This book list is my secret weapon.
And I'm handing it over to you. Free of charge. Because every child should be see their home filled with books. You're here because you agree not just with me, but with the experts who say that growing up surrounded by books has a powerful effect on the mind.
What you want is a list of the best picture books for kids that you can give as gifts. These books must fulfill several qualifications. The must inspire the imagination, they must encourage child-caregiver bonding, but most importantly, they must be books that you can be reasonably assured are not already on the child's bookshelf.
The titles on this list are the picture books that I keep buying as gifts. 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.
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.
Note: this list contains Amazon and Bookshop affiliate links. Purchases made through these links may earn a commission for this blog. Bookshop also supports independent bookstores.
Here are my top picture books to give to children:
Gift Books for Babies and Toddlers
Any child who is gifted one of these board books will cherish hearing it over and over again. These are wonderful books, both classic award winners, and diverse, contemporary choices.
LITTLE YOU by Richard Van Camp, illustrated by Julie Flett
I absolutely love this adorable board book. Little You is a tender, rhyming love story from mom and dad to their baby. Illustrator Julie Flett (who has rapidly become one of my favorite illustrators) uses autumnal colors to depict the family as the baby grows. Simply marvelous.
THE GOING-TO-BED BOOK by Sandra Boynton
This is another book worth owning because you will read it again and again and again. It is nearly impossible to get bored of Sandra Boynton's swinging, rhythmic text. The part in which the animals exercise after they have already gotten ready for bed is a pretty accurate depiction of what happens most homes with a toddler! Also available in Spanish.
Gift Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers
PRESS HERE by Hervé Tullet
Words cannot express how marvelous this book is. 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 for parents of preschoolers! I give it to every child aged 4 and under. This book has now become very popular; Tullet wrote several similar books if the child already has this book.
TUESDAY by David Wiesner
I have never met a single person who didn't say "I love this book!" Wordless books actually 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. Wiesner's Tuesday is a classic wordless book, full of humor and mystery.
THE RACECAR ALPHABET by Brian Floca
If you want a gift picture book that promotes pretend play as well as teaching the alphabet, try this one! Every time we read this high energy alphabet book (which was often), my son would want to get out his cars and play afterwards! It's a large book and will make quite an impression as a gift for a race car fan.
HUSH! A THAI LULLABY by Minfong Ho, illustrated by Holly Meade
I have recommended this picture book as a gift so many times over the years. After a mom puts her baby to sleep in a hammock she has to hush the sounds around her. Author Minfong Ho writes each animal's onomatopoetic sound and I like that they are unusual to English speakers. For example, the lizard says "tuk-ghaa", the pig says, "uut-uut." The gentle, rhythmic text creates such a lovely lullaby.
Gift Books for Kids ages 4 and Up
ALL THE WAY TO HAVANA by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Mike Curato
I loved the rhythm of this book! A boy and his family drive to Havana in their car, Cara-Cara. Along the way, the boy takes in all the sights and sounds of the drive, especially the sounds made by his beloved car. The illustrations are wonderfully vibrant. This is a great read aloud choice.
I AM EVERY GOOD THING by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Children hear messages from every corner as they grow up. Some may be full of praise, others are sadly critical, or even derogatory and meant to belittle. Caring adults must counteract these negative messages with hope. The reassurance that you are "every good thing" is a powerful and hopeful message for a child. Barnes' text sings loudly to children of their worth, the validity of their dreams and their right to define themselves as they wish.
KING ARTHUR'S VERY GREAT-GRANDSON by Kenneth Kraegel
This is a wonderful twist on the knight adventure story. Young Henry Alfred Grummorson sets out to slay a few beasts and meets some very formidable creatures. At least they seem formidable. It just so happens that none of the mythical beasts want to do battle. They'd rather play games, make friends, blow smoke rings, that sort of thing. All in all, though, young Henry still finds it quite exciting. A marvelous story.
ON ACCOUNT OF THE GUM by Adam Rex
Here's a hilarious, rhyming cumulative tale of an outrageous series of events that occurs after a piece of gum gets stuck in a child's hair. It is completely madcap and the illustrations add to the joyful ridiculosity. You may never want to chew gum again. Or maybe you will... just to see what happens.
Other gift guides you may find useful:
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 picture books make the most delightful gifts!