You, your friends and your family can travel from Middle Earth to Southern France, and from L.A. to the Balkans without airline tickets by sharing some of the books suggested below. Put a book — less expensive than luggage fees — in their stockings and enjoy many great adventures.
Picture books can provide hours of family bonding. In LMNO Peas by Keith Baker, little, round, green figures engage in all manner of activities that illustrate the letters of the alphabet. There are plenty of visual puns to amuse the observant reader (Beach Lane Books, 2010; $16.99 hardcover).
A lesson of worldwide peace and the family of the human race is taught in Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng and illustrated by Yuyi Morales.
One night, a golden ladder appears at the edge of Suhaila’s window, and her Grandmother Annie reaches down to take her hand. Together they climb to the moon, look down at the Earth and see floods, earthquakes and war. Everywhere people are suffering. But the little girl and Annie reach down to each and rescue them (Candlewick Press, 2011; $16.99 hardcover).
Now is the time to give a copy of The Hobbit, the much-loved adventure book by J.R.R. Tolkein. You’ll want to let children’s as well as adults’ imaginations paint the pictures of Bilbo Baggins’ company before the film version opens.
Tolkein’s storytelling is rich enough to give the reader an enchanting image of the treacherous dragon, of slimy Gollum, of sturdy dwarves, and of the timid, unlikely hobbit-hero Bilbo. (The newest, hardcover edition from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is $25; the 1986 trade paperback from Ballantine Books is $7.99.)
Like reading, cooking is an activity that can bring generations together. If you know a clever preteen who would like to learn about the origins of American holidays, make a present of To Every Season: A Family Holiday Cookbook. Jane Breskin Zalben writes and illustrates traditional menus for secular as well as religious holidays.
The author’s note explains that she has included recipes for various dietary needs. And for each celebration, she includes a page about its origins and a menu illustrated with watercolors that capture the year-round fun. You can start right away with New Year’s Day brunch (Simon & Schuster, 1999; $19.95).
Have a teenage sports fan on your list? Give him or her Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Pena.
"Sticky" believes that sports are his ticket out of poverty. He believes his basketball skills are a God-given gift. Sticky has been shifted in and out of foster homes and spends time in a group home where he has developed a hard emotional shell to protect himself from more disappointment and pain. The story alternates between a falling-apart recreation center in Los Angeles, and the even-darker world of his drug-addicted mother. The story of his struggle to survive, to fulfill his potential, is written in hip-hop rhythms and basketball jargon, but it’s not at all difficult to follow because Sticky’s character is so believable and sympathetic (Delacourt, 2005; $7.99).
Timewalker by Justin Stanchfield is an exciting science fiction adventure for teen readers that starts out sounding more like a Western.
Fourteen-year-old Sean, his brother "Trick" and their father are struggling to keep their falling-down ranch against mounting debts during a tinder-dry August. And now, something is killing their cattle.
A mysterious girl steps out of Sean’s recurrent nightmare and asks for his help. Add to this scenario a grim, cruel billionaire whose security force hunts the boys, and you have an action-packed tale with plenty of unexpected turns of events (Usborne Publishing Ltd., 2009; $5.99).
The two following suggestions will suit the adults on your list.
Jacquot and the Angel by Martin O’Brien is set in Provence, France, a region famous for quirky characters. "Angel" is the incredibly beautiful Marie-Ange Buhl, a florist. Her unusual ability to uncover clues to the actions of long-dead individuals complements Chief Inspector Jacquot’s own nose for the truth. The murder of a retired dentist and renowned orchid collector and his family might have its roots in the World War II Nazi occupation of France. Or perhaps it’s the work of a disappointed lover. And when the latter theory is taken up by the police, Marie-Ange comes to the little town to fill in for the florist while that family must go to Lyons to witness their son’s trial for murder (Headline, 2006).
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht begins with these words: "In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers." The narrator, Natalia, is now practicing medicine, following in her grandparent’s footsteps. And a war has come and gone.
What lies between these lifetimes is shrouded in superstition and the mysteries of the human heart. Why did her grandfather lie about going to meet her? What happened to his possessions? Who are these people digging up the vineyard, and neglecting the health of their children? Is the "deathless man" really immortal?
One of the most improbable stories her grandfather told her when she was a child concerned an escaped tiger. The beast terrified the adults, but thrilled the children of his village. The strange relationship that developed between it and a deaf and mute woman provides some answers to Natalia’s questions (Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2011, $15).
At Christmas we glimpse a divine child from far away, in time and place. These titles speak respectfully of many cultures and look at the world from many, varied perspectives. They cross generational lines, national borders, the divide between reality and imagination. Perhaps, by bringing people together, they can remind us that, as children of God, we are more alike than different.
Palma is an adjunct assistant professor of English at Monroe Community College in Rochester. She has a master of science degree in education from Nazareth College and master of arts in theology from St. Bernard’s Institute.