Cue up “Pomp and Circumstance” and straighten your mortarboards—graduation is already upon us. Stumped for the perfect gift for your grad? These six books take kids from grade school to grown-up with insights that will stay with them for years.
Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1990) is the quintessential grad gift book. Whimsically illustrated, the book offers the best of advice for life’s journey. Younger grads will delight in the trademark Seussian rhyme and the fantastical adventures of the title character, but the poignancy of life’s less bright moments on the way to success—moments that the book does not shy away from—will not be lost on kids as they grow in their quest to “move mountains!”
Idea: Get the book for your kindergarten grad and have a favorite teacher write a note every school year somewhere in the book. Regift the book when your child graduates from high school for a special surprise.
Junie B. Jones is a Graduation Girl by Barbara Park (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2001) is sure to be a hit with the kindergarten set. Barbara Park has an innate understanding of six-year-olds, and Junie B. is as irrepressible as ever in this 17th installment of Park’s celebrated series. The book follows the hijinks of disaster-prone Junie B., her teacher “Mrs.” and all the kids of Room 9 as they prepare to don “cats and gowns” for kindergarten graduation.
Idea: At the end of the Junie B. Jones books you’ll find a selection of insights from everyone’s favorite kindergartener like this little gem: “Girls can be anything boys can be. ‘Cause I saw that on Sesame Street. And also on Oprah.” Pick some of your favorites and create a bookmark for your budding reader.
8th Grade Promotion
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins, 1964) is a children’s book whose significance is perhaps a little too beyond the grasp of most children, though it might resonate with kids in their early teens. Silverstein’s beautiful parable about a tree who harbors a selfless love for a boy—a boy whose seeming thanklessness and insatiability may hit home for self-occupied teens—is a bittersweet tale of our capacity for love that seems to echo the arc of a maturing parent-child relationship. The fact that the book’s message is left ambiguous provides parents with a great opportunity to talk to their kids about the nature of love, selfishness and selflessness, and wants vs. needs.
Idea: Pair this book with a special dinner out for you and your young teen. Talking time is often difficult to come by in these busy years, and setting a precedent for good communication before high school is a gift in itself.
The Dangerous Book for Boys or The Daring Book for Girls by Conn Iggulden and Andrea J. Buchanan, respectively, (William Morrow, 2007) were runaway hits when they were released a few years ago and continue to top sales charts. The books focus on specific “boy knowledge” (coin tricks, how to respect girls, making a bow and arrow) and “girl knowledge” (double-dutch, great females in history, how to turn a perfect cartwheel) revered by our grandparents that somehow became “lost” in an age of video games and television. The best thing about these books is that they don’t cater entirely to gender stereotypes—girls will learn five karate moves and boys will master their manners, for example. With as many projects as both books offer, young adults are guaranteed an active summer.
Idea: Pair this book with the supplies for an activity in which you think your son or daughter might be interested—rope for knot tying, or a lemon for the lemon-powered clock—and set aside some time for a project!
High School Graduation
Though The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (HarperCollins, 2006) is steeped in mysticism and the wisdom of ages, it reads as simply a child’s fable. Its message is equally uncomplicated: “[N[o heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams, because every second of the search is a second's encounter with God and with eternity.” Santiago, the simple shepherd boy in search of his dream, meets several spiritual guides along the way, and the tale is rife with lessons about empowerment and success that will be easily applicable to grads on the cusp of adulthood.
Idea: Match this book with a journey of your own—whether a camping trip or a college visitation. Long drives are great opportunities to talk with your teen about the future.
Life Is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally by Patti Digh (skirt!, 2008) is a book that begins with death—which may make it seem like an unconventional choice for a grad just beginning the next stage of life. But out of tragedy (the author’s stepfather died 37 days after being diagnosed with lung cancer) comes triumph: Digh challenges herself to a 37-day reevaluation of her own life that focuses on overcoming negativity and achieving purpose. Funny, edgy and intelligent, Digh’s no-nonsense book dispenses advice (“Always rent the red convertible . . . .”) and gives homework (“[L]ist five people that seem unlovable . . . . Make a conscious decision each morning to hold those people in your thoughts.”) that will be appreciated by teens eager to find themselves in an adult world.
Idea: Give this book with a blank journal for completing Digh’s exercises.