A book is for Life - Not Just for Christmas

This time of year is unquestionably the most important in the children’s books calendar as publishers rush to capitalise on the generosity of seasonal gift-givers. The trade figures generated by booksellers at this time of year are astonishing – with some 25% of annual sales taking place during November and December alone and most of these during Christmas week itself. But though the amount of money spent is undoubtedly impressive (not to mention vital to those in the industry), it is often the case that the amount of thought that goes into these purchases sometimes doesn’t quite match the level of financial investment.

We’ve all been there, frantically dashing between the aisles on Christmas Eve, scrabbling for anything that remotely fits the bill. However, whereas Grandpa Jim will probably find some use for yet another Georgie Best biography (handy for propping up that wonky armchair) and Aunty Mary will always find space on the shelves for Jamie’s latest culinary tome, the effect on younger readers of a poor purchase can be far more devastating. At best, giving the wrong book to a child represents a missed opportunity; at worst it can have a detrimental impact on their attitude to books which can be very hard to reverse. Pick the right title, however, and you’re not only gifting the physical object, the words on the page, but passing on the joy of reading itself and all the life-long benefits that this entails.

At this point, the question which logically follows is “how do I pick the right book?” and you’d be right to ask! Even as someone who works in the area and spends every day surrounded by piles of new titles, when I visit a bookshop, I still get bamboozled by the choice on offer in your average children’s section. And at Christmas, this only gets harder with all the snow-topped stocking-fodder piled high at every turn.

The key, in my opinion, is to go fore-armed, prepare for your trip to the bookstore as you would your trip to the supermarket to buy the bits for Christmas dinner. Do your research, find out what the children you are buying for already like. Are they currently reading a series which you can get the next instalment of? Are there any authors writing in a similar genre or style that they may also enjoy? If they’re not really into books, what are their other hobbies? Boys in particular can shy away from fiction sometimes, but there are loads of high quality information books out there, so you should be able to find a good match whatever they’re into.

Books produced by Irish publishers can have a special quality in generating sense of local interest that can add an extra spark to the reading experience. Be sure to buy for fun, not educational value – it is Christmas after all and they’ll come round to Great Expectations eventually if they want to. And if something festive takes your fancy, be sure to pick them up something non-seasonal as well, which will have a more sustained appeal long after the tree has come down and the tinsel has been packed away for another year.

Written by Tom Donegan, Programme Officer, Children's Books Ireland. For more information and a comprehensive selection of recommended reads for young people aged 0-16, see their website

First published 4kids Winter 2009