Suzanne Tobias

Giving books? Here are some nifty ways to package your present

Suzanne Perez Tobias
Suzanne Perez Tobias The Wichita Eagle

For the past few holiday seasons, our family has adopted a gift-giving strategy known as “Want, Need, Wear, Read.”

When shopping for our two children, my husband and I try to limit our purchases to one item from each of four categories: something they want, something they need, something to wear and something to read. In this season of excess, it’s a nifty trick for staying focused and thoughtful with gift-giving.

The practice seems to be popular again this season, and I’m glad. I won’t go into all the benefits of “want, need, wear, read.” Suffice it to say, I’m a convert.

I thought I’d focus today on my personal favorite of the four categories – the last one, something to read – and offer a few creative ways to give books as gifts.

Not that books need much jazzing up. There’s probably not a person on your holiday gift list who wouldn’t be thrilled with some type of reading material, be it a cookbook, poetry anthology, mystery novel, art book or magazine subscription. So don’t feel like a nicely wrapped book is somehow lacking.

That said, when you’re shopping for a child, tween or teen, sometimes you fear disappointing them with giving only a book. (Only? I know, dear readers, but some kids are a harder sell.)

Pam Coughlan, a Virginia mother of two behind the fabulous MotherReader website, has dozens of ideas for pairing reading material with book-themed treats that will make your gift even more fun and memorable. Every year her “150 Ways to Give a Book” list is tweeted, Facebooked and tacked to Pinterest boards the world over, with good reason.

“I started looking around and thinking, ‘Maybe we’re just not looking at it the right way,’ ” said Coughlan, a children’s library assistant who started her annual list nearly a decade ago. “Maybe we need to be a little creative and pair books with something fun.

“Once you start doing that – thinking up these ideas – it’s hard to stop,” she said.

Here are some of Coughlan’s ideas (and a few others). Check out her site – – for the full list, which is updated yearly and includes links to the books and gifts.

Young children

▪ Pair a bedtime book, such as “Goodnight Moon” or “A Bedtime for Bear,” with a night light or glow-in-the-dark moon and stars.

▪ Package an alphabet or numbers board book with magnetic letters and numbers.

▪ Pair “Kite Flying” or “Kite Day” with a new kite.

▪ Give “Bats at the Ballgame” with a bat and ball.

▪ Package “Drum City” with a toy drum.

▪ For little dancers, pair “Angelina Ballerina” with a fancy tutu.

▪ Give “Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek” with a box of Lincoln Logs.

Older kids

▪ Treat a tween to “Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf,” along with pink nail polish, lipstick, Post-it notes and bubble bath, as mentioned in the book.

▪ Combine “Jenny and the Cat Club” with a stuffed toy cat and red scarf. (Don’t worry if the scarf is too long – so is Jenny’s.)

▪ Pair the “National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry” with passes to a local zoo.

▪ Combine Pam Munoz Ryan’s magical, musical new chapter book, “Echo,” with a harmonica.


▪ Pair a book that you and a teen can enjoy with a gift card to a coffee shop and a promise to talk about the book over coffee.

▪ Give the companion books “Goth Girl Rising” and “The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl” and throw in “How to Draw Comic Book Heroes and Villains.”

▪ Pair “Beige” by Cecil Castellucci with a mix CD of the songs in the chapter titles (or an iTunes gift card).

▪ Combine “The Chicks With Sticks Guide to Knitting” with yarn, knitting needles and a promise of lessons.

▪ Give “Ductigami: The Art of Tape” with rolls of duct tape.

▪ Blogger Catherine Newman’s new gift guide suggests “Humans of New York” as a great book to give teens, who are “in a strange vortex of difficulty, with respect to gifts: halfway between LEGO and scotch.”

All ages

▪ For books-turned-movies, give the book along with movie tickets – or a gift card to rent the movie, along with microwave popcorn and candy.

▪ Match poetry books with word beads or magnetic poetry.

▪ Pair an art book with watercolor paints, an art set or a related art print.

▪ Combine “Life Is Sweet” with chocolate.

▪ Give any interesting, insightful book with a restaurant gift card and a date to discuss the book together over a meal.

▪ Wrap a cookbook in photocopies of your favorite recipes, a knitting book with a scarf, or a book about finances in dollar bills.

▪ Give “This I Believe” and/or “This I Believe II” with a journal for the recipients to capture their own revelations.