Happy Holidays, Spokane book lovers! It's time to shop local and shop small this holiday season. Rather than order titles from Amazon or other big online retailers, hit up your neighborhood independent bookstores. There are numerous benefits to supporting regional businesses, and primo among these benefits is just the feeling it gives you when you speak to members of your community face-to-face. Yes, the big retailers can offer deeper discounts, but the human experience at local stores is priceless.
It goes without saying that books make the best gifts, and there were scores of beautiful releases this year that will make book lovers of all ages gleeful and grateful. Here are a few of the books I'll be gifting this year.
EL LIBRO DE DAR GRACIAS / THE THANK YOU BOOK
BY MARY LYN RAY, ILLUSTRATED BY STEPHANIE GRAEGIN (BOARD BOOK, $6)
A sweetly illustrated introduction to gratitude for the youngest readers in your life. Y también es en dos idiomas.
TREE: A PEEK-THROUGH BOARD BOOK
BY BRITTA TECKENTRUP (BOARD BOOK, $10)
Breathtaking illustrations and playful cutouts make this story about a tree and its seasons an utter delight for readers young and old.
LITTLE WITCH HAZEL: A YEAR IN THE FOREST
BY PHOEBE WAHL (HARDCOVER PICTURE BOOK, $20)
Washington state writer and illustrator Phoebe Wahl has penned a masterpiece here. This story, about an industrious gnome witch named Hazel, carves through the seasons of a fantastical Northwest forest and reads like four storybooks in one.
MOUSE'S WOOD: A YEAR IN NATURE
BY ALIVE MELVIN (HARDCOVER PICTURE BOOK, $19.95)
This is a must-have for any picture-book collection with gorgeous illustrations and cut-paper artwork showcasing a year in the life of Mouse and his woodland friends.
THE SECRET SIGNS OF NATURE: HOW TO UNCOVER HIDDEN CLUES IN THE SKY, WATER, PLANTS ANIMALS AND WEATHER
BY CRAIG CAUDILL (HARDCOVER $23)
For your budding biologists and naturalists: This informative hardcover will train young navigators to observe and learn from the natural world with four "most important tools:" Look, listen, smell, and touch.
CAT AND CAT ADVENTURES
BY SUSIE YI (PAPERBACK CHAPTER BOOKS, $9 each)
Squee! Squash and Ginny — two very adorable cats — are as mischievous as they are adventurous in this magical series that will enchant your beginning readers. The first of the series, The Quest for Snacks, came out last year, with the second and third published in 2022. Kids who love Narwhal and Jelly and The Bad Guys series will love these books.
MIDDLE READERS (AGES 8-12)
BY VARSHA BAJAJ (HARDCOVER, $18)
I read this with a group of fifth graders over the summer for a kids' book club, and we all (well, almost all, haha) loved it. This is a suspenseful, slim, potent novel set in the poorest neighborhoods of Mumbai, where severe water shortages are affecting daily lives. The protagonist, Minni, is a wonderfully engaging character, and her narration parallels water rights issues happening here in the States, from Flint to Standing Rock to Jackson, Mississippi. This is a great gift for middle readers who love change-making fiction with substance.
THE VANDERBEEKERS SERIES
BY KARINA YAN GLASER (THE FIRST IN THE SERIES IS PAPERBACK, $8)
My 10-year-old daughter says she loves this book series because "it has great storylines and details, and you never know what will happen next!" The latest title was just released this year (The Vanderbeekers on the Road), but make sure to start at the beginning with The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, which takes place in the five days before Christmas as the Vanderbeeker children fight to renew their lease in a beloved Harlem brownstone.
THE DOOR OF NO RETURN
BY KWAME ALEXANDER (HARDCOVER, $18)
My son, age 13, loves all of Alexander's books and says that this potent novel-in-verse, set in Asante Kingdom (Ghana) in the 1860s, is another expertly crafted read, heartbreaking and gripping. This is the first in a series.
BY JOHNNIE CHRISTMAS (PAPERBACK, $13)
There were so many outstanding graphic novels for middle readers this year, and this is one of them, about a girl named Bree who begrudgingly takes Swim 101 at her new middle school. I love the complex adults in this graphic novel, too, including a dad who must confront his own fears about swimming and an elderly ex-swim-star who helps Bree with training and with navigating white supremacy in sports.
BY KAT FAJARDO (PAPERBACK, $13)
This was another of my daughter's favorites this year, set in Honduras and featuring a soon-to-be 15-year-old who wants nothing to do with her family's plans for her quinceañera.
BY ML SMOKER AND NATALIE PEETERSE, ILLUSTRATED BY DALE RAY DEFOREST (NAVAJO NATION) (PAPERBACK, $17)
Another great new graphic novel release this year, beautifully written by award-winning Montana poets ML Smoker (Sioux, Assiniboine) and Natalie Peeterse. Featuring a young Lakota protagonist, a Raven trickster figure, vivid illustrations, and a moving tale of finding magic and strength in one's heritage.
MAN MADE MONSTERS
BY ANDREA ROGERS (CHEROKEE), ILLUSTRATED BY JEFF EDWARDS (CHEROKEE) (HARDCOVER $20)
Teenagers will go gaga for this gorgeously illustrated collection, whose stories follow one extended Cherokee family across generations. This is a book that will scare and thrill horror lovers of any age. "Tsalagi should never have to live on human blood, but sometimes things just happen to 16-year-old girls." Heck yeah.
BY LEYNA KROW (HARDCOVER, $27)
For people who love both historical writing and the fantastical, pick up this captivating novel from local writer Leyna Krow, set here in Spokane during the Great Fire of 1889. Think Jess Walter's The Cold Millions meets Katherine Dunn's Geek Love: Regional, weird, funny, engrossing.
TELL ME I'M AN ARTIST
BY CHELSEA MARTIN (HARDCOVER, $27)
I've gifted this novel — authored by a groundbreaking Spokane writer and artist — several times already. This expertly and unexpectedly plotted novel is as funny as it is devastating, delving into financial, familial, artistic and social insecurity.
NORTHWEST KNOW HOW: BEACHES
BY RENA PRIEST (LHAQ'TEMISH/LUMMI NATION) AND ILLUSTRATED BY JAKE STOUMBOUS (HARDCOVER, $7)
Such a perfect stocking-stuffer of a book, penned by our current (and wonderful) Washington State Poet Laureate Rena Priest. Awesome writing and awesome illustrations make this a must for any Pac NW beachcomber.
THE WOK: RECIPES AND TECHNIQUES
BY J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT (HARDCOVER, $50)
This drool-worthy recipe book from the author of The Food Lab contains more than 200 fast and delicious recipes — kung pao chicken, pad Thai, beef chow fun and more — and will delight any wok-wielding chef.
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH CEPHALOPOD
BY KATHRYN SMITH (PAPERBACK, $16)
For the bright-minded poetry lovers in your life, you can't go wrong with local writer Kathryn Smith's gorgeously written poetry collection, which dissects what's fragile and what's complex about the environment, the body, and the public and private persona. This won the national Jake Adam York Prize in poetry. Support those local writers and bookstores! ♦
Sharma Shields is the author of two novels, The Cassandra and The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac, and works for the Spokane Public Library as a writing education specialist.