Holiday Gift Guide for Little Ones

I have a love/hate relationship with gift giving during the holidays. I really, really don’t want to add any more toys to our already messy apartment, and I’m kind of picky about the toys my toddler plays with. He’d much rather play with our kitchen utensils and cans of cat food anyways…

I have seen a lot of suggestions online recently for people to buy things for children like a zoo membership, or gift cards, or tickets to an amusement park; things that don’t cause clutter and are experiences rather than toys. I love these ideas, but I also know that some people just like giving tangible THINGS, and it’s also really fun to see the delighted look on a kid’s face as they open a present (plus, little ones don’t always understand what a ticket or pass to the zoo means if they can’t use it right away).

My solution to this problem is to gift the experience of some really good reading sessions. 

Giving a child a great book gives them the opportunity to read that book snuggled up on the lap of a loved one, in a cozy corner with their favorite stuffed animal, in fits of giggles with their sibling, or in a quiet moment alone. It provides them with many wondrous moments for days, months, sometimes years to come. And it takes up hardly any space! I’ve always been able to find room for more books, especially since my toddler has a knack for tearing, ripping, and dismembering them, so we’re always happy to refresh our supply. For those of you that are interested in buying books for the kids you love this holiday season, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorites (a few classics as well as some excellent ones that have flown under the radar). Hope you enjoy, and happy holidays!

Books for Babies (0-12 months)

Smile! by Roberta Grobel Intrater. Young babies are attracted to images with high contrast as well as real photos rather than illustrations. This was the first book that my son seemed really interested in as a baby. When he was about 6 weeks old, he would stare SO intently at the photos of smiling babies and one day he started smiling back at them! The photos are really sweet, and there is minimal text, just a lot of cute, smiling babies of different ethnicities.

Indestructibles: Baby Animals by Amy Pixton and Stephan Lomp. Indestructibles is a series of short, colorful books that are made with a special type of paper that is seriously as indestructible as advertised. My little one put these books to the test: he chewed, he drooled, he twisted, he pulled, he tried SO hard to rip them and over a year later, they are still in great shape. I highly recommend getting a few of these for babies, because they are a wonderful way to introduce books and the joy of reading without having to worry about the book being ruined by a baby’s natural instincts.

Farm Tails, by Jellycat. This is a crinkly cloth book with lots of different soft textures for babies to explore. The pictures are really colorful, plus the farm animal theme means you can (definitely should) make animal sounds while you read, and that adds another level of fun for babies. And since the book is fabric, it’s also safe for babies to play with independently without you worrying about it getting destroyed.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Soft Book), by Eric Carle. This fabric book does not include the words from the classic Eric Carle story, but it does have some of the pictures in different textured fabric, so it is engaging for babies and allows them to touch and explore. You can retell the story to your baby as they enjoy the different textures and colors and listen to the soothing sound of your voice.

Books for Toddlers (1-3 years)

Toddlers love books that they can interact with. Flaps, pulls and textures are all winners here. They aren’t usually able to sit still long enough for a full story (3 year olds sometimes can, but the 2 and unders usually prefer their books short and sweet.) Toddlers are learning constantly, so they often gravitate toward books that feature their particular interests (trucks, dinosaurs, colors, airplanes, dogs, foods, etc.) and rhyming and alliteration are also highly engaging. Keep an eye out for those things as you shop for books for a toddler, or try one of these tried-and-true favorites:

Peek-a-Flap board books: My toddler loves his Peek-A-Flap Moo! and Peek-A-Flap WHO? books. They’re sturdy board books that have easy-to-lift flaps with facts about the animals scattered throughout. He’s too young to enjoy the animal facts but he loves the pictures and I’m sure he’ll appreciate them even more as he gets older.

Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell. Another fun lift-the-flap book. This one’s a classic about zoo animals and why they don’t make good pets. Flaps and zoo animals? Double whammy.

The Feelings Book, by Todd Parr. There’s something about Todd Parr’s simple messages and colorful illustrations that strikes a magical chord with every child I’ve ever read his books to. The Feelings Book is great for 2-5 year olds; it teaches them the names of a lot of different feelings, which is really important for their social-emotional development. Kids who are able to label their own feelings beyond “happy” and “sad” are much better equipped for dealing with the wide range of emotions that they feel, and better able to understand how others feel as well.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle (most other Bill Martin and Eric Carle books are winners too!) A great story for introducing animal names and colors, this book also rhymes so it is extra engaging for little ones. It’s been one of my son’s favorites ever since he was about 9 months old. At first, he just liked the way my voice sounded as I read it, and now he likes to point out the animals he recognizes.

Books for Preschool/ Early Elementary (4-6 years)

I have a hard time narrowing this list down because as a Kindergarten teacher, I’ve seen so many amazing books for this age range. The following books are ones that my students have asked me to read again and again, and I’m also including a favorite author list at the end of this post in case you want a few more suggestions.

Ish, by Peter Reynolds. A little boy who loves to draw loses his confidence when someone makes fun of him. He becomes obsessed with perfection and is frustrated with his drawings until his little sister helps him see, through her admiration and encouragement, that the little mistakes aren’t such a big deal after all. A really sweet story (with siblings that are nice to each other!) that teaches us to make mistakes and keep going.

Shh! We Have a Plan, by Chris Haughton. This is a hilarious story about three big bird-catchers and the littlest one who keeps ruining their plan of attack. In the end, the little one’s plan to befriend the birds works better anyways! My students asked me to read this one nearly every day; it was a favorite for a reason!

The Paper Bag Princess, by Robert Munsch. Smash that fairytale damsel-in-distress stereotype, smash it to bits! This is the story of a princess who fights a dragon to save her prince fiancé, only to find that he is selfish and superficial, so she dumps him and carries on with her life. It’s so satisfying to see the princess as the hero, and this one also was a huge hit with my kindergartners and first graders.

Press Here! by Herve Tullet. This is a really engaging book that gives the reader directions (press the yellow dot, tap the red dot three times, etc.) and takes them through a whole series of simple tasks that little ones want to go back to again and again.

10 Favorite Authors

If you’re shopping for a child between the ages of 3 and 7, you can’t go wrong with any of these authors:

  • Mo Willems
  • Todd Parr
  • Kevin Henkes
  • Rosemary Wells
  • Eric Carle
  • Ezra Jack Keats
  • Herve Tullet
  • David Shannon
  • Mem Fox
  • Julia Donaldson

Happy holidays and happy reading!

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