'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Wednesday 4 December 2013

Books as Gifts, or How to Choose the Right Book for the Right Person

Here at Kids' Book Review, we think books are the perfect gift for any occasion. KBR's Consultant Librarian Sarah Steed shares her thoughts on choosing the right book for family and friends on your gift list.

Books are fantastic gifts for family and friends, even if they are not booklovers. Why? Firstly, because they are a gift that can be given to someone of any age. Secondly, because there is enormous choice. Thirdly, they last forever. And finally, because they are likely to be shared and enjoyed by more than just the recipient, thus extending the benefits of the gift-giving.

While gift vouchers are good sometimes, and allow gift recipients to have a ‘choose your own adventure’, they’re not all that personal. So, when it’s Christmas or birthday time, and you want to give a book as a gift, what approach should you take? How do you get started, or choose the perfect title?

Keeping in mind there’s no failsafe method, and there’s always the chance a book gift won’t hit the mark, here are a few tips based on my own experience of gift-giving and recommending books.

Tip 1
Allow plenty of time. If you want to find the right book, you can’t rush it. You might be lucky and discover the perfect title jumps out at you straight away, but you might also need a bit longer. When looking for a book gift, I’ve been known to skulk around a bookshop for a couple of hours - or more - sometimes coming back for a second go another day. Providing you have the time and enjoy doing so, browsing books to find a gift can also be as just much fun for the gift-giver as the receiver.

Tip 2
Do your research. Buying from a local bookshop is probably the best way to go, but don’t forget there are usually plenty to choose from - independents, alternatives, the various franchises, remainders shops, and even second-hand bookshops. They will all have titles in common, but also some gems you might never have heard of, nor be able to find anywhere else. A note about buying online: do this if you must, but more than anything I consider online bookshops a research tool, after which I will tend to try to buy local.

Tip 3
Think about what you know about the recipient, and what their interests are, but remember the most obvious choice is not always the right one. It’s important to know the person you’re giving the gift to. Choosing a book that’s linked to a hobby or something that excites or inspires them is a good starting point. Fiction is great, but non-fiction is an excellent choice, too, with plenty of possibilities.

Once, when looking for a gift for my aunt, it was pure serendipity that I came across what turned out to be ‘the one’. The book I found was a small paperback about the history of the region in France where champagne originated. I knew my aunt had enjoyed a trip to France, and like many people also liked the occasional drop of wine. I wouldn’t have gone looking for this specific book, but knowing what I did, and finding the book hidden amongst other more high-profile titles, I decided to go with my instinct. The end result was a gift that has been read many times over and enjoyed by more than one person.

Tip 4
Look for opportunities. By that, I mean opportunities to connect people with a book or subject they might not have otherwise considered. This can be a particularly good strategy with children.

My nephew is an excellent reader, but can be a little picky about what he likes. I knew he’d loved reading fantasy books like the Ranger’s Apprentice series, however he was at that reading crossroads that can go on for a while, where his ability to read doesn’t always match the suitability of books in that in between junior and young adult fiction period. For his eleventh birthday I decided to buy him a copy of The Hobbit.

The first movie of the book was due for release a couple of months later, and knowing there was a good chance he’d end up seeing it, I wanted to make sure he’d read the book first. It is a classic piece of literature, of course, however I chose an edition where the cover was taken from the movie, as it was more likely to appeal to him than the traditional cover reproductions (yes, I know, judging a book by its cover). Well, at first he didn’t seem too fussed one way or another, but two weeks later I received a message to say he had spent the weekend bunkered down and finished reading The Hobbit, and had now asked for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I class that as a definite winner!

Tip 5
If you really don’t know where to start, ask your librarian for a recommendation, and look for various lists - there are bestsellers, of course, plus thematic and read-a-like lists. When buying for younger readers, children’s choice awards will also provide some guidance on proven success stories. Most of Australia’s states and territories have children’s choice awards, the details of which can be found online, and there are others overseas, too.

Happy book-hunting!

You can find book suggestions for different themes and topics by checking out our KBR Book Lists or searching for books with specific topic and theme labels.