The Root's Holiday Book Guide

Illustration for article titled The Root's Holiday Book Guide

Books are fool-proof gifts. Not just because they virtually last forever, unlike that fruitcake or sweater that shrinks after one wash, but also because they're affordable in these tough economic times. And, just think, you can take care of everyone on your list with one trip to your local bookstore. That alone should relieve some of the pressure of getting through this holiday season.


There really is a book for everyone and especially for the person who has everything. To get you started, here are some ideas for adults, young people and children.

For the history buff:

The Essential Writings of James Weldon Johnson
Edited by Rudolph P. Byrd
Modern Library, October 2008

Although he's most widely known as the co-writer of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," the Negro national anthem, Johnson jumped around genres. This new collection illustrates his artistic range and provides fascinating historical insight into the convergence of arts and politics. It's perfect for anyone who believes that we have to know where we've been to understand where we're going.

For the educator:

The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation 
By Marian Wright Edelman
Hyperion, September 2008

In this collection of letters to parents, educators, community leaders, young people, citizens and everyone in between, the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) offers her sage advice about what it will take for us to build a nation fit for all children. If that's not enough incentive to pick it up, then know that all of the book's royalties will be donated to the CDF.

For the ambitious:

Outliers: The Story of Success
By Malcolm Gladwell
Little, Brown and Company, November 2008


The New Yorker staff writer returns with his unique investigative narrative style to tackle a topic near and dear to many, but perhaps more simple and complex than any of us expected. While he doesn't present the elusive keys to success, at least the book is stocked with interesting facts that one can throw around to impress people.

For the cultural enthusiast:

The Black List
By Timothy Greenfield-Sanders and Elvis Mitchell
Atria, September 2008


Assembling a diverse cast of 25 successful black folk from varying backgrounds and fields is no easy feat. That accomplishment alone makes this title a keepsake. But it's the remarkable stories of struggle and triumph that will make this compilation a treasured testament to the human spirit.

For the activist:

The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix America's Two Biggest Problems
By Van Jones
HarperOne, October 2008


The Yale Law graduate and environmental advocate has laid out a solution-based manifesto that argues the country's need to go green. Complaining about societal ills is one thing, but developing a big idea helps the planet and the people who live on it is one that we can all support.

For the literary connoisseur:

A Mercy
By Toni Morrison

Knopf, November 2008

It's a special occasion whenever this Nobel and Pulitzer-prize winning author releases a new book. Her latest effort, set during slavery, is a provocative look at what it means to be merciful. You may want to buy a copy for yourself, too.

For the music aficionado:

21 Nights
By Prince, Photography by Randee St. Nicholas
Atria, September 2008

This visual journey takes fans through the icon's 21 concerts that took place on consecutive nights in London. A collage of lyrics, music (it comes with a CD) and never-before-seen images, makes this multimedia extravaganza an instant collector's item.

For the introspective:

My Organic Soul: From Plato to Creflo, Emerson to MLK, Jesus to Jay-Z—A Journal to Help You Discover Yourself Through Words of Wisdom from Visionaries Past and Present
By Jacqueline Rhinehart
Broadway, November 2008


This eclectic, modern journal gathers up insight from a diverse cast of thinkers to guide the reader down a path of self-discovery. In times that are trying, both financially and emotionally, writing down your thoughts is very cheap and helpful medicine.

For the cook:

Yolele! Recipes from the Heart of Senegal
By Pierre Thiam, Photography by Adam Bartos
Lake Isle Press, September 2008


The Senegalese chef has assembled recipes from his birthplace to show how meals can be both healthy and encourage fellowship among families and friends.

For the mystery lover:

In the Night of the Heat: A Tennyson Hardwick Novel
By Blair Underwood, Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes
Atria, September 2008


A fine detective, an intriguing mystery and attention-grabbing storytelling, written by a talented actor and two award-winning authors. A perfect recipe for escapism.

For the inspiration-seeker:

Hope on a Tightrope: Words and Wisdom
By Cornel West
Smiley Books, November 2008

The down-to-earth intellectual returns with a meditation about what it means to hope in the face of adversity. His thoughts, weaved through a collection of quotes, speech excerpts, letters and spoken-word performances (the book comes with a CD) hit the psyche at all angles.

For the Obama supporter:

Obama: The Historic Campaign in Photographs
By Deborah Willis and Kevin Merida
Amistad, October 2008


Beautiful, touching, dynamic and heartwarming pictures of Barack Obama's extraordinary run for president. 'Nuff said.

For the poetic soul:

Dear Darkness: Poems
By Kevin Young
Knopf, September 2008

Pain can be hard to articulate. Thank goodness for poets, like Young, who can do it for us in ways that lighten the load and expose the ugly beauty of life. In this volume, you can feel the release of grief, tragedy and sadness with each turn of the page.


The Slumber Party Payback (Ruby and the Booker Boys)
By Derrick Barnes, Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton
Scholastic, October 2008, Ages 7-10

An overwhelmingly cute series featuring the one-of-a-kind, ultra-fabulous and super-smart Ruby Booker—a sweetheart that any young girl can relate to.

Hip Hop Speaks to Children
Edited by Nikki Giovanni; Illustrated by Alicia Vergel de Dios, Damian Ward and Kristen Balouch
Sourcebooks, October 2008, Age 6 and up


With help from artists like Maya Angelou, Mos Def and Queen Latifah, this poetry collection and accompanying CD, assembled by one of our most dynamic literary voices, is a superb way to introduce kids to the special relationship between poetry and its offspring, hip-hop.

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope
By Nikki Grimes; Illustrated by Bryan Collier
Simon & Schuster, August 2008, Ages 5-10


Beautifully illustrated and beautifully told by two Coretta Scott King Award winners, this literary tribute to personal perseverance is sure to inspire children and adults alike.

Hot Girl

By Dream Jordan
St. Martin's Griffin, November 2008, Ages 11 and up

It is not always easy being a teenage girl—especially if you're dealing with gangs, foster parents and crushes. And that's why it's important for young women to know that there are others out there, like this novel's heroine, going through the same thing.

Beacon Hills High
By Mo'Nique and Sherri McGee McCovey
Amistad, September 2008, Age 14 and up


This charming coming-of-age story explores the usual suspects of the teenage experience—dealing with change, having low self-esteem and making friends. Bonus: It's sprinkled with humor from a comedian who's shown that being yourself can pay off.

Pemba's Song: A Ghost Story
By Marilyn Nelson and Tonya C. Hegamin
Scholastic, September 2008, Age 12 and up


This hip-hop-inspired ghost story spurs a fantastical friendship between a modern teenager and a slave girl is a refreshing addition to any young person's library.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard
By J.K. Rowling
Scholastic, December 2008, Ages 9-12

If you didn't purchase the overly expensive collector's edition, now's your time to snag this fairy-tale collection for your Harry Potter fan.



By Charles R. Smith Jr.
Candlewick Press, September 2008, Ages 12 and up

The Coretta Scott King Award winner has penned a street-smart novel about a young man's unforgettable summer in L.A., when he learns the importance of standing up for himself.

12 Brown Boys
By Omar Tyree
Just Us Books, November 2008, Ages 8-12


Known for urban tales that have fostered him a mostly female readership, the New York Times bestselling author has released a short-story collection for his younger readership that tackles topics preteen boys face navigating the big world.

Felicia Pride is a regular contributor to The Root.

is a writer, speaker, author of books for adults and youth, and the book columnist for The Root. Her most recent book is \"The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.\" Visit her at