Johnson's World: Gift Giving Made Easier

Give the gift of reading this holiday season.

December 1, 2014

Ho! Ho! Ho! Christmastime is coming, and although Santa makes the North Pole his headquarters, he maintains a satellite marketing department here in Johnson’s World. With our credentials thus established, we once again venture to inspire you with our gift-giving suggestions.

As I am both a writer and a printer, you already know that I’ll recommend giving a book. Reading is the ultimate gift.

If choosing the right book seems like an onerous task, here are a few suggestions to make your job easier.

First of all, don’t wimp out. A gift card may seem like the easier, softer way, but no gift is more personal than a real book, carefully chosen with the recipient in mind.

When giving to kids, check out their toys. Star Wars and American Girl Dolls have spawned many, many volumes of reading material. Whether or not your child “likes” reading, they’ll dive into any book about their favorite subject

Lowbrow is okay. Dickens may be great for children. So are Batman, Tom Swift, The Bobbsey Twins, and Captain Underpants.

Don’t worry overly about gender. A good book has universal appeal. Nancy Drew is just another Hardy Boy in a skirt. They aren’t meant to be role models; they just have fun solving mysteries. Don’t fret about ethnicity either. Books are a magic carpet ride to faraway places, whether it be a continent across the ocean or just a neighborhood across town.

One of the most daunting challenges of buying books for children (especially if they aren’t under your roof) is determining the right reading level. Here’s an idea: buy slightly older. Raise the bar. Give a child a book that you know will stretch their abilities. Just like buying clothing a size too large, they’ll grow into it. Unlike clothes, a challenging book will speed them along on the rode to literacy, if the book is interesting.

Even better, give a child an upscale book with the promise to read it aloud to them. They’ll bask in the attention, broaden their vocabulary, spend time with you, and discover classics even as you rediscover them yourself. I’m not talking Homer or Milton here. Think of the science fiction of Jules Verne, which is every bit as exciting for kids now as it was a century ago, but needs someone to guide today’s kids through it.

If that idea doesn’t appeal to you, go for the opposite. Buy slightly below reading level for an oldest child and give with the instructions that they are to read aloud to younger siblings. Talk about a win-win-win situation.

Forget about interactivity. The pros and cons of books with bells, whistles, and videos embedded is a topic for another day, but such extras turn a book into a toy, and the kids will be getting plenty of other toys. Traditional books are durable. They don’t flash, but when other gifts are broken by Boxing Day they’ll pick up that book. Books are a gift for the long haul.

Grown-ups, Too

Remember to buy for adults as well. It is true that children, teens, and young adults read more than older folk, but you can help to rekindle interest in reading. It might be as simple as a book about Grandpa’s favorite quarterback or college team. We may never work them back up to reading Chaucer, but a coffee table book on their favorite obsession is a good start.

Printers, publishers, and giftgivers alike must remember that books go beyond reading. For the restless doers in your life, choose gifts of activity books, coloring books, cookbooks, and how-to guides. The For Dummies series began as software manuals but now has a guidebook for every interest imaginable.

Paper engenders writing as well as reading. Stationary, envelopes, journals, and notebooks are enjoying a renaissance as a new generation discovers the beauty of pen and ink that transcends the dry utilitarianism of tablet computing.

If all else fails, calendars are popular new year’s gifts. Available topics range from Disney’s "Frozen" to vintage Corvettes.

Lastly, don’t forget yourself. If you don’t consider yourself a reader, I’ve just nailed your first new year’s resolution for 2015.

You’re welcome. And Happy Holidays, from Johnson’s World.