Time may be folding in on itself, but you still need to buy holiday gifts. This year, pandemic-related printing and shipping challenges mean you should buy your books now to get the best selection — at Austin’s independent booksellers, of course. Shopping at these stores in 2020 ensures they’ll be there in the new year and beyond.
Here are ideas for picture book readers, middle graders and young adults. All you have to do is figure out where to hide them until it’s time for presents.
Today’s young fans of the Harlem Globetrotters are used to the flash and glitz that accompany the team. Their parents might well remember the Globetrotters of the 1970s and ’80s, with legends like Meadowlark Lemon and Fred "Curly" Neal squaring off against the Washington Generals, always with enough time for a confetti bucket. The Globetrotters’ start was very different, as Suzanne Slade notes in "Swish! The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters" (Little, Brown, $17.99), illustrated by Austin’s Don Tate. Slade and Tate tell us about the Chicago high schoolers who were so adept on the court, they angered some — until they took their skill and used it to entertain audiences. It’s an illuminating look at the early history of the team, including its struggles with racism. (Ages 4-8)
Evelyn is Daniela’s best friend — her mejor amiga, her número uno best friend. They love to climb the steps two at a time, snag a cookie from Señora Flores and play hide-and-seek. But as Newbery winner Meg Medina and illustrator Sonia Sánchez show us in "Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away" (Candlewick, $17.99), that means parting is painful. The duo put off the inevitable with flights of imagination and plans for how they’ll stay in touch, crafting a lovely tribute to navigating a common rite of passage. Sánchez’s final illustration, with an older Daniela smiling over handwritten letters, offers reassurance to young readers that true friendship doesn’t fade. (Ages 4-8)
Jacqueline Woodson’s latest middle grade novel, "Before the Ever After" (Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $17.99), uses verse to explore the bond between father and son, as well as the lasting effects of traumatic brain injury. ZJ is used to people admiring his dad, a former pro football star. Lately, though, his dad is often angry, and sometimes forgetful — which his mom says is because of all the football tackles. The 2020 MacArthur Fellow and former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature eloquently depicts how much ZJ cares for his father, even though he’s confused and hurt by his behavior. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking and important read. (Ages 8-12)
Readers first met spunky Mia Tang in 2018’s "Front Desk," when she helped her parents run a motel while offering a safe harbor for immigrants. Mia is back in Kelly Yang’s "Three Keys" (Scholastic, $17.99), and the sixth grader is facing new hurdles, including worried hotel investors and a scary new anti-immigration law. Yang, who this year also tackled assault and consent in her timely young adult novel "Parachutes," spotlights political activism in an age-appropriate, inspiring way. There’s plenty of humor, too, along with Mia’s persistence in improving her writing skills. (Ages 8-12)
Fans of fantasy and folklore will relish "The Way Back" (Knopf, $18.99), Gavriel Savit’s mesmerizing tale of a young boy and girl on a journey toward home, underpinned by Jewish mysticism. Arriving on shelves Nov. 17, it’s already a finalist for the National Book Award. Children Yehuda Leib and Bluma each encounter the Angel of Death, setting them on a path that takes them through a richly drawn world of spirits and demons to get back to their home in Tupik, an Eastern European shtetl. Savit is skilled at creating remarkable characters and pacing his novel to the rhythms of traditional storytelling. And he has a gift for small, sweet moments of truth, like when Yehuda Leib remembers his father: "Sometimes he thought the memory felt holy because of the synagogue, and sometimes he thought maybe it was the other way around." (Ages 12 and older)
Austin author Tracy Wolff’s "Crave" may have won attention earlier this year amid a resurgence of Twilight mania, but her paranormal series featuring a teenage girl and the hot boy vampire at her boarding school (plus werewolves, dragons, gargoyles and the like) has lots more to offer. The new sequel, "Crush" (Entangled Teen, $18.99), finds heroine Grace back at Katmere Academy, learning more about her own identity and digging into layers of powerful history. This one is perfect for devotees of supernatural intrigue, immersive world-building with plenty of twists, and quick-witted dialogue. (Ages 14 and older)