Books as Gifts: Easier Said Than Done

The most popular question I get from people at Gracepoint Berkeley church, and our church plants, is about a recommended reading list. And even more so, since it is Christmas time, and people are trying to buy gifts for nieces, nephews, cousins, and other friends and relatives.

But are you surprised by the title of my post? The reason is because it’s really hard to know if the person 1) already has the book, or 2) will like the book! So this requires you to know the person’s reading tastes and history fairly well. In fact, I have gotten several book donations to Bibliopolis from patrons who received books they already had as gifts from relatives, as well as books they received that they didn’t like.

Another thing to consider is that other people might get the same book for your friend/relative. How many of you received several copies of The Return of the Prodigal Son for your baptism? 🙂 An amazing book, but you end up with multiple copies that you feel like you can’t give away, because people have written personal notes at the front of the book!

So if you are positive person X wants a certain book because it’s on their wish list, or her mom told you, then go for it! If you’re not sure what to get for person X, but you know they don’t read all that much, so you’re pretty sure anything you buy will be new to them, then maybe you’ll find my recommended reading list as a useful starting point. I’d been working on a list, but realized it’s never going to be “ready” or finished. It is going to be forever in progress, so I decided to just share what I have so far. I invite you to help me add to it as well.

If you’re not sure what to get your person X who is an avid reader, or who has very particular reading tastes, then I really do think a gift card to a local book store, or online book seller is ok! Of course with a card from the big-A, you can’t prevent person X from buying toys or a juicer, but one can hope!


Do you buy books for people? Do you have go-to books you gift? Any favorite books you received? Or stories about bad book gifts? 🙂

Reading Snapshots: Car Reading Edition

Not to be outdone by little Juliet, 10-month old Hudson’s getting into the game! He wins for the youngest reader featured thus far, and I think Gracepoint Riverside church is throwing its hat in the ring for the “most pictures featuring kiddos reading” award.


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Awards aside, books are a great way for kiddos of all ages to make use of time during car rides short or long. Nowadays many cars have screens so you can watch movies while on the road, but so long as you don’t get carsick, how about read a book instead? And if you do get carsick, or want some family time, how about listening to an audiobook together? I’ve heard from different kiddos that they loved listening to The Chronicles of Narnia or other books with their families. And it’s not just for kiddos! In fact, this past weekend, I listened to A Little Princess with Sarah, Elise, Michelle, and Kristen on the way up from LA.

Do you have any road trip reading memories? Did you listen to any audiobooks driving to and from Thanksgiving destinations? Creativity, Inc, perhaps? 🙂

Books & Babysitting Part 4: Reading is a Social Activity

We often think of reading as a solitary activity. And in some ways it is. But even when reading alone, reading is first and foremost a conversation. It is a conversation between the reader and the author. This often sparks an inner-dialogue within the reader. And more often than not, this leads to a dialogue with another person. The urge to share the experience with another person is almost inevitable. Whether it is talking about the book, or actually reading the book together.

One thing I have noticed in this first semester of Bibliopolis, where I’ve been interacting with readers of all ages, is that an almost universal component of the reading identity is wanting to read to and with other people. Time and again, I get surprised by the kids who initiate reading to others. It’s not just the “best” readers, as we might suspect. And I think it’s a powerful part of the process of growing as a reader. Sometimes you read to someone younger, who you’re only a couple of steps ahead of in life and in reading-life, or sometimes it is something like, “Hey, listen to this!” to your peers. When I was teaching high school, I observed this happening time and again during lunch time, even between a couple of senior girls who would read parts of their favorite books to/with each other (I promise, they were very mature, well-adjusted, and intelligent students!)

All this to cue today’s reading snapshot, a picture of Ashley from Gracepoint Berkeley church, who is in kindergarten, reading to the younger kiddos (and Auntie Kim) during babysitting.

I just hope that she’s going to show the pictures! Or else she’s going to experience Camp Kennaisee 🙂


Reading Role Models: Mrs. Kim edition

Last week, like many of you, I visited my family for Thanksgiving. While playing our go-to game Qwirkle cubes,* Mrs. Kim (aka my mom) asked me, “Have you heard of a book called The Book Thief?” I almost fell out of my chair in disbelief, and my mom didn’t know what was so odd about her question. I exclaimed, “Have I heard of it?!? It’s my favorite book in the whole world!!!” She said the Korean translation was split into two volumes, and that she enjoyed volume 1 immensely, but was interested in reading it in original English, because she could imagine the writing would be beautiful.

The_Book_Theif_t250Instead of a review of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, for which I would need considerable time to do the book justice, this post is about how my mom was instrumental in me becoming the book nerd that I am. But quickly, anyone who is 7th grade and above who is looking for a CYL (“change your life”) kind of book should read this one if you haven’t yet! The audiobook is amazing as well.

Back to my homage to my first reading role model…I have many fond memories of going to the Cerritos and then later the San Leandro library with her. She taught me how to use a library by taking me along with her to peruse shelves, use a card catalog (remember those?!), sit in comfy library chairs, and use a book drop. Going to the library with her wasn’t drudgery but a treat I looked forward to. When I was old enough, she would let me roam the kids’ section on my own and she would go find her books, and we would leave happily with our next two weeks’ worth of reading! (With the distance of years, all of my memories are positive, but there were plenty of times I got in major trouble for overdue fines, too!)

Looking back now, I realize the memorable reading experiences with my mom continued even as I got older. Some of the memorable conversations we had about life, about human nature, about people, happened around talking about literature I was reading at school. I remember being amazed at how many of the “classics” my mom had read, first in Korean, and then in English. When I was in 11th grade, we talked about The Grapes of Wrath, and she helped me to grasp the deeper meaning of the ending that confused me in my teenaged immaturity.  We discovered The Joy Luck Club together (yep, we bought it at Costco!), taking turns reading about Chinese-immigrant moms and their Chinese-American daughters and crying buckets of tears in empathy. I also remember how she decided to read the unabridged Les Miserables, but at about 800 pages in, she wasn’t enjoying it so much anymore, but she felt like quitting was wimpy and really not an option, so she pushed through to the end. That’s the vintage indomitable Korean-mom spirit!

When I think about it, I don’t know if my mom was conscious of the impact she was having on me as a reader. She didn’t do anything special or intentional — she just let me in to her reading life. We continue to share titles with each other, and so I’m super excited that my mom is going to soon be reading one of my favorite books in the world. I look forward to talking with her about it.  

Mrs. Kim with part 1 of the Korean translation of the BBE (Best Book Ever) — The Book Thief. As a reader of the blog, she obliged me by posing for the first picture with a non-English book. Thanks, Mom! (Not just for the picture, either.) 🙂

Who are some of your reading role models?

*I’m not being paid to endorse this game, but it really is the best!


DIY Christmas Tree for Book Lovers!

All the parents of K-5th students at Gracepoint Berkeley church are experiencing the joys of early dismissal all week long…what to do with the kiddos for the entire afternoon?!

Kristen and Allison made great use of their energy and time by engaging in a simple but awesome Christmas DIY project — I introduce to you the Book Christmas Tree!! It doesn’t smell as nice as a real tree, but it’s definitely easier to maintain. No water needed, and no shedding either. Here are Allison and Kristen with a step-by-step tutorial!

beginning the tree
You basically Jenga some books in a tree shape. If you have a gazillion green books, you can go spine out, but these ladies decided to go spine in.
tree in progress
After a few false starts, the girls achieved a tree shape (as opposed to a rocket!)
tree before lights
Tree topper of choice is Shepherd Snoopy holding mini-Shakespeare standing in as a yellow star.
tree with lights
Then you add the lights!
tree picture with 1st graders
Now you can have all sorts of “family pictures” around the tree — here the creators are with the 1st grade girls. 🙂

A very affordable alternative for those who want to get into the holiday spirit. You can use the books you have already! And you can showcase your book love for all your friends and family. Super cool, eh?