— Jared Segerstrom —
Awhile back I heard someone recite a little poem which helps family members know what items to buy for kids. It goes, “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read.” I have found this little poem helpful in thinking through what to give our own family for Christmas. I think teens could also benefit from receiving items in that list, especially “something to read.” But if you have walked through Barnes & Noble lately or scoured the list of books on Amazon, the mission of buying books for teenagers can appear impossible. I want to offer a few suggestions for books which would suit every teenager this Christmas.
No, I am not trying to pull a fast one on you. If we truly believe that our sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews should be reading the Bible regularly, then we ought to give them a quality Bible of their own. I remember receiving my first study Bible for Christmas my freshman year of high school and it helped me tremendously in my walk with God. There are many good Bibles available for teens:
Study Bibles: The ESV Student Study Bible, which reads at a 10th-grade level, offers thousands of notes along with 80 maps, illustrations, and dozens of character profiles. At about $30, the ESV Student Study Bible offers quality without breaking the bank. If you think your student would benefit from a slightly more readable version, I would recommend the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, which reads at a 7/8th-grade level. As a word of advice, when given the choice, go with a bonded leather instead of a hardback edition of a study Bible. Though they cost a little bit more, bonded leather Bibles handles the wear and tear much better than hardback Bibles.
Journaling Bibles: Another great option for teens is a journaling Bible. My wife received a journaling Bible for Christmas a few years ago and has enjoyed recording notes and observations as she studies the Word both at church and at home. This Bible is especially helpful for artistically-inclined students. The ESV Journaling Bible comes in a variety of attractive styles and patterns and costs around $45. You can also buy an NIV Journaling Bible for a comparable price.
While we never should give a devotion book as a substitute for Bible reading, a quality devotional book can be a big encouragement in the spiritual life of a teen. The best devotional books are those which point the students’ attention toward the Bible says, not away from it. One excellent resource for young teens is the book God’s Mighty Acts in Salvation, which walks teens through the book of Galatians. Each of the forty lessons offers the Bible passage, a connection to the gospel, and discussion questions which build on Paul’s teachings. God’s Mighty Acts is a great resource for a middle school student.
Though not strictly considered a devotional book, What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? by Ed Welch is an excellent resource for teens. The author designed the book so that students answer pointed, heart-examining questions as they read. By the end of the book, teens will have been challenged to develop a biblical view of God, self, and other people. I went through What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? with one of our teens this past summer and both of us found it to be encouraging and transformative. I recommend this book for all students, but especially those in high school.
Book to “Get the Ball Rolling”
Perhaps the teen on your shopping list shows little-to-no interest in reading. You want them to read, but they don’t want to read. What are you supposed to do? No one wants to be that person at Christmas who gives a gift for which the recipient has no interest, but still gives the obligatory “thanks” and hides the gift away to collect dust (I have less-than-fond memories of a cassette tape of harmonica music I received in the late ‘90s).
Giving books to non-readers requires two things. First, it requires discernment. As you shop, you will inevitably need to delve into a topic or subject you might not be acquainted with. Skim through books before you give them. Look online to see if Christian book reviews are available for a particular title.
Second, giving books to a non-reader requires knowing the teen. You need to take time to learn their interests and passions. There is a book out there for everyone if you look hard enough. For the Star Wars fan, find one of the many novels based on the story and give it to your young Padawan. For the budding entrepreneur, give him or her a book on business or finances. For the gaming wiz-kid, find a book on the history or development of video games. For the sports fan, find a biography of a famous athlete (I recommend a biography of a Christian athlete like Tim Tebow or David Robinson). The possibilities are truly endless!
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One final thing to remember in giving books as gifts is that reading begets reading. By that, I mean once students get into the routine of reading things they enjoy or find fascinating, they will then be more willing to embrace more difficult, but enriching books.
These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to suggested reading for teens. The task of buying books for teens is a tall one, but I hope you can use this list as a starting point. Happy Shopping!