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BY THE WAY

There are some great books out there for gifts; don't neglect poetry for kids

Tuesday, December 3, 2013 - 12:01 am

It’s that time of year. Black Friday is over and gone, and you’re still looking for gifts, particularly books. So here is the annual list of suggestions for holiday giving.

Let’s begin with the fiction lover. It has been No. 1 on the best-seller list because any new book by John Grisham seems to land in that position. And with good reason, I add, although this time I was in a bad mood for the first few pages because they need editing. There are grammatical errors and noun and pronoun problems that shouldn’t be there to distract, but they are.

Surely Grisham’s publisher has some good copy editors. They may all have been on vacation, and I soon overcame my unhappiness and was caught up in the story. The book is “Sycamore Row,” and the denouement is wonderfully done — and I recommend it.

Then there’s Scott Turow’s new book, “Identical.” I am a devoted Turow fan. I find him an excellent storyteller, and he is also an attorney, so I usually learn while I am being entertained. I find him a skillful writer who draws fascinating characters while he is building suspense. Another recommended book.

One for the nonfiction recipient. I find Doris Kearns Goodwin an intriguing person whose interviews are grabbers and whose books need to be read. I learn so much from this woman, whose research is impeccable and whose gift with using the language almost beyond compare.

“Team of Rivals” was the book to give a couple of years ago. Now it’s “The Bully Pulpit.” I have found that one does not sit down and read her writing straight through. I read, then put the book down, and eventually come back to it and pick up where I left off. That way I can digest the material. No matter how your recipient handles it, I am sure he or she will be very grateful to you for providing a wonderful gift.

Now for young readers: I know they are “Hunger Game” fans, and I can understand that. But please do not forget the wonderful books that have been written throughout the years that should be part of everyone’s education. Each year I suggest some, like the Brontes’ and Jane Austen’s books for girls and Jack London’s and John Steinbeck’s for boys. Edgar Allan Poe can still fascinate young readers, and Guy de Maupassant is still one of the best short-story writers ever.

But thanks to some of the youngsters I have been working with at school, I’d like to add a few more. I was surprised to learn how popular “Little Women” is still with our little women, especially those who enjoy writing. And both boys and girls still love Agatha Christie’s mysteries. Some young men have discovered H.G. Wells and marvel at his imagination and skillful writing. And something else: Don’t rule out books of poetry, please.

Because of all the concentration in classrooms these days on scoring well on tests, some of the beautiful literature we grew up with is getting lost. I was horrified while watching “Jeopardy!” to see how those allegedly literate contestants don’t know Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. They’re not acquainted with “Hiawatha” or “Evangeline” or “Paul Revere” or even “The Children’s Hour.” They have missed the fun of Ogden Nash’s poetry. They barely know our American and British poets and the exquisite imagery that is there to fill the heart with beauty.

It has been my pleasure the last few years to work with some gifted students on their writing skills, and poetry is one tool I eagerly use. Each week when we meet they are introduced to another poem, which is always first read aloud. Some are narratives; there are sonnets and odes and, actually, we pretty much cover a whole range of types and poets.

And I learn again each year that Robert Frost, in particular, has tremendous appeal to these young people. I hope these youngsters had the joy of Shel Silverstein and other poets when they were small children. Now, please, help them continue that pleasure by enriching their bookshelves and their very souls with the beauty of the written word, especially in poetry. There’s some wonderful stuff out there.

Happy shopping!

Betty E. Stein is a retired teacher in Fort Wayne.