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 for children 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: Book covers and titles are affiliate links.)
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.
Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang. 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 is 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.
Little You by Richard Van Camp is an adorable board book that is a tender, rhyming love story from mom and dad to their baby.
Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses by Jen Arena. A sweet little board with repetitive and rhyming text. In English with a few Spanish words.
The Going-To-Bed Book 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 and the part in which the animals exercise after they have already gotten ready for bed is a pretty accurate depiction of what happens in our house!
Gift Books for Toddlers and Preschoolers
Press Here by Hervé Tullet. 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 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!" 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.
Racecar Alphabet by Brian Floca. 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. I love this book! After a mom puts her baby to sleep in a hammock she has to hush to sounds around her. Author Minfong Ho writes each animal’s onomatopoetic sound and I like that they are unusual. 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
Little Bear's Big House by Benjamin Chaud. I really like Chaud's entire Little Bear series. These oversized picture books are filled with dense illustrations that children love to examine. Each book's story follows Little Bear on an adventure and readers must track his whereabouts and activities on each double page spread. Great fun!
Journey by Aaron Becker. This trilogy of wordless picture books is amazingly gorgeous and is an absolute must read. Using a red crayon, a girl draws a red door on the wall of her room and enters into a parallel world where adventures with flying carpets, evil rulers, airships, and daring escapes await. This book (and its sequels) will encourage children to narrate what they see on the pages and marvel at the magic of storytelling.
We have both Zen Shorts and The Three Questions by Jon Muth. Muth'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. I recommend these for 5 and up.
Dangerously Ever After by Dashka Slater. 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, Amanita sets out to correct the error. The illustrations, especially Amanita's hairstyles (!) are enchanting. Give this book to a child who is going through a princess phase!
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson. A fence, both metaphorical and physical, defines the boundary between Annie’s white family and Clover’s African-American one. Clover’s mom has told her not to cross the fence because it is unsafe. Instead, Clover sits on the fence, watching the other girl play. Annie eventually approaches Clover and the two sides begin talking, a friendship is formed and the fence, finally crossed. There is no didacticism in Woodson’s writing as might make one cringe in a book like this. The final image of a line of girls sitting on the fence points to the possibilities of the future. Ages 5 and up.
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:
- Picture Books to suit every child's interest (a gift guide)
- Book and toy combos to spark your preschooler's imagination
- Chapter books to suit every child's interest (gift guide version)