2022 Gift Guide: The Novelty Books

November 3, 2022 § Leave a comment

And we’re off and running! Today is the first of my Gift Guide round-ups, and I always like to begin with the Show Stoppers. These are the ultra gifty books of 2022 (past years have seen these and these), and I couldn’t be more excited to share them with you.

After today, we’ll move onto picture books, then graphic novels, middle-grade books, and young adult. Almost 60 titles will comprise this year’s guide in all, a mere fraction of the hundreds I read in order to cull my favorites. I like to think there’s something for everyone here (more than one, if I’m doing my job well!).

(Also PSST, it’s not too late to snag a ticket to one of my live Gift Guide events at Old Town Books in Alexandria, VA. Details here!)

One last thing before we get started: all titles are linked to Old Town Books, the wonderful indie where I work as the children’s buyer. We ship every day (locals can mark books for in-store pick up), so please consider supporting us if you don’t have an indie near you. Independent bookstores strengthen communities!

The books below are presented from youngest to oldest, kids to teens.

For the Music Lover

Listen to the Music: A World of Magical Melodies
by Mary Richards & Caroline Bonne-Müller
Ages 4-7

2022 turns out to be a strong year for musical books—so good, in fact, that I found it impossible to choose between two titles and ended up including them both. (They make a superb pairing!) In the first, Listen to the Music, children are taken on a time-traveling journey around the world as they’re introduced some of the big players and movements in music history. On every richly illustrated spread, little fingers can push a button to hear the music from that particular time and place.

We begin in 1155, with the monk Hildegard, who sang to the fields and flowers of the German countryside, before we move to the royal court in Mali, Africa, where a 14th century musician named Dugha played the balafon to spin tales. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart makes an appearance in the sumptuous halls of Paris, followed by Indian musicians, Clara Schumann, the opera singers of Vienna, a Norwegian flutist, Scott Joplin (my favorite!), Brazilian street dancers, and Charlie Parker in New York City’s Harlem.

Apart from the captivating audio component, children will emerge with an appreciation for different ways of making and celebrating music around the world.

For the Future Pianist

The Story Orchestra: I Can Play
illus. Jessica Courtney-Tickle
Ages 4-7

Now that they’ve got some musical appreciation, help them put it into action with The Story Orchestra: I Can Play, where children get to try their hand—or, more accurately, their pointer finger—at simple eight-bar melodies from eight classical pieces. They do this by matching shapes and colors from the page to the keyboard, with bolded words helping to cue rhythm. (Take it from me: if they miss the beat, it will not dampen their enthusiasm one bit. And yes, there’s an “off” switch.)

The list of pieces includes snippets from Carnival of the Animals, Swan Lake, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and—perfect for the holiday season—The Nutcracker. Who doesn’t want to learn to play The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy? My tween daughter, despite being well outside the target age, has gotten the biggest kick out of mastering these songs. Want proof? Watch my reel on Instagram.

But wait, did you note the ethereal illustrations that help tell the stories behind the music? Those swans! Those prima ballerinas!

For the Believer

The Secret Unicorn Club
by Emma Roberts, Rae Ritchie, & Tomislau Tomic
Ages 5-8

Do you know a believer? Would they like to join “a secret club of unicorn experts who search for and look after unicorns in the wild”? The correct answer is YES, because nestled in these pages is valuable information, closely guarded by members of a Secret Unicorn Club. At the end of each page, readers are rewarded with special badges for their knowledge acquisition. Once all badges have been earned, the newly-crowned member of The Secret Unicorn Club will be able to unlock a secret book-within-a-book!

Learn about unicorn horns, tears, and…dung? (Did you know the scent of unicorn poop is tied to what the weather was when the unicorn pooped? Thunderstorms, for example, yield dung that smells of bonfire and hot chocolate.) Learn how to care for a unicorn, where to find one, and even how unicorns shape weather patterns. Did you know you can grate unicorn snot, once it solidifies, into your food to make it taste like whatever you want? You’re welcome.

It doesn’t get much giftier than this! (Disclaimer: while the bonus book—a deep dive into magical horses—can be removed from its secret compartment in the back, the badges are merely drawn on the pages. If your kiddo protests, have them make some tangible ones of their own!)

For the Survivalist

Spin to Survive: Deadly Jungle
by Emily Hawkins; R. Fresson
Ages 7-10

If facing down deadly snakes is more their thing than unicorn snot, I invite you to check out the latest in the Spin to Survive series, a game-within-a-book with tons of gift appeal. A twist on the pick-your-own-path trope, readers take turns plotting their own course through the Amazon jungle and putting their fate in the hands of a Survival Spinner, which comes with the book.

The reader is tasked with discovering the fabled Lost City of the Jaguar God, so it can be protected and preserved for the future. But navigating the Amazon means taking on treacherous river rapids, vicious jaguars, duplicitous treasure-seekers, and countless other hazards lurking deep in the jungle.

But lest you think this one’s all style with no substance, the story is accompanied by expert survival tips and real-life accounts of people who survived in the wild, including the Indigenous people of the Amazon. Learn how to fashion a raft out of balsa wood, identify edible plants, and consider the protein content of grubs.

For the Space Head

What About the Universe: An Illustrated Q&A Book for Kids
by Bertrand Fichou; illus. Pascal Lemaître
Ages 7-10

Having a space-obsessed kiddo, I can attest that it was always a beautiful thing to find a book that could keep up with him. Having a kid who professes to have no interest whatsoever in space, I can attest that it was an equally beautiful thing to find a book that ignited that interest. In other words, What About the Universe is a win-win, pairing 38 compelling astronomy and physics questions with easily digestible answers—alongside quirky, brightly-colored cartoon illustrations.

How are stars born? What’s it like on board the International Space Station? Can you time travel? What will happen to Earth in the future? Will humans live on Mars one day? These are just some of the questions posed by real kids in this book. Each question comprises an entire page (or two), with answers presented in clearly-worded chunks of text that incorporate analogies, diagrams, and colorful artwork to cement understanding. For example, the number of stars in our Milky Way—about 200 billion—is equivalent to the grains of sand needed to fill the back of a small van. And did you know fruit flies were actually the first living thing to travel to space?

(The author-illustrator team has an equally fabulous What About Science that came out earlier this year, in case you want to double up on the S.T.E.M. fun.)

For the Sports Fan

The Replay: 25 Greatest Moments in Space
by Adam Skinner; illus. Mai Ly Degman
Ages 7-12

Speaking of information presented with maximum creativity and engagement, I predict The Replay will be one of the most popular titles on this year’s Gift Guide. Twenty-five of the most iconic moments in sports history, presented through a mix of traditional text and comics? That’s what I call a slam dunk.

The range of past and present athletes included here is especially impressive. Sure, you have the usual suspects: Muhammad Ali procuring his “rope-a-dope” strategy to become the heavyweight champion of the world in 1974; Michael Jordan’s foul-line dunk in 1988; Usain Bolt smashing the 100-meter world record in 2009 to become the fastest human. Ditto to Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods. But you also have Torvill and Dean achieving a perfect score in the 1984 Winter Olympics, and Ma Long’s table tennis reign. You have Jackie Robinson, making history when he stepped onto Ebbets Field in 1947, and Tommie Smith raising his fist for civil rights on the Olympic podium in 1968. You’ve got lots of female power, with Billie Jean King, Simone Biles, Brandi Chastain (sports bra hall of famer!), and cyclist Anna van der Breggen, to name a few. And you have teams, like the Dallas Cowboys and Team USA Hockey, who stunned the USSR with their upset in the 1980 Winter Olympics.

What an incredible lineup of sports, people, and impact! And while the book focuses on specific moments in sports history, the backmatter highlights stats for each of the athletes profiled, making it truly the gift that keeps on giving.

For the Brainiac

How Everything Works: From Brain Cells to Black Holes
by DK Publishing
Ages 10-15

Full confession: encyclopedia-style books, especially really heavy ones like this, are not my jam. They make my brain hurt. But my engineer husband and wanna-be-rocket-scientist son? They can’t get enough of them. The more charts and diagrams the better! As such, they are my best critics when an information-heavy book lands on my doorstep for review. And I wish you could have seen the reception this book got. My husband said it was the cleanest and most engaging visual presentation of dense information that he’d ever seen. My son was floored that the book was so current as to include NASA’s interception of an asteroid this past September. Move over, David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work, there’s a new Gold Standard in town.

Across 320 pages, How Everything Works is organized into six meaty sections: You (the human body), Home (construction to gaming), City and Industry (supermarkets to road systems to power grids to the Internet), Living World (bacteria to ecosystems), Our Planet (volcanoes to ocean currents to climate), and Space. Large-scale illustrations abound, accentuated with photography, for a visual feast to accompany the ambitious information.

One of my favorite parenting hacks is to leave books like this lying around the house. They’re the perfect boredom-buster, as kids can pick them up, flip to a section of interest, get their fill, and put them down again. Husbands, too (wink wink).

Have you enjoyed this post? Make sure you don’t miss others! Enter your email on the right hand side of my homepage, and you’ll receive a new post in your inbox 3-4 times a month. Plus, follow me on Instagram (@thebookmommy), where I’m active most days, posting reviews and updates on what my kids are reading, or Facebook (What To Read To Your Kids) and Twitter (@thebookmommy).

Books published (and gifted) by Quarto, Abrams, Chronicle, and DK Publishing. All opinions are my own. Links support the beautiful Old Town Books, where I am the children’s buyer (and yes, we ship!).

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