YA and Children’s Books for Under the Tree by Terra Elan McVoy

Terra Elan McVoy

Photo Credit: Robin Henson

When I met Terra Elan McVoy for lunch last week, she came bearing bittersweet news: she has resigned her position as program director for the Decatur Book Festival (DBF). Terra has been a driving force behind the success of the nation’s largest independent book festival for the past two years, and I know she will be sorely missed by that organization. Fortunately, Terra will be helping the new program director fill her mighty, mighty shoes, and will be devoting the rest of her time to writing. Yes, that’s the sweet part of her announcement: Terra is making the leap to full-time writer status.

I can only imagine the wonderful things in store for us now, since as a “part-time” writer, Terra has already published four well-received YA novels: Pure, After the Kiss, The Summer of Firsts and Lasts and Being Friends with Boys. Simon Pulse will release her fifth novel, Criminal, in May 2013. And in her copious free time, Terra leads children’s book group discussions in bookstores and schools, and teaches creative writing to both children and adults.

I also asked Terra to call upon her experience as a bookseller and voracious reader to help me put together a stockingful of books for our Southern Spines visitors who may be shopping for children or young adult readers this holiday season. She delivers the goods below:

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

I wish I could give this book to about every 14-year-old girl I know. You’d think a story about a bunch of beauty pageant contestants crashed on a desert island would turn into an over-the-top, campy romp, but in the hands of bestselling author Libba Bray, it’s is that and more. I like to call it the Quintessential Book On What It Feels Like For A Girl, and by that I mean all girls. Girls of every kind and streak and background and sexual orientation and everything. Even the grown-up ones.

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace #1 by Alexander Gordon Smith

Teenage guy fans of the Hunger Games trilogy will enjoy this super-creepy prison escape novel that reminded me somewhat of the old video game, Metal Gear Solid. A wrongly accused hero, a prison buried a mile under the surface, bad guys in gas masks and an elaborate escape, plus more books in the series—what’s not to love?

The Keys to the Kingdom Series by Garth Nix

This is a bit of a sleeper series for the tween set, but it’s worth trying to hunt down. I read the first book, Mister Monday, back in my days as an editorial assistant in New York, and was mesmerized. But then I had to agonizingly wait through years until Nix finished each of the seven books. Lucky for you, they’re all available now, and in my opinion, Nix’s world is just as rich and complex as Rowling’s. Arthur as unwilling hero is particularly relatable and memorable, but the imaginative bad guys, not to mention the intricacy of each world, are what set this action-and-magic-packed series apart.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy and Carson Ellis

There’s a reason why I was so enthusiastic to have Colin and Carson at the AJC Decatur Book Festival in 2011, and it didn’t have anything to do with the Decemberists. Instead it was this terrific, collaborative adventure book—a contemporary classic that’s great for both kids (8 and up I’d say) and adults. Wildwood reminded me so much of my favorite books as a child (the Oz books, Neverending Story), but also felt fun and fresh. This is a wonderful book to share with your family!

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Speaking of classics, this is one you should revisit. The book group I run at Little Shop of Stories, Kids & Companions, read Heidi this year, because I hadn’t done so since I think I was in fifth grade. Which meant I hadn’t remembered how rich this story is, or how wonderful Heidi herself is as a character. Before Ramona, before Judy Moody or Allie Finkle, there was a strong, loving, determined little girl named Heidi, and you’re going to want to get to know (or re-know) her.

Cowboy and Octopus by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith

I think of this as Frog and Toad meets . . . well, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. On the surface, this is a silly picture book composed of several short little stories about Cowboy and his friend Octopus. But under the surface (as are all things Scieszka) it’s also a straight-up sweet book about friendship, sharing, and being nice. (Though the kind that really makes you giggle.)

The Christmas Magic by Lauren Thompson and Jon J. Muth

If you buy only one Christmas picture book for your family this year, make it this one. Muth is famous for his gorgeous watercolor illustrations, and his rendition of Santa, the North Pole, and even the reindeer are full of the gorgeous personality that fans of his would expect. What I love most about this book, however, is that it’s really about Advent, and how even Santa has to wait for a special star to shine in the sky, before the magic of Christmas has really arrived.

We’ve only a week left until Christmas, so run down to Little Shop of Stories or another independent bookstore today to get these books. You may also order them from Amazon using the shelf below, which also includes links for easy ordering of Terra’s books. To learn more about Terra Elan McVoy, visit her author page at terraelan.com or Twitter followers can find her @TerraMcVoy.

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