Even though I am a fierce library advocate, I firmly believe every child should own books. But what are the best picture books for kids that you can give as gifts? Which children’s books are worth buying — and most importantly, what can you choose that you can be certain that no one else will also give?
If you are looking for a book with a particular theme (like inventors or folktales, etc.), take a gander at the index of all my book lists. However, I find that there are certain picture books for children that either I keep buying as gifts, or that I recommend over and over to my fellow parents. Without exception all of these books have received superb reviews from the experts and many are award winners, so you don’t have to just take my word for it. (Note: This gift guide is totally unsponsored! I have used affiliate links should you wish to learn more about a title.)
Here are my top picture books to give to children:
Books for babies and Toddlers:
Ten, Nine, Eight. It’s likely someone else will give baby a copy of Goodnight Moon, but every child should also own a copy of this gentle, counting bedtime story. It may be my favorite counting book of all time. True, hardback books are nice, but board books are much more baby-friendly.
Charlie Parker Played Be Bop. This one is good for preschoolers as well, but when my kids were babies and toddlers they loved listening to the jazzy, onomatopoeic text.
Freight Train. You are going to read this book a million times before your child is 3, you might as well own it.
Books for toddlers and preschoolers:
Press Here. Words cannot express how much I love this book. It’s the ultimate interactive book. Each page asks the child to perform an action which triggers an event revealed on the next page. Think of it as a non-electronic app. This is my #1 book recommendation. I give it to every child aged 3 and under.
Rise and shine with Good Morning, Digger. Illustrator Melanie Hope Greenberg contributes a monthly coloring page to this blog and this book about a child watching a construction site evolve over time is great fun. In the evening you can snuggle up with Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. This book has been read over and over in our house. I finally told my mom just to buy it for the boys. A bedtime book featuring construction vehicles getting reading to snooze, cuddling up with teddy bears is sure to be a hit.
Tuesday. I have never met a single person who didn’t say “I love this book!” It may seem odd, but I think wordless books often make the best book gifts. They grow along with the child. As kids get older they discover more and more in the illustrations on their own, but when they are younger, looking at wordless books encourages a positive engagement between parent and child. In fact, it’s been shown that parents who read wordless books use more complex vocabulary than when chatting about books with text. Weisner’s Tuesday is a classic wordless book, full of humor and mystery. Even older kids will love it. If you like the idea of giving a wordless book, I shared 15 wonderful wordless books.
Racecar Alphabet. We purchased this book from the illustrious Brian Floca last year at a book fair. Every time we read it (which is often), New Kid asks me to also read the inscription Floca wrote to him! It’s a large book and will make quite an impression as a gift for a race car fan.
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. This is a classic picture book; it appears on almost every “best books” or “must read before you grow up” list. Henkes hits all the right notes over the indulgences and frustrations of childhood in this story of a little mouse who takes her prized possession to school one day.
Books for Kids ages 4 and up:
Journey. A rare occurrence for me: I actually bought this book as soon as it came out. It’s a gorgeous wordless picture book with a strong female protagonist that is being talked about all over the book-loving community. I picked it for my most recent best books of 2013 list. Journey is a magical, imaginative adventure with shades of Harold and the Purple Crayon. (Expect to see it on yet another upcoming book list!)
We own Zen Shorts and I just purchased The Three Questions to give the kids at Hanukkah. (I’m too impatient to wait for Christmas to read it with them!) Murth’s books are fabulous for older kids who will be able to dig deep into the meaning of the stories-within-a-story. Each thought-provoking book will encourage kids to think about the value of friendship, giving and patience.
Dangerously Ever After. We actually won this book in a giveaway and I’m so glad we did or I might not have come across it. (Lesser known books make great gift choices!) I included this funny, absurd and charming story about the feisty and fearless Princess Amanita in my list of Books for Rowdy Girls (and Boys!). Amanita loves dangerous plants, and when her neighbor, Prince Florian, gives her roses she turns up her nose, until she discovers they have thorns. Florian promises to bring her more but when he accidentally brings her a bouquet of noses, Amandita sets out to correct the error. The illustrations, especially Amanita’s hairstyles (!) are enchanting.
Stuck. It was difficult to choose just one Oliver Jeffers book. I read this one aloud to my son’s 1st grade class and the kids roared with laughter. Floyd’s kite get stuck in a tree! He attempts to dislodge it by tossing larger and larger items into its branches, where, much to the reader’s amusement, they stick. The ending is delightfully absurd.
The Rabbit Problem.This book, based on the Fibonacci number sequence, is so much fun. There are flaps and pop outs to make the story interactive and curious kids will love to hunt among the numbers as the rabbits multiply from month to month.
There you have it. I hope I’ve gone beyond the typical gift list with my suggestions. Some selections are well-known, others are lesser known gems you will be pleased to discover. Whatever your choice, remember books make the most delightful gifts!
Other gift guides you may find useful: