithms Amazon and Netflix and so on use to recommend titles.

  5. >The best gift book I recieved after my high school graduation was a brand new dictionary – with $1000 inside. I still have the dictionary; wish I could say the same about the cash.

  6. Elaine Magliaro says:

    >A Mother's Gift: Probably not the kind of answer you're looking for–but I'll share anyway.

    I wanted to give my daughter something special when she graduated from high school. I decided to make her a memory book of her life from the day of her birth through her senior year. It included her birth certificate, some birthday/greeting cards she had received from friends and relatives over the years, photographs, and poems—some of which I wrote myself. I divided the memory book into sections: the day of her birth and her first days at home, her christening, her birthday parties, holiday gatherings, relatives, her reading with her dad and me and some favorite childhood books, her years at school, sports, friends, vacations, my daughter with her dad, my daughter with me. I spent a couple of months on the project–and I shed lots of tears while I was going through hundreds of photographs—and writing and selecting poems. (The memory book included poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye, Nikki Giovanni, Mary Ann Hoberman—among others.)

    My daughter LOVED her gift. She showed it to every friend who came to visit at our house that summer—and she took it off to college with her.

    She is thirty now, lives in her own home, and still has the memory book I made for her a dozen years ago. It is one of her most prized possessions.

  7. Anonymous says:

    >congratulations to Magliare on raising a daughter who has perfect manners and knows how to say THANK YOU

  8. The Library Lady says:

    >The saddest thing I see–and I see it on a regular basis–are gift books, lovingly chosen and inscribed by a well meaning adult that are as clean and shiny as the day they wee bought. Never read. We get them in our donations on a regular basis. I regularly replace my Harry Potters that way!

    I buy picture books for young nieces and nephews. And when my own girls love a book and want it, they get it as a gift. But unless it's a very young child or you really KNOW that the child wants that particular book, gift cards are the way to go.

Comment Policy:
  1. Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  2. Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  3. Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through (though some comments with links to multiple URLs are held for spam-check moderation by the system). If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.

We accept clean XHTML in comments, but don't overdo it and please limit the number of links submitted in your comment. For more info, see the full Terms of Use.

Speak Your Mind