12/19/2014 01:55 EST | Updated 02/18/2015 05:59 EST

Great Book Gift Ideas for Your Teenager

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When I was a teenager my mother gave me a pink, puffy coat. Being the ungrateful brat that I was, I threw it on the floor and refused to wear it. In my defense, the coat was wrong for so many reasons. Besides being puffy and pink, it was shiny in a non-metallic way, and it came down to my knees. Oh, and we lived in Los Angeles at the time and it never got frigid enough to wear a sleeping bag with buttons. When I wrote "new coat" on my Christmas list, I had been hoping for something leather, or at least a jean jacket.

Let's face it: teens are tough to buy for. Unless we parents are willing to shell out a small fortune for the latest technology, equip them with the newest gear, or stuff their stockings with gift cards to trendy stores, they probably won't be interested in what we pick out for them. And whatever you do, don't try to buy them clothes, no matter how hip you consider your taste. My 10-year-old doesn't even trust me to do that any more.

As a blogger of Young Adult literature and a professional book reviewer, I read a lot. There are tons of great books out there if you are looking to purchase your teen a gift of the literary sort (and of reasonable cost). But don't pick something randomly, or the book may end up on the floor next to my pink coat. Consider your teen's interests and s/he will be far more likely to actually read it. The following are my top picks for 2014, based on quality and overall likeability.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. An entitled family; a private island; four teenagers whose lives change in a moment. They're called Liars for a reason. Interests: family dynamics, friendship, romance, secrets, mystery

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon. Black boy, white shooter. Numerous witnesses, numerous accounts of what happened. Truth is only a concept, after all. Interests: social justice, race relations, gang mentality, media studies

The Terminals by Royce Buckingham. A terminally ill young man joins an elite team of spies who carry out highly dangerous and covert missions. You've been told that you have one year left to live. What would you do? Interests: survival, adventure, danger, physical skills, conspiracy

Like No Other by Una LaMarche. First loves are complicated, especially for a Hasidic girl and black boy in Brooklyn. A predestined future compromised by a forbidden relationship. How much would you sacrifice to be with your one true love? Interests: religion, romance, familial expectations

This One Summer a graphic novel by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki. One summer two adolescent girls decide that spying on the local teens is far more entertaining than building forts. Ah, puberty; don't you miss it? Interests: graphic novels, cottaging, friendship, coming-of-age stories

Soldier Doll by Jennifer Gold. A last-minute purchase at a Toronto yard sale turns out to be a long-lost relic from the early 1900s. Who knew a doll could keep so many secrets? Interests: historical fiction, war, history, quests

Happy holidays! May your season be filled with good cheer and great reads.


  • Up & Down by Britta Teckentrup
    <strong><em><a href=Up & Down by Britta Teckentrup" />
    Sometimes the simplest books are the best, and this story about two penguins trying to reach each other across a great divide is lovely. The youngest readers will love learning about directions as they lift flaps that take the penguins inside and outside of dark tunnels, in front of dolphins and behind sharks, and up and down icebergs until they’re together at last.
  • Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui
    <strong><em><a href=Before After by Anne-Margot Ramstein & Matthias Arégui" />
    An enormous book of paired illustrations each showing a different before and after will keep your children entertained for hours. The absence of text allows them to tell their own stories, and you may be surprised with what they come up with.
  • Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
    <strong><em><a href=Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall" />
    Poor Red. It says red on his label, so he must be red. Except Red isn’t. He’s blue. Everyone tries to help him be a better red, until one day he makes a new friend who likes him just the way he is. Funny and clever, with a wonderful message about embracing who we are, Red is a great addition to anyone’s holiday list.
  • Kid Sheriff And The Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, Illustrated by Lane Smith
    <strong><em><a href=Kid Sheriff And The Terrible Toads by Bob Shea, Illustrated by Lane Smith" />
    There is only one thing that can save Drywater Gulch from the outlaws: 7-year old Sheriff Ryan, paleontologist and lawman extraordinaire. He may ride a tortoise, but he’s quick on the draw when it comes to capturing criminals.
  • Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton
    <strong><em><a href=Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton" />
    In another boldly illustrated book, Chris Haughton introduces us to four bumbling friends with a plan to capture a beautiful bird. After a night of disasters, you’d think they’d learn their lesson, and they do. Until they see a squirrel.
  • I Wanna Go Home by Karen Kaufman Orloff, Illustrated by David Catrow
    <strong><em><a href=I Wanna Go Home by Karen Kaufman Orloff, Illustrated by David Catrow" />
    Not everyone likes to go stay with their grandparents when their parents fly off to Bora Bora. I’ve never been to Bora Bora, but I hear it’s lovely and definitely better than playing bridge for a week at Happy Hills Retirement Community. That’s what young Alex thinks, until he discovers that grandparents can be surprisingly cool, like when they let you use their bingo winnings to buy ice cream -- or fingerpaint the kitchen. Sometimes, the best trips are those you dread most.
  • <strong><em><a href=My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) by Peter Brown" />
    When Bobby gets to school on his first day, he discovers that his teacher is a monster -- green skin and all. Ms. Kirby is mean and loud and never lets the class have any fun. When Bobby meets her in the park one day, he’s sure things will go terribly wrong. Until something unexpected changes his mind. (Originally featured in "26 Entertaining And Educational Books For Back-To-School Season")
  • <strong><em><a href=Bedtime Math 2: This Time It’s Personal by Laura Overdeck" />
    Anyone else have mathphobia? Anyone else worried your kids will be math-illiterate because of it? Laura Overdeck is here to save us. With stories and colorful pictures and a variety of word problems for kids young and old, Bedtime Math 2 (like the original Bedtime Math) makes math an engaging and challenging part of our nightly routine. Everyone will enjoy this “fun excuse to stay up late.” (Originally featured in "20 Terrific Books To Read With Your Kids This Spring")
  • Animalium, Curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom
    <strong><em><a href=Animalium, Curated by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom" />
    This book is an extraordinary collection of information about the vast variety of Earth's animals, from the smallest insect to the largest whale. It's a portable museum, open anytime you want to visit. The book is glorious -- full of oversized drawings reminiscent of old-fashioned botany or Audubon prints you can only find in rare book shops. The pages are luxurious -- weighty in your hands and demanding long hours of uninterrupted attention. You'll be enchanted, and so will your kids. (Originally featured in "26 Entertaining And Educational Books For Back-To-School Season")
  • <strong><em><a href=Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samwort" />
    With the rate of deforestation and habitat destruction, it probably isn’t long before many of the gorgeous birds we know and love go the way of the Dodo or the Roc. But never fear, Aviary Wonders Inc.’s Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual is here to help! Design your own birds (mix ‘n' match wings, bodies, beaks and tails), and Aviary Wonders will provide you with parts, assembly instructions and troubleshooting should your new bird fail to perform as expected. Pointed, wry, and completely original, Kate Samworth’s debut picture book is as disturbing as it is memorable. (Originally featured in "20 Terrific Books To Read With Your Kids This Spring")
  • <strong><em><a href=Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies" />
    There are thousands of books about animals -- especially the big and exciting and beautiful ones. But until now, I haven't seen a children's book that explores the fascinating world of microbes. Tiny Creatures tackles the unseen world of the world's smallest organisms -- from the polio virus to paramecium -- and shows children how vital they are to our existence. (Originally featured in "26 Entertaining And Educational Books For Back-To-School Season")
  • <strong><em><a href=Information Graphics: Animal Kingdom by Nicholas Blechman" />
    This book is a treasure trove of fascinating animal facts that breaks down complex scientific information into colorful and engaging data visualizations. Want to compare the weight of different animals’ brains? Learn the names of hybrid animals? You can! This book has it all and is perfect for elementary school students. (Originally featured in "24 Books That Will Captivate Your Kids This Summer")
  • <strong><em><a href=Information Graphics: Human Body by Peter Grundy" />
    I’m a huge fan of the Information Graphics series. Bold images and accessible facts on an array of topics collide in these treasure troves of information. The latest in the series, Human Body, covers anything and everything that makes us tick. (Originally featured in "26 Entertaining And Educational Books For Back-To-School Season")
  • Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Illustrated by Mike Lemanski
    <strong><em><a href=Planes, Trains, and Automobiles Illustrated by Mike Lemanski" />
    Another visual feast, this six-and-a-half-foot fold-out book features 100 images of the things that have moved us -- from bicycles to trains to cars and ships. I could spend a day poring over the designs, marveling at the ingenuity and craftsmanship that brought each of these vehicles to life. Hopefully your kids will, too. (Originally featured in "24 Books That Will Captivate Your Kids This Summer")
  • Lizzy Bennet’s Diary by Marcia Williams
    <strong><em><a href=Lizzy Bennet’s Diary by Marcia Williams" />
    Inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, this illustrated middle grade treasure brings Elizabeth Bennet alive for the younger crowd. Ever wonder what Lizzy’s diary would look like? Now’s your chance to find out. Austen diehards will be as charmed as girls meeting the Bennet clan for the first time. (Originally featured in "24 Books That Will Captivate Your Kids This Summer")
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
    <strong><em><a href=We Were Liars by E. Lockhart" />
    We Were Liars is a sophisticated, taut, unexpected and thought-provoking suspense novel set on a private island filled with beautiful and accomplished people, all of whom have secrets to hide. Idyllic summer friendships twist and morph into something dark and damaging with consequences no one could predict. Never have lies been so captivating or so necessary. (Originally featured in "24 Books That Will Captivate Your Kids This Summer")
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
    <strong><em><a href=The Crossover by Kwame Alexander" />
    Twin brothers Josh and Jordan Bell are basketball stars in the midst of a winning season. But don’t be fooled, The Crossover is more than just a sports story. The Bell brothers are about to learn that life is about more than winning on the court. Kwame Alexander’s novel in verse is a kinetic, vibrant and exhilarating exploration of brotherhood, basketball, and our ability to rise above our losses. (Originally featured in "24 Books That Will Captivate Your Kids This Summer")