Library Favorites: Holiday Gift Guide
This month we’re doing things a little differently. We’re looking at books available in the park’s Visitor Center that would make the perfect gift this holiday season. Shopping locally is a gift both for the recipient and the local business you buy from. In that spirit, don’t stop with these recommendations! Get your holiday main course from a local farm instead of the grocery store; pick out more than just books while you’re browsing the Visitor Center! We have a lovely Hog Island sheep ornament, or perhaps you’d be interested in the Oliver Puff colonial tea sampler? If you’re more into giving experiences instead of things, why not give the gift of a farm tour when they resume in the spring? Or tickets to our Winter’s Eve event on December 3rd? The Visitor Center is open Friday through Sunday, 10am - 4pm, but we close for the season after December 18th, so buy your gifts soon! And don’t worry, we’ll be back on March 18th, 2023. Thank you for all your support; it means the world to us. Now, let’s get to the books!
You’ll be familiar with some of the recommendations for children if you are a regular reader of Library Favorites, but the selections for adults are all new to the blog. It’s very possible we’ll be spotlighting more adult books next year, but for now, these are our favorites to unwrap with family and friends.
For the Kids:
A Piscataway Story: The Legend of Kittamaquund, concept developed by Mervin A. Savoy, $12.00
Of course we have to start with our own local history! This story is special to us at The Accokeek Foundation because it centers the Piscataway people’s experience of colonialism rather than the more widely accepted European perspective. If you live in southern Maryland or the wider DMV area, you live on Piscataway land. This is our shared history, and this book is a lovely way to introduce a complicated subject to children honestly, respectfully, and in a way they can understand. The rhyming verse makes it fun to read and remember, and the story at its core is a celebration of history. You’ll need to be prepared to answer questions honestly and openly after reading, but that’s what books are meant to do: inspire and teach. Recommended for ages K+
Notable Native People: 50 Indigenous Leaders, Dreamers, and Changemakers from Past and Present by Dr. Adrienne Keene, $18.99
Is your gift recipient a bit too old for a rhyming story? We’ve got you covered. Notable Native People includes brief biographies of indigenous athletes, artists, linguists, activists, scientists and more. Each is beautifully illustrated by Ciara Sana, herself an indigenous artist based in Washington. The book also includes youth-oriented primers on important issues like the legacy of colonialism, land and water rights, food sovereignty, and cultural appropriation. A great entertaining and educational read! You can read one biography per night as a story time and older kids can tackle it on their own. I’d say 1st grade+ but younger children will appreciate it too if they’re to the point where a block of text with one illustration isn’t too boring. (If they like K.Y. Craft fairytales, they can handle this).
The Hog Island Sheep in a Twisted Christmas Tale by Andrew Barbour, $19.99
We love this series because it stars the critically endangered sheep species that we protect here on the farm! This is actually the first book in Barbour’s Hog Island Sheep trilogy. Our earlier Library Favorite selection, The Hog Island Sheep in State of the Ewe-nion is the last. In this story, our Hog Island sheep friends have not yet learned that the word “hog” can refer to both pigs and sheep, and boy are they upset that they’re named after pigs! In their view, the island should be named for the sheep! While we spend most of our time with the sheep, the book is really about a little girl named Amanda, based on a real person, and orphan who lives at Almshouse Farm at Machipongo (now the Barrier Island Center) on Virginia’s eastern shore. She writes Santa a letter asking for warm blankets and toys for all the children living there. When she can’t afford a stamp to mail it, she puts her message in a bottle and sends it out to the Atlantic Ocean. As you can probably guess, her message is intercepted by the sheep who hatch a cunning plan to replace Santa and give the children warm blankets and dolls themselves. This, they think, will make them heroes! People would demand that the island be renamed in their honor! Despite their less than altruistic motives, with Amanda’s help the sheep succeed in delivering warm wool blankets and toys to the children and manage to give the almshouse its distinctive twisted chimney in the process. But you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if their plan works. It’s a bit wordy for very young children, but a fun Christmas story for ages 4(ish)+.
Four Seasons on a Colonial Potomac Plantation by John Kopp, $10.00
Take a look at the seasons and their changes through the lens of a year on an 18th century Mayland farm. We love this book, and not just because all the photos were taken at the National Colonial Farm. At first glance, this book may not seem very kid-friendly: the writing is in calligraphy and it follows 18th century spelling and grammar conventions. But what makes it wonderful for children is the opportunity for them to notice little events happening all around them. The book highlights the subtle seasonal changes in the earth, changes we might not notice in our busy, indoor lives today. We notice when it gets warmer or colder, sure, but when would you find the first strawberry of the season? When are crops at their biggest? When does the first snowflake fall? These events would have been important milestones for a colonial farmer, and can be celebrated with the children in your life today. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend reading the whole book all at once with very small children, but you could read all of the pages that talk about the season you’re currently experiencing. After the page that talks about finding strawberries, you can play a game to see who can spot the first wild strawberry on a walk (or see if you can find some all season long). Or after reading the page about the first signs of spring, you can look for examples on the way to the store. Talk about the differences between a date you read about in 1770 and the same date in 2022/23. What is different? What is the same? Older children will notice other differences between their lives now and what a child’s life was like in the 18th century such as clothing styles, what homes looked like, or what jobs children were expected to do. A beautiful conversation starter for all ages!
The History Buff
The Possible Dream: Saving George Washington’s View by Robert Ware Straus, $7.95
Have you ever been curious about the history of Piscataway Park? How and why was it founded and who put in the work to make it happen? The author of The Possible Dream, Robert Ware Straus, was one of the founders of the Accokeek Foundation and was serving as its president at the time of his death in August of 1991, so you can rest assured that he has all the credentials and details you need to answer your questions. The book focuses on and gives context to the contemporary partnerships that made the founding of the park possible. Groups like the Alice Ferguson Foundation and the Moyaone Association along with the Accokeek Foundation worked together to preserve the 5,000 acres the park now encompasses. The creation of Piscataway Park pioneered a new conservation model: utilizing partnerships between foundations, the National Park Service, and private homeowners. While the book is the perspective of only one person, and the mission of the Accokeek Foundation has changed since our founding and from when Straus wrote the book, The Possible Dream is practically required reading for Accokeek Foundation team members. (I believe we have over 10 copies in the library.) So if you really want the ins and outs of the park, this book is your best bet.
In the Midst of These Plains: Charles County Buildings and Landscapes by Cathy Thompson and Nicole A Diehlmann, $49.00
Is your local historian more into a great looking coffee table book, but unwilling to sacrifice substance for style? Look no further! In The Midst of These Plains is the result of 50 years of architectural surveys in Charles County, MD. Over its nearly 500 pages, the book examines the history of the county through the lens of architectural trends. It takes a cohesive view of history through structures ranging from individual dwellings and farms, to industrial, religious, public, and commercial buildings. It even includes our very own tobacco barn! From British Colony, to rural farming communities, to the suburb of Washington D.C., the history of Charles County is all here.
The Outdoor Explorer
Dispossessing the Wilderness by Mark David Spence, $33.95
You won’t be surprised to hear that many of us at the Accokeek Foundation love national parks. When you spend so much of your time taking care of one, it’s almost inevitable. And while we’re proud of the work we do today with the National Parks Service, we know it’s essential to wrestle with the parts of history that aren’t all pristine vistas and happy campers. The creation of national parks like Yellowstone and Yosemite weren’t just about preserving land for all to enjoy; the truth is that the idea of “preserving” the land contributed to and helped shape Indian Removal policies. These problematic ideals and policies are embedded in the very foundation of the parks we love, and because of that intrinsic connection they continue to exist and inflict harm today. This book examines the racist policies of the past and their connection to preservationist efforts. What are the consequences of “preserving” these lands? Who were they preserved for? The book grapples with these questions and helps all of us who love our national parks to reimagine and radically alter our thoughts and work on what being a good steward of public lands really means. A must read for all those who love their parks.
NPS Passport, $12.95-$29.95
Perfect for the person in your life who lives for travel. The NPS passport books list every national park service site in the U.S. At each site, you can collect a unique stamp to commemorate your visit.
The Homesteader (or those who dream of being one)
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, $18.00
A bestseller when it came out and still one of the most popular books in our store, Braiding Sweetgrass draws on Kimmerer’s life experience as both a botanist and a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Her book demonstrates that western scientific practice and traditional indigenous wisdom are not diametrically opposed viewpoints, but rather are complementary ways of seeing and learning from the world. Kimmerer braids (see what she did there?) the two together, returning again and again to the central argument that being good stewards of land requires embracing our interdependence with and taking responsibility for all life on the planet we share. Weaving together knowledge of nourishing plants, buried histories, and indigenous cultures, Kimmerer offers incredible insight into finding honorable ways to develop life-sustaining relationships.
The Storey Country Wisdom Bulletins, $3.95 each
These little books have all the information you need to get started on whatever homesteading project has captured your imagination. Want to build a bat house? We got you. Fancy making some tea with herbs fresh from your garden? Or maybe growing herbs to treat your seasonal cold and flu? We have that too! Baking Bread? Building your own brewing equipment? Birdhouses? Composters? Cheese making? Homemade wine? Yes to all! The best part is, these books are small and very inexpensive (only about $2 each!), so you can build a series customized to your recipient’s interests. Grab all the gardening books, all the food making books, all the wildlife books, whatever would strike their fancy. As a gift, it’s easy, inexpensive, and personal. Perfect.
On the Farm: Heritage and Heralded Animal Breeds in Portraits and Stories by Aliza Eliazarov, $30.00
Homesteading more of a fantasy at this point? No problem! This giftable photo book includes shots of heritage breed life on the farm, including a portrait of our very own Nigel, the Hog Island sheep. Along with the beautiful photos, the book includes amusing, touching, and sometimes scary personal tales of the animals themselves. Take a look at why we work so hard to protect these breeds and how our work helps preserve both biodiversity and food stability. A gorgeous and informative read that might just inspire someone to get out on the farm.
I hope these ideas have piqued your interest and given you some holiday inspiration. Be sure to check out the Visitor Center at the park for all your holiday shopping needs. If you can’t visit us in person but still want the books, shop smile.Amazon.com and designate the Accokeek Foundation as your charity. Part of every purchase you make will be donated to the Accokeek Foundation to support education and conservation efforts in Piscataway Park. As ever, thank you for your support. You can always email me at email@example.com. I’d especially love to hear about how your loved one reacted to your gift! Happy holidays!