When it comes to chosing Christmas presents, you can't go too wrong with a book. Selecting the right one, though, can be a challenge. Here, the Penguin.co.uk team share the titles they'll be wrapping up this year.

Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs, chosen by Zahara Andrews

He may not be the traditional, jolly Father Christmas that we are used to but there is definitely something magic about Raymond Briggs’ picture books Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes on Holiday. For an unusual take on this iconic character look no further. Father Christmas is a grumpy, cursing, down-toearth bloke that likes a tipple of whisky and a flutter in the casino. Briggs’ stories are, of course, made all the more enjoyable by his beautiful and often hilarious illustrations.

It has been my experience that when people discuss great works of literature children’s authors can be overlooked, yet, in times of difficulty, I can find no greater comfort than switching off and indulging in some childish fun. His work reminds us, young and old, not to take life too seriously. This year more than ever, that’s a very welcome idea. Merry Blooming Christmas!

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde, chosen by Indira Birnie

I'd been meaning to read Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider for quite some time when the news of George Floyd's murder and the events that followed catapulted this slim volume of essays straight to the top of my list. This collection of writing from the self-described black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet is an uncompromising yet hopeful exploration of the intersections of race, sexuality, friendship and more. With many of the essays coming in at just a few pages, I was surprised at how accessible the writing was and how fresh (and wryly amusing) it felt. In a year where we've spent a lot of time indoors, it's been all too easy to feel helpless, so reading (and supporting Black-owned bookshops and Black authors along the way) is a great way to actually do something.

Other than that, Nora Krug's Heimat – an illustrated memoir exploring the lives of family members during the Nazi regime – is a beautiful object as well as a powerful read. Or for those desperately seeking escapism, Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan's delightful conclusion to his Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, and Gladys Mitchell's festive mystery Death Comes at Christmas couldn't be more different from each other but both feel like a soothing balm for the existential dread many of us have been feeling this year.

The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams, chosen by Stephen Carlick

In a year where my reading list oscillated between dire realism and, truth be told, a much-needed bit of escapism, Eley Williams’ debut novel fell right in the satisfying middle. The Liar’s Dictionary tells the parallel tales of Peter Winceworth, a meek, milquetoast man whose job helping to compile the Swansby’s New Encyclopaedic Dictionary in the late 19th Century is so unsatisfying that he begins to fill it with fake word entries, and Mallory, whose job in our present year for the same, now almost bankrupt company, is to find and erase them from Swansby’s archives.

It’s Williams’ wit and love of language, bouncing effervescently off every page, that makes The Liar’s Dictionary such a joy. Her characters’ facility with words allow the dialogue and narration both to sparkle, providing the novel with a sense of levity, but it’s punctuated – and grounded – by poignant moments in which Williams explores the power of language: Winceworth’s feigned lisp, at first a punchline, is revealed to be a part of what holds his life back; Mallory, gay but not out, struggles with the words to confidently define herself. The combination of whimsy and pathos makes The Liar’s Dictionary a perfect gift for any thoughtful reader.

If you’re looking for a more visual gift, Chris Ware’s graphic novel epic Rusty Brown is one of the best expressions of the form around. For a more traditionally literary book, I also can’t recommend Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other enough; there’s a reason it’s sweeping the year’s book awards.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak chosen by Imogen Rayfield 

I was pretty late to the game picking up The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. But better late than never! Narrated by Death, who has a very matter-of-fact yet poetic voice, the story follows a young girl (and book thief) called Liesel Meminger as she comes of age in Germany during one of the most horrific times in recent history.

One of the main reasons I recommend this book is because of its unique perspective of the Second World War. Death tells of the harrowing persecution of the Jewish people with Max Vandenburg’s storyline (who is hidden from the Nazis by Liesel and her family) but he also recounts how the people of Germany became victims of the war.If you know someone who likes a slow burner, doesn’t mind books that don’t have happy endings, and loves to care about the characters they read about, this is the book for them.

For those who like a book with twists and turns, doomed love and masterful prose, give them The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. And if you know a true crime fan, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara is a compelling account of the Golden State Killer. Just make sure you tell them to avoid reading it when they’re home alone…

Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh, chosen by Alice Vincent

This is a bit of a cheat, because I've already lent out Sophie Mackintosh's second novel to a few people since its release this summer - but I'd argue that has only confirmed its suitability as a gift. Mackintosh's prose is sparsed and clipped, her pacing irresistable, but what makes Blue Ticket especially good is its examination of motherhood, desire and the choices women are - and aren't - allowed to make. It's also a beautiful object, with dreamy pink clouds covering the endpapers and a silhouette of a ticket embossed into the cover itself.

A good companion read would be Avni Doshi's Burnt Sugar, one of the four debut novels shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize. Doshi's book also looks at the "ambivalence" of motherhood, but also how trauma can be passed down generations of women still trying to live within society's tight demands. It would make a lovely choice for those who like to discover new voices. 

What did you think of this article? Email editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk and let us know.

Image: Alicia Fernandes / Penguin.

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