One thing I love about this time of year is the chance to pick out a book for someone not on my usual supply list. Okay, let’s be honest–for a kid not on my usual list. I’m never happier than when I have a specific child in mind, and I get to sit on the floor of the bookstore and just browse. I take a few things into consideration.

  • Do I like the book? I have bought books for adults that I don’t like, but only when my favorites have proved failures many miserable times.If I’m buying for a child, I really need to think the book is awesomesauce.
  • How long has the book been out? Is it a classic? Some of my favorites are everybody’s favorites, and I figure that ups the chances of a book being one the child already has. I don’t buy anybody Where the Wild Things Are. As wonderful as that book is, I want my gift to open a new door for the child. (I’ll sometimes take a chance with Caps For Sale, because SURPRISINGLY few people seem to know it.)
  • Does the book click with an interest I know the child has? My son was never a reader of animal books. But there are kids who that’s all I know about them-that they will ooh! at any puppy and sit down quietly to let any cat come visit. Dick King-Smith’s books come in very handy here.
  • Can I picture the child reading the book? Or, in the case of a very young child, can I picture the child and a parent or sibling or grandparent (and I’m talking about a specific person that I know reading the book together. Yes, the less I know the child, the bigger the challenge, but it’s one I’m happy to take on.
  • Does the book make me laugh. This is a biggie, especially when I don’t know the child all that well. Because most kids like and want to laugh. And if it’s a picture book, most parents bow down in gratitude to any book or author that lets them laugh while they read it. Humor, to me, crosses all reading borders. My son was a huge fantasy addict, but the few “real-life” books he would pick up and read all the way through were the ones that were funny from page 1?
  • Do I ignore the people offering to wrap the book, because I know my son and husband will want to read it before it gets hidden by paper. And that I’ll probably want to read it through again. Possibly again?

Those are the basics. Sometimes, obviously, I have to take a risk. All I know about the child is their age and, at the very most, let’s say, that they do or don’t like sports. Which does me no good, since my family barely knows that sports exists. Anyway, then I’m out on a limb–especially for an older kid. One who might not even be into reading. Or into it anymore. What do I do then? Well, hey, I put on my I-Know-Best hat and get them something stupendous, something of brilliance, something that has at least a teeny, tiny chance of turning the tide, of lighting or relighting book-love, of giving them a reason to go online and type in those magic words, “If you liked…”

Hey, I can dream.