Whatever You Do, Do Not Buy These Books This Holiday Season

by Tom Burns

According to the displays that were already going up at your local department store last month, the holiday season is upon us! And you know what that means — you should’ve started your shopping AGES ago. (Don’t worry. I haven’t either.) The worst part about holiday shopping isn’t the actual “going to the store” part, but rather the “coming up with ideas for the perfect presents for your friends and family” part.

That’s one of many reasons why I end up buying a lot of books around the holidays. Books make FANTASTIC holiday presents, largely because there is literally a book out there to match almost every idea and interest, so making a book feel like a really personal gift is definitely an achievable goal. But that doesn’t mean that holiday book shopping doesn’t come with its own set of particular pitfalls.

So, rather than telling you what books you SHOULD be buying for your loved ones this holiday season, I asked my fellow Brightly contributors to offer some advice on the kinds of books you SHOULDN’T be buying, the books you should avoid (for kids and grown-ups), the kinds of books that sound like a good idea at the time, but that you or they will regret the second after the present is opened. (If we can help one person not give a terribly misguided book this year, this will all be worth it.)

What Books Should I Not Give This Holiday Season?

Devon Corneal
Please, for the love of all things festive, do not give kids It’s Christmas, David! by David Shannon this holiday season. If you have any hope of successfully hiding presents, hanging ornaments without incident, or avoiding sugar cookie comas, this fun, funny, and irreverent book has no place under your tree.

Iva-Marie Palmer
War and Peace
 by Leo Tolstoy. Not because I think you shouldn’t read it; you absolutely should. But because, this book is not a gift but a New Year’s resolution. And no one should have to start thinking about self-improvement when there are cookies and spirits so close at hand.

Jennifer Ridgway
The Gruffalo
 by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Buying this book will cause your children to ask for it over. And over. And over. You will have to come up with different voices for the different animals. Your children may begin quoting the book and adopting the Gruffalo’s deep voice. YOU may begin reciting it in your head. Or out loud, subjecting yourself to looks of concern from those around you. Consider yourself warned.

Sharon Holbrook
Doggies by Sandra Boynton. No parent wants to repeatedly bark like ten different dogs, no matter how hilarious their toddler thinks this board book is.

Laura Lambert
If one more person recommends, quotes, suggests I buy, or otherwise mentions The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’m gonna lose it. I’m trying, OK?!?! I actually loved the book and was an early champion, but now the piles of clothes and books and mementos all over my house sit in judgment, instead of just blocking my path.

Traci Cothran
I would recommend against giving The Enchanted Files: Cursed by Bruce Coville to anyone this holiday season. My reasons?

  1. It’s terribly entertaining and will make you (and your whole family) laugh, and we all need to be at Stressed Out DefCon Level 10 for the holidays.
  2. It features an endearing and well-meaning (if not always perfect) magical brownie creature named Angus whose life purpose is to clean the room of the person he’s assigned to. For free. This can only lead to everyone — adults and children — asking Santa for brownies, which I’m pretty sure will lead to lots of disappointment.

Besides those clear drawbacks, Angus is hilarious and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!

Janssen Bradshaw
Don’t even THINK about giving your child a copy of The Book with No Pictures this year or you’ll spend the rest of your life reading it aloud to them because I promise they will never ever get tired of you singing or saying made-up words.

Melissa Taylor
Berenstain Bears picture books — because you’ll end up getting the kids to bed at 10:00 PM instead of 7:00 PM. My kids loved these books and, while I loved that they taught valuable lessons, they were just too long for bedtime stories.

And, if your kids are like mine and know every word on every page, you can’t skip ahead because they’ll make you go back and read it “right.” And then, after you read the entire story and suggest that you only read one book tonight instead of your usual three, your kids meltdown in despair and, by the time you finish all three bedtime stories, it’s WAY past their bedtime … and yours.

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich
The book I gave you last year.

Liz Lesnick
Please don’t give Bats of the Republic this holiday. Your loved ones will be so captivated by this adventure novel’s overlapping stories and innovative design, you may be stuck cleaning up from your celebration by yourself. Besides, how are you going to top yourself next year?

Tom Burns
I try to stay away from buying gift books at big chain stores like Target, not because I dislike Target (I spend so much money there), but because that’s what EVERYONE does. One year, I watched my wife receive four copies of the same popular book, all with the same Target discount sticker still on the cover. All of them ended up getting returned while she swooned over an early work from one of her favorite authors that a friend had picked up at a used bookstore. Pro Tip: When book shopping, opt for for the obscure B-side over the bestselling hit.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our first ever what-not-to-gift guide! We want to hear from you. What books did we miss? What are your biggest dos-and-don’ts when it comes to holiday book shopping? Help the Brightly community learn from your past triumphs and tragedies and give us all the details in the comments section below!