Game and Book Gift Ideas For Your Student

It’s time to start building your holiday gift list so we’ve got some suggested book and game offerings for you, all Parent’s Choice Award winners and all sure to be a hit this holiday.

Tell-A-Tale (Barnyard Edition)
Ages: 3 & Up 

Tell-A-Tale Barnyard Edition is a cooperative storytelling game for children ages 3 and up. The game includes a two piece sturdy wooden base with grooves, a double sided backdrop, 10 prop pieces, 11 character pieces, three wooden dice with pictures of people, critters and things found on a farm, and a die with action words including feed, work, and run. 

The setup is simple: connect the two-part base, choose the sunrise or rainbow side of the backdrop and place it in the groove. Then place at least two of the larger props (barn, tree, tractor, pumpkin) in any groove on the board. The object of the game is clear: players take turns as they work together to tell the best story of all time. The game play is delightful: the roll of the dice prompts the story and the placement of the corresponding game pieces adds dimension and context. The player who rolls first is the one who starts and finishes the story. Or not. There are only a few rules, but the hours of playful learning are many. 

Ages: 10 & Up 

Imhotep, named after the master builder of ancient Egypt, is a fascinating board game for ages 10 and up. Two to four players compete over six rounds to build pyramids, obelisks, a burial chamber, and a temple. In a turn, a player can perform one of four actions: (1) load stones from the quarry to their sled, (2) add a stone to an available ship, (3) move a ship to a game location, or (4) play a collected card. It's extremely well-made, beautifully decorated. A clever feature is the two-sided game board (A and B). Each side offers different game play, but the difficulty level remains the same. 

The game consists of wood blocks (stones) which are off-loaded and used to build structures as follows: PYRAMID - Stones are placed on the next free space on the pyramid square, forming a 3x3 block base, 2x2 block second level and single block top. Points are assigned immediately according to the grid diagrams on the pyramid board. TEMPLE - Stones are placed on the next free space of the five designated squares. Points are earned at the end of each round based on the number of colored stones visible from above. BURIAL CHAMBER - Stones delivered here are placed in the next available space in columns. Points are scored at the end of the game based on the number of contiguous stones of each color represented. OBELISKS - Stones are stacked by color to create individual obelisks. The tallest obelisk at the end of the game earns the most points.

Ships can also sail to the MARKET. Here, players exchange stones for cards that provide immediate benefit or result in higher scores at the end of the game. Players can load ships to score big points at the pyramid, but another player may take the ship to the burial chamber. Sometimes a player must decide whether to compromise her advancement to thwart her opponent's progress. Strategy is in full play. Do I go for the sure thing and take a few points now, or do I take a chance and hope for long term gain?

Tapple® 10 The Flip It, Name It, Word Game!
Ages: 8 & Up 

Tapple 10 is a 10-in-one word-game package, complete with plastic travel case, a sand timer and 80 round, double-sided cards with a large letter on one side and color-coded categories on the other. 

The basic "Tapple 10 Alpha" game starts by drawing a card to show the letter side, then matching the letter's color to a color-coded category on the next card. First player to yell out a word that starts with that letter and fits the category wins that card. So, a red "E" card is drawn and the red category on the next card is "On the Internet." First one to say "email," or "emoji," or another "e" word related to the internet takes that card. Play immediately continues with new card, and so on and so on, until the player who collects 10 cards wins. 

The nine other games are variations. In "Four in a Row," for instance, players take turns lining up four drawn category cards, turning on the timer, flipping a letter card and shouting out words starting with that letter to match the color category on each of the four cards. In "Last Man Standing," cards are stacked with category side up. First player turns a letter card and must shout out a correct word; then the next player must say a different correct word, and on and on, until the player who blanks is out. Games continue with new cards until only one player remains.

You get the idea. Tapple 10 is a bunch of rapid-fire, fun word teasing games that require think-fast skills. Small package; big payoff. 

Ages: 8 - 12 yrs.
Author: Barbara O’Connor 

Charlie, who despises her real name of Charlemagne, has a dysfunctional family. Her mother is immobilized by depression, and her father is imprisoned. Social Services steps in and ships Charlie off to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with an unknown Aunt Bertha and her husband Gus. Charlie finds herself in a new fifth grade near the end of the school year, living with strangers in a house with a back porch on stilts that hang off the steep side of a mountain. Charlie's defenses against the world consisted of two things - offenses in myriad forms and a ritual of making daily wishes, such as finding pennies or wishing on the first star. 
Charlie falls head over heels for a stray dog named Wishbone, and despite a bumpy start, Charlie and her neighbor Howard become genuine friends. 

Charlie is a likeable, contrary character whose defenses gradually crumble in a believable manner. The author knows her characters, her milieu and her wishes. 

Tupelo Honey
Ages: 12 - 18 yrs. 
Author: Lis Anna Langston

From the delicious title (the spunky 11-year-old narrator was named after Elvis' birthplace) to every last unconventional character and careful detail, Tupelo Honey is a delight. 

Set in rural Mississippi, with a cast of colorful southerners, it stars one pretty dysfunctional family at the center of which is Tupelo Honey. Author Lis Anna-Langston gets into the head of her title girl completely, taking readers on a ride of a sort of haunted but beautiful mess. To paraphrase Tolstoy, it's the unhappy families that are unique -- and by definition, often more interesting. 

Tupelo Honey does not have an easy life, on the surface. Her mother is a drug addict, and mental illness lingers in her grandmother Marmalade's house like a hot humid August cloud. Yet Anna-Langston still fills it with gems. 

It's certainly not a dull life, one full of heartbreaks big and small, but this tough sweet girl pulls it off with aplomb. It's a treat from start to end. 

Langston has written rich, vivid characters, and painted a vibrant mosaic of a year in one young southern girl's life. It's a hard book to put down, and one you won't want to end. 

Oyster War
Ages: 13 & Up 
Author: Ben Towle

Oyster War is Ben Towle's captivating fictional illustration of a real-life saga that began in the mid-19th century and lasted almost 100 years. Shortly after the Civil War, watermen on the Chesapeake Bay discovered a financial treasure trove in their front yard: oysters. For almost three decades, the legal watermen supplied almost half of the oysters in the world, and built a thriving economy from it. Then the pirates came. They dredged and ruined the beds, operated illegally, and the Oyster War began -- violent clashes between midnight marauders and the honest-working townspeople. 

In an effort to boost his popularity, William Cameron, the governor of Virginia at the time, took on the pirates and vowed to shut them down, and that is where Towle's Oyster War begins. It kicks off with the governor assigning a curmudgeonly Commander Bulloch to pull together a unit from a ragtag group of aging and out-of-shape locals that will hopefully put an end to Treacher Fink and his nefarious oyster-looting gang. 

As historically interesting as the story is, Towle's graphic depiction makes it fascinating and lively for today's readers. The aesthetic presentation - from the big, bold beautiful cover, to the quirky characters themselves, right down to each scowl and wayward hair on their chins - is superb. 

The book's panels zoom in and out as the scene demands -- close-ups on emotions, long-shots on action. Towle's subtle touches, such as his strategic use of white and canny changes to size and placement of panels - are sweet on the eyes, and synchronize perfectly with the pace and action of the story. 

A visual and narrative treat from cover to cover. 

Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White
Ages: 7 - 10 yrs. 
Author: Melissa Sweet

Born Elwin Brooks White, the youngest in a large family, E. B. White was called "En" while growing up in a leafy suburb of New York City - with summers spent on a lake in Maine. White described his childhood as "lacking for nothing except confidence." 

While at Cornell, "En's" classmates nicknamed "Andy" after the university's founder, Andrew White; the name served him throughout his personal life, spent both in New York City and, as he greatly preferred, on a farm he and his wife Katherine bought in Maine. However, in his prolific, lauded writings - books for children, articles, and poems - he was known as E. B. White. 

Beautiful in design and in content, author/illustrator Melissa Sweet has carefully composed each double-page spread with collages of her cheerful, sketchy, finely outlined watercolors, and bits and pieces of paper - handwritten letters, sketches, photographs, typed snippets - from the life of a respected and celebrated logophile. 

The Music in George's Head
Ages: 9 - 11 yrs. 
Author: Suzanne Slade

The "George" in the title is George Gershwin, and author Suzanne Slade, whose specialty is smart and engaging non-fiction for young people, relates with tale-spinning verve how the iconic composer's The Rhapsody in Blue came to be. Rooting the creation of the masterwork in Gershwin's sensitivity to the rhythms of bustling New York where he grew up, Slade launches the story with a Gershwin quote-"I frequently hear music in the very heart of noise." It begins with Gershwin's self-guided, childhood introduction to the piano and ends with The Rhapsody in Blue's ground-breaking premiere, a composition fueled by Gershwin's absorption of classical music, the popular music of his time (ragtime, Harlem jazz, and the blues), and the sounds and tempos of the city. Illustrator Stacy Innerst frames and complements the lively tempo of Slade's prose with visually rhythmic hand-lettering and acrylic paintings done in deep blue, white and umber. Slade includes a lively end-of-book description of Gershwin's life that encompasses his collaboration with his lyricist brother, Ira; as well as a timeline of Gershwin's life, and a bibliography of source material. Innerst offers an explanatory note about his use of archival photographs for the book's settings and how he depicted Gershwin's inspirations and influences.