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Sunday Reflections: The TLT Gift Giving Guide

tltbutton5This is the time of year when people start thinking about buying gifts. In particular, communities will do drives like Toys for Tots and Angel Trees to make sure that needy families in local communities have presents during this holiday season. So today I want to talk with you about donating gifts.

As we are a blog of librarians, you are probably expecting this to be a list of recommended books, but it is not. Make no mistake, I have a list of books that I recommend, we all do. I myself will be giving copies of The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas and Moxie by Jen Matthieu and Ghost by Jason Reynolds and more. But I don’t want to share with you a list of specific titles, instead I want to share with you a list of TYPES OF GIFTS I recommend for donating and sharing and why I recommend them.

1. Diverse Books

So not surprisingly, my list does begin with books. I am a librarian after all. And the gift of reading is a profoundly important one. Many kids don’t own their own books, and I can not stress enough how profound a gift a book can be. But not just any book, diverse books. Books written by and about people of color, people from marginalized religions, books that feature characters with a disability. Books are not just about education and vocabulary, but about develop complex worldviews and compassion, and we need diverse books on our shelves to do that.

Reading by phone flashlight in an empty apartment Christmas 2014. #Resourceful #DedicatedReader

Reading by phone flashlight in an empty apartment Christmas 2014. #Resourceful #DedicatedReader

And I want you to discard any notions of gender when it comes to books. There are no girl books or boy books. There are just books. In fact, buy the boys on your list a book featuring a female main character, let them know that girl’s stories have meaning by making sure the books on their shelves are diverse and non-gendered.

So yes, buy books. Diverse ones. There are lots of great lists out there to help get you started.

2. Dolls and Action Figures of Color

If you pull that family off of an Angel Tree or donate to a children’s home, you’re probably going to be buying dolls of some sort: baby dolls, Barbies, action figures. They are a popular holiday staple. But before you buy, make sure you aren’t just buying white dolls. It doesn’t matter who the doll is going to, buy dolls that have skin that isn’t white. And, buy dolls that have different body types (Barbie has a new line of dolls that help fill this bill). And maybe even buy dolls that don’t reinforce other conventional body standards. Say, instead of a doll with make-up and high heels, buy the dolls that are doctors or scientists. Instead of buying Captain America or Thor, buy the Falcon or Black Panther.


I heard last year while listening to NPR that a majority of dolls donated to Toys for Tots are white, but not all of the kids receiving are white and they want to have dolls that look like them. And white children need dollars of color as well, to help broaden their world view. Diversity in all things is good. Diversity, inclusion, a realistic world representation – whatever you are buying, especially if you are a white person like me, make the choice to buy dolls and action figures that don’t look like you. The world is not white, it’s not even predominantly white, so it’s time that we start decentering the white normative.

3. Arts and Crafts Sets

When money is tight, arts and crafts can often be neglected. It is usually the first thing that administrators cut in financially strapped schools, and the same is true for our homes. A box of crayons can be purchased for under a dollar, but arts and crafts is about more than just coloring. Some art sets can be purchased for around $20.00 and include things like paints, small canvases, and a variety of different mediums. And specific craft sets can be purchased for $5.00 and up. These sets include things like bracelet making, jewelry making, painting bird houses and more. They help teach concepts like planning, problem solving, sequencing, elements of design, and more. They also give kids and teens and outlet for creative self expression.


One of the best Christmas gifts I ever gave to my kids was an old train suitcase purchased at a thrift store and filled with a variety of craft supplies found on $1.00 shelves. I called it their Maker Kits. It came with no instructions and no examples, just a bunch of stuff and the freedom to create. Each of my kids still has their train case and when we get new stuff, they put it in there.

4. STEM Kits

STEM Kits are basically arts and crafts kits with a specific science focus.Like arts and crafts, science kits are often not found in the homes of families that are struggling financially. I’m not going to lie, these can be expensive, though they don’t have to be. Snapcircuits, for example, have quite a price range. Sphero now makes a mini-robot (though please note you need some type of device like a smart phone or tablet to make this work). But there are also things like make your own volcano kits, slime kits, and more, that fall into the less expensive range. They give kids and teens the opportunity to explore basic science concepts and develop an interest in science that many won’t have in their homes.


As an added bonus, a cooking kit is a STEM kit (cooking is chemistry!) that produces food that a family in need can consume.

Like the maker kits I mentioned above, you can make your own STEM Kit. Take, for example, a slime kit. Just today Thing 2 received a Nickelodeon Slime Kit for her bday that I am pretty sure cost $30.00 (not from me I might add). As a librarian who does programming and runs a MakerSpace I knew immediately that I could buy a couple of tubes of glitter, a bottle of glue, contact solution, little containers, and Popsicle sticks for stirring and put together a cute and less expensive kit pretty quickly.

5. Movie Gift Cards

This past Friday I took my girls and The Bestie to see the movie Wonder. For the four of us and popcorn and a drink which we shared, it cost almost $50.00. A few years ago, when our money was much tighter, we almost never went to the movies. We still tend to go about 20 minutes away to the dollar movies, but on occasion we will treat ourselves. For a lot of families, a treat like this is not in the picture. If you can’t afford to put food on the table or gifts under the tree, the movies can be a real stretch. And in this day and age when we talk about making memories as opposed to buying more stuff, a trip to the movies can be the best memory we can give a family. Just make sure if you purchase a gift card to the theater in the community in which you are giving that you include enough money for snacks at the theater, it’s an indulgence that many have to skip and it can be the highlight.

While your giving gift cards, I also recommend gift cards to the local grocery store to help stock the shelves or to the local Target or store for those moments when you have to buy a kid new shoes and the money just isn’t in the bank. Unwrapping a big present can be glorious, but for a family in need an emergency gift card can mean a night of escape or food on the table.

Whatever you may or may not be celebrating this year, give when you can. Giving doesn’t have to be just this time of year. Give as often and as much as you can when you can, and know that we all have to ask for help sometimes. My family has had to ask for help in years past and I can’t promise that we won’t again in the future, so while I can, I give. And I’m trying to teach my kids to give as well. And make no mistake, they are very much aware of the times when we have had to ask for help, because I think one of the greatest gifts I can teach my kids is that we are all better when we work together to make the world a better place.


  1. I’ve been collecting diverse Barbies all year when they go on sale to give to Toys for Tots and Angel Tags!

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