Need a Unique, budget-friendly gift? Think Journals

writing journals for kidsThe summer I turned eight, my family camped our way across the United States from Baltimore, Maryland, to Monmouth, Oregon. Just before we left, my mom gave me a small, spiral-bound notebook for memorializing our trip. That little notebook (that cute little notebook to the left over there) launched a lifelong love of writing.

collection of journalsFrom the mundane to the sublime its all there in my nearly 20 year collection of little diaries with keys, fancy journals (including Papyrus journal that was a wedding present from Bill), and college-ruled spiral notebooks! They’re not worthy of a memoir, for sure, but they remember moments long ago forgotten, and in the times that I spent writing, they were comfort and refuge, joy and elation.

Having a journal is like having a best friend who is always there, always listens, and never judges.

So why the trip down Memory Lane? Because journals make a great gift! They are personal items that the recipient can completely personalize. If you’re stuck for a unique gift, then consider notebook or journals. Pair it with a nice pen and you’ve got a wonderful gift for less than $25.

  • Hard-to-buy-for teen? Check.
  • Fourth grader with a big imagination and lots of stories to tell? Check.
  • High school student who doodles all over their notebooks? Check.

If they imagine it or think about it, a journal is a great place to save it.

What I like about the two journals below is that they offer guided journaling. Some of us are intimidated by nothing but a blank canvas. With these journals, you have the best of both worlds. There is plenty of space for free-form entries, whether narrative or illustrated. Yet these two journals also have “writing prompts” that can spark a memory or launch some thoughtful reflection.

Gift-worthy Journals

Fireflies – A Writer’s Notebook
by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
Hardbound, $12.95

The fireflies that SPARK for you, SPARK for you and you alone No one else can see them. Only you can catch them. How do you catch them? Write them down! … Are you ready to open your firefly jar? ~ Coleen Murtagh Paratore


Connect the Thoughts: Dot Your Life, Free Your Mind
by Eloise Leigh and Taylor Norman
paperback, $12.95

This journal is for you to … connect all your thoughts in one place. It is set up so you can connect your thoughts however you want. You can connect thoughts in writing. You can connect thoughts in sketches, you can connect thoughts in glue or spackle or glitter or highliter or graphs. (if you want).

Both of these journals are wonderful choices for children, (hard-to-buy-for) teens, and adults, too.

Yes, Fireflies might appeal more to girls by looking at the cover, but you’re selling it short if you only think of girls.

Connect the Thoughts is a unique, fun format that will appeal to everyone and work for elementary-aged children, too. The journal is color-organized into categories that will appeal to everyone: family, friend, music, dreams, travel, and more.

Shop and Support Literacy, Too

donate to literacyOne of my favorite things to do during the holidays is shop for books. Yes, I like browsing the bookstore (and library!) shelves all year long. At Christmas, though, I wear a different hat. Instead of looking for books that I will like, I wander through the aisles in search of books that are “just right” for the person on my gift list.

  • Laugh-out loud books for the preschoolers
  • Thrillers for the mystery lover
  • Biographies for the history lover
  • Cookbooks for the FoodNetwork addictees

Sadly, not everyone loves books or reading or Thankfully, I have an alternative. I can shop for gifts at their favorite stores AND support my literacy passion.

Shop = Gift + Literacy

Best of all, you can do it too! For the past several years, I have done my holiday shopping through

shop for holiday gifts and give back, too

Here’s a little secret – Goodshop has C-O-U-P-O-N-S at many of the participating 2,500 retailers. [Crate & Barrel coupons anyone?]

I save on the holiday purchases when I shop for my in-laws (shhh!), and Crate & Barrel puts a percentage of the purchase to the charity of my choice – The Reading Tub!

A win-win-win this holiday! Lots of people will be asking for donations this holiday. offers you a way to shop for gifts AND donate to a cause you’re passionate about … without stressing you or your budget.

Feel free to use our Share a Love of Literacy banner on your website, blog or via social. We only ask that you credit the Reading Tub for the image and use either of these links


If you  need a different size banner, please email me at thereadingtub [at] I’m happy to send you something.



Celebrating a Reading Life

Three years ago today, we lost my dad to the cruelty that calls itself Lewy-Body Dementia. Each year, my Mom and I commemorate this day with a community service project.

As only a reader can understand, my Dad wanted his books donated to our local library. It took us almost two years to catalog the thousands of books in my dad’s personal library.

Today, Mom and I are honoring that request by delivering more than 400 books (only about 15 percent of the full collection) to the branch in my my folks’ neighborhood.

In tribute, I’m also republishing a post I wrote the day Dad left us.


Today my family is closing a chapter of an incredible story: my dad’s life. I know a lot – the polio, the streetcars, family life in the 1940s, growing up the oldest of 11, the Polish/German boy going to my Italian great-grandparents’ house for Sunday dinner with his “girlfriend” that first time – and now I’ll never know more.

The ugliness of Lewy-Body Dementia had been taking its toll on my father for three years, with a precipitous impact this summer. He played 9 holes of golf with my husband on July 11, 2011 … and today he was called Home.

Growing up, my dad was supposed to become a priest, because that’s what the first born did back in the day. Then he met my mom. He was supposed to go into the family business: running my grandfather’s bakery. Because THAT is what you did when you didn’t enter the church. But my dad’s destiny was to share a love of learning and books. His passion was teaching and mentoring and nurturing.

My dad was many things – educator, corporate executive, administrator, among others – but first and foremost he was a bookworm. He L-O-V-E-D history, especially European and colonial American history. He was writing a book about how to use literature and primary sources to teach history. He was rereading the novels of his youth to show how culture and beliefs affect literature and to “place” them in the context of their time.

When I took his AP European History class in high school, we listened to music and looked at art. We read original sources and correspondence. We didn’t memorize dates. We didn’t have reading logs.

After my parents moved to Charlottesville in 2006, my dad asked if he could review books for the Reading Tub. He wanted to see what kids today are reading and practice his writing. Why? Because that’s what readers do. Yes, he tired of the Harry-Potter-wannabes, but he reveled in some of the “really great stuff” he was seeing. I can’t count how many times he said “boy, I wish I would have had a book like that when I was teaching.”

Even when he could no longer review, he kept reading. He’d see an interview on News Hour and ask Mom to put the title on his list. He is my personification of Thomas Jefferson’s quote: “I cannot live without books.”

I miss him, but I know what he’s doing … strolling the stacks of Heaven’s library, looking for Great Books and people to talk with about them.

I need some time to deal with the harsh realities of not being able to talk with Dad, to see his smile, to hear him say cina-min-a-min and make Catherine laugh. I don’t know when I’ll be back. I hope you can understand.