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Best books to give for the holidays in 2023

By December 4, 2023December 12th, 2023No Comments
Three children's books displayed.

Photo by Lisa Von Drasek

If you plan to follow the “four-gift rule” this holiday season — something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read — experts from the University of Minnesota Libraries recommend choosing books from a wide range of new releases.

Lisa Von Drasek, curator of the Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature, shares book suggestions for the young people in your life. Malaika Grant, arts, humanities, and area studies librarian, shares great adult gift ideas.

Lisa Von Drasek

“We are Branches” by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes

“‘Branching is nature’s most efficient way to spread something…from one central spot over a large area.’ The blood in our body branches out from arteries to veins and back again. The bones of the fruit bat branch from arms stretched in wings to their fingertips. And colorful coral branches skyward under the oceans and seas. Science writer and poet Joyce Sidman pairs again with artist Beth Krommes to create an intergenerational picture book treasure of factual information that is a joy to read aloud.”

“I’m From” words by Gary R. Gray Jr. and pictures by Oge Mora

“We follow a community of children dancing through their day as a Black child joyfully announces that they come from ‘early morning wake-ups, handcrafted blankets knitted with memories.’ All is not perfect but resilience and strength are expressed through Gray’s straightforward language and Mora’s celebratory collage illustrations reminiscent of the work of Ezra Jack Keats.”

“Paul Bunyan: The Invention of an American Legend” by Noah Van Sciver, Marlena Myles and Lee Francis, IV

“Many may believe the story of Paul Bunyan is a tall tale about a goofy oversized lumberjack and his sweet companion, Babe the Blue Ox. They would be wrong. Paul Bunyan was an invention of the timber industry whose goal was the clear cutting of indigenous lands. Noah Van Sciver with a team of experts, Lee Francis, IV, (Pueblo of Laguna), Marlena Myles (Spirit Lake Dakota/Mohegan/Muscogee), Dr. Deondre Smiles (Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe) present the true story of loggers, propaganda and the land. The cartoon graphic format and original art by Myles with additional archival materials have created an accessible and layered factual history for all ages.”

Malaika Grant

“The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year” by Margaret Renkl

“A wonderful gift for gardeners, birders, and nature lovers, Renkl’s book of 52 short essays is designed to be read over the course of the year. She reflects mostly on observations of the flora and fauna in her own Nashville garden, but this is also a memoir of the seasons of her life. Featuring 52 unique color artworks by the author’s brother, Billy Renkl, ‘The Comfort of Crows’ is a lovely and profoundly touching book from an insightful observer of the natural world.”

“The Creative Act: A Way of Being” by Rick Rubin

“Rick Rubin, co-founder of Def Jam records, winner of eight Grammy awards, producer of legendary musicians Jay-Z, Adele, The Beastie Boys, and many more, is a renowned artist with much wisdom to share. This is a treatise on what it means to be an artist, a contemplative guide on enhancing creative abilities, and a meaningful and useful gift for anyone on a creative path. Rubin underscores the notion that everyone possesses artistic potential, offering mental frameworks for both unleashing creativity and surmounting obstacles. It is the sort of book one will revisit over the years for inspiration and to revisit favorite musings such as, ‘artists allow us to see what we are unable to see, but somehow already know.’”

“Project 562 : Changing The Way We See Native America” by Matika Wilbur

“In this work of art and beautiful gift, Matika Wilbur, a renowned photographer and storyteller from the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes, documents members from the 562 federally recognized Tribal Nations across the United States. Utilizing ‘indigenous photography methods,’ she prioritizes relationships and storytelling to capture hundreds of stunning portraits and compelling personal narratives of contemporary Native people, photographed in clothing, poses and locations of their choosing. Wilbur honors and celebrates the vibrant tapestry of present-day Native American life and cultures to achieve the goal in her title, truly changing the way we see Native America.”

About Malaika and Lisa

Malaika Grant is the librarian for African American and African Studies, Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, and English at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Grant is also the selector for the Robert and Virginia McCollister Collection for Contemporary Literature and the Libraries’ online popular reading collection available through the Libby app — both collections include current literary fiction, non-fiction, biographies and graphic novels.

Lisa Von Drasek is the curator of the Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature. The Kerlan, an internationally recognized resource in the field of children’s literature, contains six core collections and several smaller collections. Von Drasek has lectured on the topics of Writing Boxes: The Reading/Writing Connection in Libraries, Emergent Literacy, Diversity in Children’s Literature, Comics and Literacy, the New Adult, What Makes an Award Winning Book, and Children’s Choice Awards. She also conducts community workshops on creative writing, reading aloud and selecting books for children and young adults.  She is the author of “Writing Boxes: The Reading/Writing Connection,” a compendium of book suggestions and writing activities for the classroom, library or home.

About the University of Minnesota Libraries

The University Libraries is a strategic resource of the Twin Cities campus and also provides integral information system support for the University’s four campuses in Crookston, Duluth, Morris, and Rochester. Composed of 12 library facilities with collections of more than 8.1 million volumes — and with special collections valued at nearly $1 billion — the Libraries has a history of strength in research collections and a longstanding record of contribution to resource sharing within the state and beyond. Learn more at

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