Books find us when we need them most.

Maine writer Cathie Pelletier learned that lesson as a young girl, when she received a copy of L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz.”

Baum’s Oz was a wondrous place for a 9-year-old girl living in Allagash.

“Here in the land of pulp trucks, chain saws, lumberjacks and an ocean of evergreens, suddenly appeared flying monkeys, Munchkins and silver shoes, later turned to ruby slippers by Hollywood,” Pelletier recounted. “The road was now made of yellow bricks, not gravel or gray tar. And there was a field of red poppies growing nearby, instead of potato blossoms.”

The book changed Pelletier. In it, she found the magic of words and the ability to change her world with her imagination.

Pelletier’s sister, Joan, gave her that gift as a Christmas present. In this season of gift-giving, Pelletier and other Maine writers took a moment to reflect on books that have made some of the most meaningful gifts in their lives, because of the stories they carried or the relationships they represent.

Joan died this year, and Pelletier has been thinking about the wonderful world of Oz a lot. Things have come and gone in her life. Pelletier has left books and possessions behind in her travels. Her bookshelves are filled with novels, poetry, short stories, histories and memoirs that she has read, cherished and forgotten.

But that one little book and the world that opened to Pelletier because of it remain constants, and the book has become a metaphor for her life and sisterhood. “As what happened to Dorothy, my world unfolded with blinding color,” she said. “In just remembering the story I become a child again, locked in an isolated environment, until I turned those pages.”

When they come as a gift, the best books become a living thing. They breathe on the nightstand beside our bed and in our backpacks as we carry them around. After we’ve finished reading, we might keep the book out for a while, so we can return to it or share it with a friend, or even just to pick it up for the tactile pleasure of running our fingers over the cover.

Eventually, it takes its place on the bookshelf, collecting dust. But it never goes away. Monica Wood knows this as a fact. Her bookshelves are a mess, or as she describes them, “like the aftermath of a natural disaster. There is nothing in order.”

But if she went looking for “So Long, See You Tomorrow” by William Maxwell, she would find it right away because she would hear it calling out to her.

Wood, who lives in Portland, discovered the novel 16 years ago and thought it was one of the most beautiful books she had read. The book was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1981 and a year later won the National Book Award.

The book took on a different meaning when Wood received a copy signed by Maxwell as a gift from her friend and fellow writer, Amy MacDonald, who knew Wood well enough to feel confident the book would resonate. It became even more poignant soon after, when Maxwell died. Wood treasures her signed copy of the book and how it represents her friendship with MacDonald.

“When you receive a book, more than any other gift you feel chosen,” Wood said.

She never gives a book to a friend without reading it first – not to ensure its appropriateness necessarily, but so she knows what it’s about. The book becomes a common experience between friends, something to be shared and revisited over time. If it’s a gift to a child, the children’s book becomes a continuum between lives and generations.

Portland poet laureate Gibson Fay-LeBlanc received an inscribed volume of Jane Kenyon’s “Otherwise” from Maine poet laureate Wesley McNair. He doubts he is unique.

“I imagine that books given as gifts by Wes hold treasured places on shelves around the state,” Fay-LeBlanc said. “But, among the many books I treasure, this one came to me at the right time and was, I imagine, given with intention. I have known Kenyon’s work for a long time, but receiving her selected poems as a gift from a poet I admire pushed me into the poems in a different way.”

“Otherwise” falls in a category of books that Fay-LeBlanc calls tuning forks. “We read and re-read them in order to know how to make our own music,” he said. “I know this is a book I’ll return to again and again.”

Genevieve Morgan was 13 when the hulking package arrived from her great-aunt Margaret in Des Moines, Iowa. Morgan was living in Manhattan and had never received something so big and heavy in the mail. She couldn’t imagine what was inside, or what it cost to send it halfway across the country.

She opened the wrapper to reveal a bound edition of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. In that moment, Morgan’s life changed.

“It set my whole fantasy world on fire,” the Portland novelist said.

Morgan, author of “The Fog of Forgetting,” is certain she would not write young-adult fantasies if not for the gift she received when she became a teenager. She is equally certain her aunt had nothing of this in mind when she bought the three-book volume as a gift.

“Oh, I just think she thought it was pretty,” Morgan said. “She liked nice décor and fancy things. It was well-illustrated and had a nice case.”

Her aunt’s instincts were spot on. The lushness of the package appealed to Morgan and prompted her to open the pages. The same anticipation and reception might not have happened if she picked up the book herself. But as a gift, along with a card addressed to “Gen-Gen,” the book carried layers of meaning and ultimately set in motion Morgan’s still-fertile fascination with fantasy.

She thinks about that gift when she buys a book for someone else, as she did last week when she began her Christmas shopping. (Among the books on her list, “M Train” by Patti Smith, for a friend).

“Giving a book is a way of listening to someone else and what their interests are,” Morgan said. “You can give them something that shows you are paying attention, and you want to expand that interest. And sometimes you just take a chance. You send a book you love because it opened up your world and you want it to do the same for someone else.”

Up in Allagash, Pelletier laid her sister to rest in May. The next day, she buried her father.

It’s been a difficult year, with heavy loss. More than once, she has turned to “The Wizard of Oz” to contemplate its closing lines, and how they mean something different now than when she read them as a child:

“Aunt Em had just come out of the house to water the cabbages when she looked up and saw Dorothy running toward her. ‘My darling child!’ she cried, folding the little girl in her arms and covering her face with kisses. ‘Where in the world did you come from?’ ‘From the Land of Oz,’ said Dorothy, gravely. ‘And here is Toto, too. And oh, Aunt Em! I’m so glad to be at home again!’ ”

Pelletier pauses between a smile and a tear. She’s always found comfort in those words. This year, more than ever.

“I still remember my heart pounding when the silver shoes carried Dorothy home,” she said. “There is something embedded of my mother’s and father’s memory, and now my sister’s, in those final lines about a family being reunited.”