The Gift of Literature: Recommendations from Curious Iguana

November 30, 2016

By Kari Kelly and Emily Perper from Curious Iguana

During the holidays, it’s easy to fall back on old favorites—the classics we know and love—because it can be extremely difficult to choose the perfect gift for that hard-to-please relative or a new literature-loving friend. You don’t necessarily know what they’ve read before or what they like to read, so it’s tempting to play it safe. But to truly understand others, we need to read all different kinds of stories—even if they’re different from what we’re used to and out of our literary comfort zones.

Keep your eye out for new-to-you authors and titles you and your loved ones can enjoy together. Don’t be afraid to ask your local bookseller for recommendations or bring a list of ideas (like this one!) with you to your local independent bookstore. The following suggestions are books our employees and customers have enjoyed, spanning different ages, genres, and reading levels.

Babies (ages 0-2):

  • All Fall Down by Mary Brigid Barrett and LeUyen Pham (Candlewick, 2014): Our best-selling baby book pick, this fun book consistently delights the youngest readers.
  • Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square, 2015): A vibrant board book that illustrates that a community can always count on each other.
  • Music Is…by Brandon Stosuy and Amy Martin (Little Simon, 2016): This title keeps little ones giggling and babbling while learning about music.

Toddlers (ages 2-3):

  • Cityblock by Christopher Franceschelli and Peskimo (Harry N. Abrams, 2016): Fun, chunky board book that introduces little readers to things that go, things to see and things to eat in a busy city.
  • It Is Not Time for Sleeping by Lisa Graff and Lauren Castillo (Clarion Books, 2016): This dreamy new bedtime book is sure to become a new classic.
  • Tinyvilletown Gets to Work! by Brian Biggs (Harry N. Abrams, 2016): A wonderful new series, reminiscent of Richard Scarry, which shows how everyone in the community keep things running smoothly.

Ages 3-5:

  • My Pen by Christopher Myers (Disney-Hyperion, 2015): Inspiring romp through the imagination as a little boy describes all of the things he can do with his pen.
  • Swatch: the Girl Who Loved Color by Julie Denos (Balzer + Bray, 2016): An energetic must-read for all children, this wildly lovely tale is one of our best-selling picture books of the year.
  • Teacup by Rebecca Young and Matt Ottley (Dial Books, 2016): Gorgeous, simple, hopeful story of leaving one home and finding another.

Ages 6-8:

  • Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016): A bestselling author-illustrator duo returns with the latest lyrical installment about the boundless curiosity of a little girl and her endless science experiments.
  • Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina and Angela Dominguez (Candlewick, 2015): Heartwarming intergenerational story about tradition, storytelling, and thinking outside the box.
  • The Princess and the Warrior: A Tale of Two Volcanoes by Duncan Tonatiuh (Harry N. Abrams, 2016): Highly-acclaimed retelling of an Aztec folktale with funky, collaged illustrations.

Ages 8-12:

  • The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers, 2016): This poetic, magical fantasy is a store favorite and bound to be a classic someday soon.
  • The Inquisitor’s Tale: Or, Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz and Hatem Aly (Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016): A riveting medieval-era tale told from multiple perspectives that touches on magic, miracles, and the importance of loving people different from yourself.
  • When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2016): This adventure weaves together folklore, mystery, and fantasy into a beautifully told, illustrated treasure.

Young Adult (ages 13+):

  • Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown (HarperTeen, 2016): Joanna has been out and proud for a while, but when her family moves to a new town, her preacher father asks her to keep her identity a secret. A fast-paced, sweet book about falling in love and taking ownership of your values.
  • Saving Red by Sonya Sones (HarperTeen, 2016): A novel-in-verse about a naive 14-year-old who meets a young homeless woman named Red and comes to understand that homelessness, mental illness and independence are far more nuanced than she ever could have imagined.
  • The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (Delacorte Press, 2016): Natasha meets Daniel serendipitously. They couldn’t be more different, but there’s an undeniable chemistry between them. They’re star-crossed lovers with a contemporary twist.


  • Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton (Workman Publishing, 2016): Atlas Obscura began as a scrappy website where users could submit the weird and wonderful places they encountered. Now, it’s a glorious collection that highlights the self-mummifying monks of Shugendo, the Icelandic elf school, and literally hundreds of other sites. This title is thorough and engaging enough to delight both the reluctant reader and the seasoned traveler.
  • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (Spiegel & Grau, 2016): Trevor Noah may be best-known as the heir to Jon Stewart’s throne on The Daily Show and as a stand-up comic, but his writing chops mean Born A Crime—a memoir about the gritty reality of growing up biracial in apartheid-era South Africais a great gift for comedy fans and history buffs alike.

Books that transcend age:

  • A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (Candlewick, 2016): This gorgeous ode to literature and imagination has been our most gifted-to-adults children’s book of the year.
  • Illuminature by Rachel Williams and Carnovsky (Wide Eye Editions, 2016): Use the included colored lens to discover 180 animals throughout this oversized kaleidoscopic delight.
  • Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl (Ten Speed Press, 2016): A celebration of some of the world’s most inspiring women, past and present.

About the Authors

Kari Kelly is the Children’s Book Buyer at Curious Iguana.  Emily Perper is Content Manager at Curious Iguana. Curious Iguana is an independent bookstore in historic downtown Frederick, Maryland that aims to inspire global awareness and community connection.

What book would you recommend for the perfect gift this year? Share your ideas in the comments!