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Rules of Civility is a fave book

Last Minute Gifts: Books!

By Isabel Kallman

You know what’s happening right now, shipping deadlines for Christmas is near. But books, a standard fave for which there’s still time. Also, you can always walk to your local brick & mortar bookseller and pick up books to buy as gifts. Easy peasy. Plus, I’ve always loved the Want, Need, Wear and Read gift strategy.  The idea is that each family member gets four gifts and each one falls under one of those categories. So, yeah books are the best gifts.

Here are some favorites. I asked other Alpha Mom contributors to share theirs too. The list is broken out in books for adults and kids:

Book Gift Ideas for Adults

Rules of Civility is a fave bookA Walk in the Woods and any book by Bill Bryson. I’ll recommend anything by Bill Bryson any day. Anyone would. But if you aren’t familiar with him and you need a good chuckle, pick up A Walk in the Woods or better yet get the audio version of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt kid. This is the perfect gift for anyone older than 40 who might think that everything was better back in the day. Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
I love, love, love this book and everyone I know who has read it feels the same. It’s a sophisticated and fun novel about a young woman in New York City in the late 1930’s and her movement into high society. Both the dialogue and characters in this one are super sharp. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons and me.

Bossypants by Tina Fey
Another quick and fun read by one of today’s most lovable and smart wise-crackin’ comedians. I know this book is years old, but I will continue to recommend it for years. Lots of smart life and business advice for everyone, but especially young women.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
I loved this book because it was a glimpse into a world I know nothing about, namely super-rich pedigreed Chinese families in Asia. I thought it was really well written, very soapy and very funny. A great beach read, come summer. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief By Lawrence Wright
This well-researched non-fiction book is by far the most comprehensive reporting I’ve ever seen about Scientology and includes the history of its beginning and its relationship to Hollywood stars. The writing is not judgmental or salacious and simply presents the facts as they happened. Completely fascinating. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons.

I Like You by Sandol Stoddard Warburg
First published in 1965, this delightful book is perfect for the people you really, really like- the friend that rescues you, a child that adores you, or a partner that believes in you. The charming illustration and sparse text make this book perfect for any age, something to “grow into” over time as its true meaning takes on gravity with experience. (suggested age: any) Recommended by Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
“What if you could life again and again, until you got it right?” That’s the concept behind this inventive, beautifully written novel that takes place in England from approximately 1910 through WWII. At times the time shifting can be maddening, but stick with it because it’s funny, fascinating, sad, tragic and a book you won’t soon forget. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons.

Where’d You Go BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
This novel by a former Arrested Development writer was one of my favorite reads of 2013. A page-turner that is fun and exciting. A very quick read with great, yet albeit wacky, character development.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
I read this book and then I had to read everything by Lisa See. I’ve always been a fan of Amy Tan and this satisfied my inner curiosity for more Chinese tales. Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Another tear jerker, this book is heavy stuff about a super-smart and witty terminally cancer patient in her teens. Although this book is officially YA, the topics are mature and I would only recommend it to older teens. For adults, it’s a beautiful (albeit difficult at times) read.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Though I read this book a few years ago, it’s still one of my favorite books ever. This is historical fiction at its best. Set during World War II and the German occupation of Guernsey, it’s a moving and highly descriptive novel with fantastic and vivid characters. I want to visit Guernsey now.

The Hunger Games Trilogy
I know, this is so 2008 but they’re good! Read them again! Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

This Is for You by Rob Ryan ($16.95, 2009)
“If you believe in love, but find it hard to explain-this is for you.” This is the way Ryan introduces this labor of love, a book comprised entirely of paper cuttings. Each artful page conveys vulnerable and charming thoughts on love and hope. Small enough to tote around or the perfect addition to a coffee table collection. A gift for lovers. (suggested age: any) Recommended by Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Books by Wally Lamb
I’ve read him forever but these books always suck me in and tap into my emotions like that song, how does it go? Strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words…. Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
I love all of Liane Moriarty’s books, including the most recent “The Husband’s Secret” and “The Hypnotist’s Love Story,” but this is my favorite. A typical suburban mother faints at Spin class and wakes up thinking it’s ten years earlier and can’t believe how her life turned out. Funny, sweet and a total page turner. Love this one. Recommended by our contributor Wendi Aarons.

Book Ideas for Young Kids Through Teens

Wonder is a must-readWonder by R.J. Palacio
Another favorite book of mine from this year. It was required reading for my rising 5th grader this summer and one parent. It is so touching and the characters honest and well-developed. I cried my eyes out in a feel-good way. Here’s my full review of the novel.

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes Box Set
Such a fun and memorable gift regardless of age. Each set includes 3 hardcover books set chronologically in a slipcase. I grew up reading Calvin Hobbes comic strips and learned so much about life from the imaginary adventures of a boy and his stuffed tiger- the fine nuances of a close friendship, the trials of becoming a grown-up, and the joys of thinking outside the box. (suggested age: any) Recommended by Elizabeth Jayne Liu

Magic. 1400s-1950s by Mike Caveney, Jim Steinmeyer, and Noel Daniel
While this book may be daunting, both in size and information, for the youngest readers, anyone who is fascinated by magic will appreciate this visually stunning book which explores more than 500 years in the evolution of magic. Although it might be difficult to curl up in bed with this enormous book (10+ lbs.), its collection of more than 850 rarely seen images is fantastic. Truly a great gift. (suggested age: any) Recommended by Elizabeth Jayne Liu

The Indispensable Dictionary of Unusual Words
Perfect for your favorite sesquipedalian (look it up!). (suggested age: Middle through adult) Recommended by our contributor Mir Kamin.

Finish This Book
Another masterpiece from Keri Smith (you may recognize her name from Wreck This Journal, also a great option). This one is perfect for getting the creative juices flowing. (suggested age: Middle through adult) Recommended by our contributor Mir Kamin.

Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It
Should be required reading for anyone into D&D. The history is fascinating, even if you don’t play. (suggested age: Middle through adult) Recommended by our contributor Mir Kamin.

Fruits Basket (All editions)
For manga lovers — this is both my kids’ favorite series, there’s a ton of them, and the story lines are funny and entertaining. (suggested age: Middle through adult) Recommended by our contributor Mir Kamin.

Those Darn Squirrels! by Adam Rubin.
One of my most fave children’s books. Endearing and very creative. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond) Suggested by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Belinda Begins Ballet by Amy Young
A great book for young girls about staying true to yourself and what you really love. (suggested: preschool and beyond) Suggested by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Mo Willems is always brilliant and his Knuffle Bunny series (there are two book sequels) is just super adorable and sweet. The first Knuffle Bunny book is my absolute favorite (suggested age: Preschool and beyond) Suggested by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Olivia books by Ian Falconer
Olivia is quirk, funny and creative. Just like kids. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond). Suggested by our contributor Kelcey Kintner and me. My favorite is Olivia . . . and the Missing Toy.

A Bear and His Boy by Sean Bryan
Fantastic rhymes and truly entertaining. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond). Recommended by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed and Charlie & Lola are our favesCharlie and Lola books by Lauren Child
I wish I could hang out with Charlie and Lola. These books are British, charming and quite entertaining. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond.) Recommended by our contributor Kelcey Kintner and me. My favorite is I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed. Actually, I changed my mind. I love them all.

Fancy Nancy books by Jane O’Connor
My girls really love these books and I love that they focus on teaching kids big words. (suggested age: Preschool and beyond.) Recommended by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park
These are chapter books. They are a little annoying because they are written as a kindergartener/1st grader which means bad grammar. So when I read these to my kids, I fix the grammar because it just hurts me not to. But that said, Junie B. Jones is laugh out loud funny and your kids (especially girls) will love all her antics and adventures. Barbara Park can’t write new ones fast enough for my family. (suggested age: Kindergarten and up) Recommeneded by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Cam Jansen mysteries by David Adler
These chapter books are great, non-scary mysteries. Very fun to read and attempt to solve the mysteries. (suggested age: 1st grade and up) Recommended by our contributor Kelcey Kintner.

Little Pea
We pretty much LOVE anything by Amy Krouse Rosenthal but Little Pea is probably our favorite. It’s hilarious that Little Pea has to eat candy for dinner. Yuck, Blech! Plck! Pleh! This is an all-time favorite for any picky eaters in the house. (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Scaredy Squirrel books
These books are pretty detailed and not always the best pick for right before bedtime but kids loooove them. They can relate to Scaredy Squirrels many fears and quirks. It’s a super sweet way to open up the conversation things that children are afraid of. And Scaredy Squirrel usually works it out by the end of the book which is always nice. (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Olive, the Other Reindeer
I love this book because of it’s holiday themed and because of its super cool graphic illustrations but my daughter loves this book because it’s funny and who hasn’t gotten the lyrics to a song wrong before? (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

A Mango in the Hand
We love this book because of the illustrations. They’re amazing and the story teaches a sweet message. I love the way the author incorporates Spanish into the story and then teaches you what the phrases mean at the back of the book. Great for learning new languages! (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Zen Shorts
Beautiful, amazing watercolor illustrations. Lots of lessons too but not too over the top. I love his perspective, how sizes change. In some parts of the book the panda bear seems bigger than a house. It’s like this book was illustrated from the point of view of a child. A very talented amazing artist child with a solid foundation in Buddhism. (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay and me.

Thingy Things (a series)
We own about five of them and they are a dog-eared favorite. We started reading these before my daughter could talk and now she reads them to any little child who comes over. They’re great for memorization and even beginning to read. They’re just super simple and super cute. I can’t recommend them enough. I think Lamby Lamb with it’s reverse psychology might be my favorite. (suggested age: for little ones) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay.

Dear Dumb Diary Series
For the early readers who are just getting into chapter books this series really clicked for my daughter. I’m not sure why. Maybe the illustrations, maybe the sarcastic sense of humor. I’m not sure but they were a winner. I can download one onto my kindle for her to borrow and she’ll be lost for hours. (suggested age: young elementary) Recommended by our contributor Brenda Ponnay. Here’s a formal review of the Dear Dumb Diary series from a few years back by Mir.

When You Were Small by Sara O’Leary
Love this sweet book with gorgeous illustrations of a young lilliputian boy set amongst giant everyday household items. It’s a simple, yet magical book. Sara O’Leary followed it up with two other similarly charming books to make a series: When I Was Small and Where You Came From.

Classic Picture Books for Toddlers & Preschoolers
I love these so much and regularly gift them to new parents as I think the narrative has held up quite well: The Story of Ferdinand, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, and Make Way for Ducklings.

The Ultimate Adventure Novel Series
My reluctant reader son adored these books. He’s 10 years old and though it was an easy read for him (a strong 7 or 8 year old reader could handle it) the gripping action and the versatility of the book appealed to him. Every 6 pages or so, the reader must decide between two choices. The path chosen determines the outcome of the book. There’s currently four books in the series, all based on adventure locations (Everest, Deadly Seas, Amazon, and Mars!), and my son’s waiting for the fifth to be released.


Homemade with Love is the scratch cooking bibleI don’t know about you, but I think cookbooks are awesome gifts and I love to read them myself. Here are my current favorites.

Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie’s Kitchen
Written by my friend Jennifer Perillo, it’s a definitive guide to starting off with scratch cooking. Jennifer and I grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood during the 70s and 80s and she’s a self-taught chef. As such, it’s incredibly non-intimidating. I couldn’t believe how easy it is to make her dishes. Now, I make my own ricotta cheese. Easy peasy.

Time for Dinner: Strategies, Inspiration, and Recipes for Family Meals Every Night of the Week
Written by the former editors of Cookie and more recently Martha Stewart Magazines, this is great family dinner cookbook.

Amalah’s Cookbook recommendations
You can find a number of Amalah’s favorite cookbook recommendations. Amalah is very adventurous. I’m so jealous.

Have a Happy Holidays and read the shipping guidelines carefully if you’re ordering online! Here are Amazon’s shipping deadlines for this holiday season.

Isabel Kallman
About the Author

Isabel Kallman

Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.


Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.

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Thank you – I’m using this as a “I got an Amazon gift card for Christmas and need to fill up my Kindle” guide :).


This is great, but I say DON’T correct the grammar when you read Junie B aloud! The author writes in her voice, just like Mark Twain or Charles Dickens would write in dialects. If anything, you could discuss with your child how it’s funny that Junie B makes grammar mistakes and ask, “What’s the right way to say that?”