Grad Gift Guide: Books, Books, and More Books

Red Hen Press
8 min readMay 3, 2023

By Lizzy Young

May is graduation month! If you are searching for grad gifts, then look no further than this list! Books are a timeless gift that graduates can read over and over again. Plus, all Red Hen covers are beautiful, and look great on any bookshelf.

Keep reading to find inspirational, funny, or coming-of-age books to give to the graduates in your life.

To kick off this list, we are starting with Red Hen Merch! In case you didn’t know, proceeds from Red Hen merch support the operations of the publishing house. You can’t go wrong snagging one of our T-shirts, sweatshirts, or mugs for a grad, plus you support a really great nonprofit!

A blue t-shirt with a yellow hen in front of blue flowers in the center. A banner in front of the hen reads, “Read Then” in red typsecript.
A graphic of a young girl in a dress swimming upward away from the underwater merstation below her. Above her is the title: “Aqueous: a novel.” On the bottom of the cover is the author: “Jade Shyback”

Aqueous by Jade Shyback

From debut young adult novelist Jade Shyback comes the first in the Aqueous series. On the eve of Earth’s collapse, young Marisol Blaise is taken to live on an underwater mersation known as Aqueous with parents not her own. There, she must compete in the trials, grueling tests designed to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each trainee, hoping to be assigned to the all-male elite diving team known as the Cuviers. Desperate to prove to herself, the residents, and all of her parents, dead and alive, that she is worthy of this prestigious placement, she works tirelessly to shatter misogynistic beliefs, only to discover that it was not only the men who constrained her. A much uglier untruth exists.

This coming-of-age novel releases May 2, so grab your graduate this hot new release!

A white background and pink and black typography that reads The World Began With Yes poems by Erica Jong.

The World Began with Yes by Erica Jong

Erica Jong has never stopped writing poetry. It was her first love and it has provided inspiration for all her other books. In a dark time, she celebrates life. Her title comes from the Brazilian genius Clarice Lispector who was deeply in love with life despite many tragedies. Life challenges us to celebrate even when our very existence is threatened. Never have we needed poetry more. Jong believes that the poet sees the world in a grain of sand and eternity in a wild flower — as Blake wrote. Her work has always stressed the importance of the lives of women, women’s creativity, and self-confidence. She sees her role as a writer as inspiring future poets to come.

Buy this inspiring collection as a grad gift here!

A blue background with a full moon towards the top and script that reads Another Phase by Eloise Klein Healy.

Another Phase by Eloise Klein Healey

In April 2013, just five months after being named the first Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, Eloise had a brain injury resulting in Wernicke’s aphasia a breakdown in the symbol system of language. Poetry was the guide and motivation for recovery. This collection is comprised of a series of five-line poems that began as a focusing exercise yet transformed into a remarkable channel for her creativity. These poems are filled with the same features that have pervaded her work, meaning they are serious, at times playful, sometimes beautiful and sometimes goofy. But all have that twist, that meaningful point, that is unique to Eloise’s consciousness.

Help a graduate reflect on the transition season of graduation with Healey’s beautiful poetry.

A watercolor of the Eiffel Tower and ghost coming out of the top of it with orange script that reads Everyone Wants to be Ambassador to France stories by Bryan Hurt.

Everyone Wants to be Ambassador to France by Bryan Hurt

A seagull, a goat, and a teenage boy enter into a bizarre love triangle that leaves one of them dead and the other two changed forever. A grief-stricken astronaut quits NASA to paint pictures of the moon. A lonely scientist creates stars in his basement and becomes enraged when he discovers that one of his stars harbors life. An eighteenth-century British aristocrat adopts two teenage girls and absconds with them to France, determined to raise one of them to become his perfect wife. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, this debut collection offers weird and wonderful stories that illuminate the hidden truths of life.

Order this lighthearted collection of stories about life for your graduate here!

A painting of a theater stage with the lights on and the crowd seats empty with yellow text in the center that reads The Playwrights House a novel by Dariel Suarez.

The Playwright’s House by Dariel Suarez

Happily married, backed by a powerful mentor, and with career prospects that would take him abroad, Serguey has more than any young Cuban lawyer could ask for. But when his estranged brother Victor appears with news that their father — famed theater director Felipe Blanco — has been detained for what he suspects are political reasons, Serguey’s privileged life is suddenly shaken.

A return to his childhood home in Havana’s decaying suburbs — a place filled with art, politics, and the remnants of a dissolving family — reconnects Serguey with his troubled past. He learns of an elusive dramaturge’s link to Felipe, a man who could be key to his father’s release. With the help of a social media activist and his wife’s ties with the Catholic Church, Serguey sets out to unlock the mystery of Felipe’s arrest and, in the process, is forced to confront the reasons for the hostility between him and Victor: two violent childhood episodes that scarred them in unforgettable ways. On the verge of imprisonment, Serguey realizes he must make a decision regarding not just his father, but his family and his own future, a decision which, under the harsh shadow of a communist state, he cannot afford to regret.

This novel about growing up and grappling with the past is a perfect grad gift. Order at this link!

On a green cover, a cartoon of a beautiful girl in a strapless pink dress leans against a yellow car. Above the image is the title, “I Dreamed I was Emily Dickinson’s Boyfriend.” Below the woman’s heeled shoes is the author, “Ron Koertge.”

I Dreamed I was Emily Dickinson’s Boyfriend by Ron Koertge

I Dreamed I Was Emily Dickinson’s Boyfriend easily solidifies his reputation as a poet who is very funny and also very serious. In these surprising and delightful poems, a mannequin joins the Me Too movement, a summer job turns into a lesson in class distinctions, and Jane Austen makes a surprise appearance at a mall. Ron Koertge’s uniquely playful imagination is on display in poem after poem.

Order this humorous collection of poems about life for a graduate!

A graphic of a woman’s face eating a meatball on a fork with script that reads Meatballs for the People by Gary Soto.

Meatballs for the People: Proverbs to Chew On by Gary Soto

Meatballs for the People: Proverbs to Chew On is a collection of witty and digestible aphorisms for our times. Some people might consider the literary genre of proverbs to be stodgy or out of date, perhaps pretentious and irrelevant in our techy world. Not so with Meatballs for the People. These proverbs are all original, all beckoning for verbal debate and discussion, and addictive in that it’s impossible to read just one. The nearly eleven hundred proverbs are discussion starters, enjoyable fodder not only for laughter, but for possible enlightenment. The title alone — Meatballs for the People — suggests substance and a hardy meal. You can really chew on these.

You can’t go wrong giving a graduate Soto’s funny but wise advice. Order now!

A white background cover with intricate typography that reads New Moons edited by Kazim Ali at the top and Contemporary Writings by North American Muslims towards the bottom. At the center there is a moon like graphic divided into three pie divisions; one yellow one blue and one grey.

New Moons: Contemporary Writing by North American Muslims edited by Kazim Ali

A dynamic collection of contemporary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction by North American Muslims.

From the Introduction: “The goal with this anthology is to represent that full range of contemporary expressions of Islam, as well as a full range of genres — poetry, fiction, essay, memoir, political writing, cultural writing, and of course plenty of texts which mix and match and blur all of these modes . . . the trajectories between the pieces — like that of kismet — will be multiple, nonlinear, abstract. The Muslim community is plural and contradictory. This collection of voices ought to be symphony and cacophony at once, like the body of Muslims as they are today.” — Kazim Ali

This anthology has a little bit of everything, so you can’t go wrong giving it as a grad gift.

A photograph of a large field during the fall with orange trees and script that reads Run Away to the Yard poems by Lisa C. Krueger.

Run Away to the Yard by Lisa C. Krueger

Like a photograph seared in the mind, Run Away to the Yard has lasting power, offering its readers the chance to alter assumed perceptions of culture–and of self.

Run Away to the Yard is a unique collection of poems that addresses personal identity within the contemporary culture. In parable-like vignettes and metaphor-dense portraits, Krueger”s poems challenge old notions of self, asking readers to reconsider what brings meaning to daily life. Through the lens of close observation–much like a photographer–Krueger examines the complexity of our responses to a convoluted world. Poems ask us to consider who we are when our lives become stripped of the ordinary and expected, whether that be material commodities, health, daily routines, relationships, even memory. Where, then, do we find meaning and purpose? These poems aim toward greater compassion–for other people and ultimately for ourselves.

Order this collection for an inspiring and introspective grad gift.

Block yellow and white lettering says Lessons From Summer Camp by Jim Tilley over a background of campers hanging off of a large brown dock in the midst of a lake.

Lessons from Summer Camp by Jim Tilley

A fifty-year look backward to the days spent at summer camp and the life lessons they taught us without our knowing it.

In Lessons from Summer Camp, Jim Tilley takes a fifty-year retrospective look at a ten-year period during his childhood and adolescence to discover what summer camp was really about. In both a wistful and an appreciative look back on the days of our youth, the poems reminisce on the memorable events of those summers, from fire-lighting contests at Council Ring, to races in war canoes during Tribal Games, learning to swim, and writing letters home to the inevitable sadness of departing at the end of the summer, saying goodbyes at the station until next year. The poems evoke memories of experiences we’ve all shared and bring perspective to how Lessons from Summer Camp often become apparent only later in life.

A perfect nostalgic read for grads, order it at this link!

We hope you found a great grad gift on this list, and a read or two for yourself!

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Red Hen Press

Nonprofit independent literary publisher aiming to amplify unheard and underrepresented voices and improve literacy in schools. www.redhen.org