By Joan Bauer

Several years ago, I wrote a poem to young readers about why I read:

Why do I read? I just can’t help myself.
I read to learn and to grow, to laugh and to be motivated.
I read to understand things I’ve never been exposed to.
I read when I’m crabby, when I’ve just said monumentally dumb things to the people I love.
I read for strength to help me when I feel broken, discouraged, and afraid.
I read when I’m angry at the whole world.
I read when everything is going right.
I read to find hope.
I read because I’m made up not just of skin and bones, of sights, feelings, and a deep need for chocolate, but I’m also made up of words.
Words describe my thoughts and what’s hidden in my heart.
Words are alive—when I’ve found a story that I love, I read it again and again, like playing a favorite song over and over.
Reading isn’t passive—I enter the story with the characters,
breathe their air, feel their frustrations, scream at them to
stop when they’re about to do something stupid, cry with
them, laugh with them.
Reading for me, is spending time with a friend.
A book is a friend.
You can never have too many.

These two books have become friends. They are perfect for holiday or anytime gift giving.

By Randall Monroe

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Randall Monroe, creator of the webcomic xkcd and author of the number 1 New York Times bestseller What If? has created a book that explains through line drawings and common words how complicated things work and why. Those simple words are among the one thousand (or as Munroe calls them, “ten hundred”) most common words used today. This limitation offers charming discoveries. From bridges to data centers to the solar system to clothes washers and dryers to what’s “under a car’s front cover.” Munroe has made it impossible for anyone to feel dumb. Here we have the ultimate explanation of NASA’s Apollo spacecraft that landed on the moon. We clearly see “the part that fell off…” “the feet that go on the ground of the other world...” “the part that flies down to the other world with two people inside.” In fact, Munroe created this book “because it made me let go of my fear of sounding stupid.”

This is a wildly fascinating book that’s a lot like walking through a cool museum with a funny guy who knows how to help you get what you’re seeing. The flap copy boldly proclaims this book “is for anyone—age 5 to 105—who has ever wondered how things work, and why.” I have given The Thing Explainer to doctoral students, a rabbi, an actor, a college professor, and I know any number of younger people who would love it as well. Buy an extra copy for yourself. You might never need to use a big word again.

Words by Matt De La Pena. Pictures by Christian Robinson
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Young Readers Group

This book is a triumph of love, hope, and attitude. It’s a story that counters negativity in our world for it gently models thankfulness, and at the end, I guarantee, you will want to hug the grandmother who knows how to turn the frustrations of her grandson into moments of wonder. The boy, C.J., has so many questions as he and his nana take their weekly bus ride:

How come we don’t got a car?
How come we gotta wait for the bus in all this wet?
How come we always gotta go to this place?
How come I don’t have what he’s got?

The “how comes” keep coming as C.J. views the world by what he hasn’t got, but his Nana is all about seeing what they have. There is healing and transformation here as this wise grandmother helps her grandson discover the hidden beauty of people and places in his neighborhood. If we weren’t all graced with having a Nana like C.J.’s (happily, I was!), we could at least take a listen to her wisdom about life and longing and looking at the world through the lens of appreciation and thankfulness. How we look at something matters, and C.J. learns the quiet lesson until it fills him up. This is a lovely book to share and to read out loud to children. It reminds young and old that hope and attitude do make life magical. Last Stop on Market Street won both the prestigious Newbery Medal and was also a Caldecott Honor award winner. Matt De La Pena’s words rise and fall like poetry, and Christian Robinson’s vivid artwork is packed with goodness.

Joan Bauer is a New York Times bestselling novelist and winner of the Newbery Honor Award, the LA Times Book Prize, and two Christopher Awards. Her latest novel is Soar, published by Viking/Penguin Random House. Connect with her on Twitter @joan_bauer or at joanbauer.com.