selection of books for Christmas

Looking for last minute gifts? Choose books!

Why books are still the gifts that keep on giving

We’ve all been in the shops on Christmas Eve as closing time ticks ever nearer, hunting for that elusive gift with growing desperation. While books may seem a reasonably obvious choice (and not just because they’re easy to wrap!), it’s perhaps surprising how many people don’t automatically think of them when it comes to last-minute festive presents.

Yet books are highly portable and take up little space; there are no batteries to run down; they let your imagination run riot; better still, in our screen-bound age, they offer welcome respite from the digital world. And if you select a particularly weighty tome, your recipient will still be opening your gift well into the New Year and beyond.

The benefits of reading

What’s more, the rewards of daily reading are clear. We’ve already discussed why parents should read to and with their children, but there’s also a lot to be gained from independent time with one’s nose in a book:

  • The more often and widely youngsters read, the more it becomes a habit, so they become better at it.
  • Reading also improves language and vocabulary skills – at the same time, children absorb information subconsciously about sentence structure and how to use words.
  • The reader’s imagination is stimulated as stories about people, places and things become vivid mental pictures.
  • For young children, in particular, sitting quietly with a book enhances concentration.
  • Reading exercises the brain in a way that few other activities can, and pupils who read extensively tend to do better in all school subjects – not just English.
  • Finally, books teach readers about the world around them – and children learn empathy from thinking about the characters they meet.

    Of course, many of these benefits apply to book-loving adults, too, and it’s worth remembering that books make greats gifts for grown-ups.

    Building a library

    Living a book-filled home offers many advantages. The US state of Colorado’s education department says maintaining a sizeable home collection of volumes has a greater impact on young people’s reading and education even than household income.

    Meanwhile, a study published in 2018 found that a book-packed home has a strong effect on later-life literacy – and that a library at home needs at least 80 titles to be effective. Academics at the Australian National University looked at data from 160,000 adults in 31 nations between 2011 and 1015 for the study.

    On a personal note, several tutees in recent years have stared wide-eyed at the crammed bookshelves here at The Learning Cauldron and commented that there isn’t a single bookshelf in their home – a rather sad reflection on our times.

    Some titles to inspire

    Still stuck? Here are some gift ideas for various age groups:

    5 to 8 years

    Eight Princesses and a Magic Mirror, by Natasha Farrant, is ideal for lovers of fairy tales – the princesses here are courageous, bold and determined.

    Hidden Planet, by Ben Rothery, has some incredible illustrations to lure young readers in.

    8 to 12 years

    Playlist, by James Rhodes, introduces seven distinguished composers.

    The Good Thieves, by Katherine Rundell, is a thrilling, fast-paced yarn with a likeable heroine and a glamorous 1920s’ New York backdrop.

    Young Adults

    Former children’s laureate Malorie Blackmans’s Crossfire is a return to her world of Noughts & Crosses, in which the black Crosses dominate, while the white Noughts are considered inferior.

    Chinglish, by Sue Cheung, is a fictionalised account of the writer’s youth growing up above her parents’ Chinese takeaway in Coventry during the 1980s.

    The Secret Commonwealth is Philip Pullman’s second instalment in his Book of Dust trilogy. Lyra, the heroine of His Dark Materials, now in her twenties, is in deep danger after she witnesses the murder of a botanist…

    These are, of course, only a selection of the superb titles around just now, so it’s not too late to make someone’s Christmas. And although one huge internet retailer that everyone has heard of (others are available!) is taking orders until Christmas Eve for some areas, why not support your local independent bookshop if you have one?

    If all else fails, book tokens may have a rather unfair reputation for dullness, but never forget that they’re a passport to exciting new worlds.

    We wish you a Happy Christmas and hope you receive a couple of books in your stocking yourself – whatever age you are.

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