All Ages

Memorable and Meaningful:
On Giving Books Over Toys This Holiday Season

by Laura Lambert

Photo credit: LuckyBusiness, iStock / Getty Images Plus

Something they want.
Something they need.
Something to wear.
Something to read.

When I first heard the “Four Gift Rule” a few years ago, it was such a relief — a structure to believe in, instead of a mountain of things under the Christmas tree. It’s hard to know where and how to stop with the gifts, especially with younger kids. This rule limited my holiday shopping to four presents each (from parents, mind you. We all know grandparents can’t be trusted).

But now that my children are well out of diapers, less in tune with toys and more in tune with devices, and I’m much more interested in giving people experiences instead of things, I’m thinking I might even try to skip the first three parts of the rule — and stick with books.

A book — when well-chosen and meaningful — is truly the gift that keeps on giving. From the characters and their emotions to where you were and how you felt when you first read it — the right book sticks with you long after you’ve read the last page.

You can really gauge the value of books when it comes time for spring or back-to-school cleaning. When I slip into my children’s rooms to see what we can donate, it’s easy to grab too-tattered or ill-fitting clothes — or toys that no longer hold the imagination. By now, most stuffed animals have been relegated to a corner — not really played with, but still too meaningful to toss. Well-loved books are always the hardest to part with. Even when I manage to put together a stack, I’m invariably met with, “But I love that one,” and I have to put them back.

That goes for me, as well. I still have the box set of Little House on the Prairie that my best friend from childhood gifted me one year. We are no longer any closer than Facebook friends, but the memory of our bond is tied up in those books. I have beautiful hardcover copies of The Wizard of Oz and Black Beauty, and well-worn copies of all the Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein books I once called my own. They now sit on my son’s bookshelves.

And that’s what you want in a gift — something meaningful, something that will stand the test of time, something you can revisit time and again. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Black Beauty, but I loved it; and I may love it again when one of them grabs it by the spine and asks, “What’s this one?

Books remain a popular holiday gift, right up there with clothing and toys — so even if the “Four Gift Rule,” or my all-book alternative, won’t work for your family, remember: there’s always room for more books under the tree.

Here are some recommended books to give as gifts: