Give the Gift of Reading: Good Reason Houston’s Book Ideas for the Holidays

Dec 15, 2021

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Give the Gift of Reading: Good Reason Houston’s Book Ideas for the Holidays

December is now in full swing, which means that schools across Texas will soon begin to let out for their annual winter break. During this time, many students and their families spend time doing festive activities and celebrating holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and more. While many kids are hoping to get everything on their wish list, let’s take a moment to discuss some important gifts that will help their education.

Students have faced significant academic challenges for over a year now. And the average STAAR reading test scores for students in Texas dropped significantly* last year. Reading to children, especially in their early ages, has been shown to improve literacy and comprehension later in life. Books make a great gift and allow your student to develop their reading skills.

It’s important for students in Houston to read stories that reflect the broad diversity that reflects the city’s wide-ranging demographics. Here is a list of books that draws upon a rich selection of authors – some from our very own Houston area – for all age groups to consider for this holiday season.

Early Learning

Yoga Bear: Simple Animal Poses for Little Ones by Sarah Jane Hinder 

This book made for early learners will help any baby or toddler get the wiggles out while working on gross motor skills. This book enables kids to read, learn yoga, and develop their movement of the large muscles of the arms, legs, and torso.

Baby University Board Book Set: A Science for Toddlers Board Book Set by Chris Ferrie

The bestselling Baby University baby board book set includes educational books for toddlers written by an expert that features colorful, simple introductions to scientific principles for babies. Its approach to early learning is beloved by kids and grownups.

 Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

For generations, Pat the Bunny has been creating special first-time moments between parents and their children. One of the best-selling children’s books of all time, this classic touch-and-feel book offers babies a playful and engaging experience, all the while creating cherished memories that will last a lifetime.


Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari is definitely ready to jump off the diving board. He’s finished his swimming lessons and passed his swim test, and he’s a great jumper, so he’s not scared at all. But when his dad squeezes his hand, Jabari squeezes back. He needs to figure out what kind of special jump to do anyway, and he should probably do some stretches before climbing up onto the diving board. In a sweetly appealing tale of overcoming your fears, newcomer Gaia Cornwall captures a moment between a patient and encouraging father and a determined little boy you can’t help but root for.

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad and S.K. Ali

With her new backpack and light-up shoes, Faizah knows the first day of school is going to be special. It’s the start of a brand new year and, best of all, it’s her older sister Asiya’s first day of hijab–a hijab of beautiful blue fabric, like the ocean waving to the sky. But not everyone sees hijab as beautiful, and in the face of hurtful, confusing words, Faizah will find new ways to be strong.

Like Me by Quinn Woodard

Zoey loves math and science, but she doesn’t know what she can be when she grows up. As she says: “It’s difficult to see what I can be when no one looks like me.” With the help of a friend, Zoey learns all about the amazing things she can become if she follows her passions just like the pioneers who have come before her. Aimed at introducing new possibilities in STEM for young children, Like Me is perfect for the budding scientist in your family. Quinn Woodard is a STEM advocate, mentor, author, and speaker from Houston, Texas. Through his involvement with serving on curriculum advisory committees, mentoring students, and his own personal experience, Quinn realized that early exposure to STEM is critical for minority students. With his book, Like Me, he hopes to provide that early exposure and provide a brief history lesson of those who came before.

Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho

Breathtakingly illustrated by Dung Ho, Eyes that Kiss in the Corners is Joanna Ho’s love letter to not just Asian children, but all children. Her debut picture book gloriously celebrates individual beauty and confidence and highlights how precious a supportive family can be. A perfect book to read at any age and a piece of art that will be shared for years to come.

Junior High

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Born with extraordinary physical deformities, Auggie finally braves going to an actual school. He is stared at and tormented, but he also finds friendship. Middle schoolers will cheer for him and cry for him.

Tortilla Sun by Jennifer Cervantes

12-year-old Lizzy is not happy having to spend the summer with her grandmother in a remote village in New Mexico. But soon she enjoys her loving Nana’s company and the enchanted atmosphere of a village frozen in time. Lizzy also starts to uncover the mystery surrounding her father who died before she was born. Tortilla Sun is a gentle story about family, friendship and dealing with the past.

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Being struck by lightning left Lucy with genius-level math skills and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). At age 12, she is academically ready for college, but her grandmother insists she attends middle school. Can she make friends? Will she have to hide her OCD, or can she be true to herself? This funny and tender story reminds readers to appreciate diversity and embrace change. 

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Also known as The Diary of Anne Frank, this is a book of the writings from the Dutch-language diary kept by Anne Frank while she was in hiding for two years with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The diary has since been published in more than 70 languages, it’s inspired plays and movies, and is included in several lists of the top books of the 20th century.


High School

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Envisioning a summer vacation in the humble Singapore home of a boy she hopes to marry, Chinese American Rachel Chu is unexpectedly introduced to a rich and scheming clan that strongly opposes their son’s relationship with an American girl. Kevin Kwan is a Singapore-born American novelist who is also a Houstonian. Kwan attended the University of Houston-Clear Lake and was an executive producer on the book-turned-film, Crazy Rich Asians.

Lot: Stories by Bryan Washington

In the city of Houston – a sprawling, diverse microcosm of America – the son of a Black mother and a Latino father is coming of age. He’s working at his family’s restaurant, weathering his brother’s blows, resenting his older sister’s absence. And discovering he likes boys. Around him, others live and thrive and die in Houston’s myriad neighborhoods: a young woman whose affair detonates across an apartment complex, a ragtag baseball team, a group of young hustlers, hurricane survivors, a local drug dealer who takes a Guatemalan teen under his wing, a reluctant chupacabra. Author Bryan Washington is a native Houstonian and University of Houston alumni. Washington’s novel was named one of Barack Obama’s “Favorite Books of the Year” in 2019.

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Most of us know Malala Yousafzai as the young Pakistani woman who was shot in the head by Taliban forces. However, that doesn’t mean we truly know this young woman’s story. An activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Malala uses this memoir to tell her own tale. Along with being an inspiring story of survival, I Am Malala is a powerful book about the right to an education and the lengths a family will go to for a beloved child.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

This classic novel is set during the Great Depression and focuses on the Joads, a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, agricultural industry changes, and bank foreclosures forcing tenant farmers out of work. Due to their nearly hopeless situation, and in part because they are trapped in the Dust Bowl, the Joads set out for California along with thousands of other “Okies” seeking jobs, land, dignity, and a future.


* Overall, STAAR 3rd Grade Reading performance fell by 10 pp since 2019 to only 27% of students meeting standards in Houston Urban Core campuses. This makes Houston Urban Core’s percentage point drop in early reading performance higher than the State’s 6 pp decline and returns Houston Urban Core’s average 3rd grade reading performance to 2012 levels.