Gifts for Very Young Kids You Don’t Know Very Well


It’s that time of year when many of us are looking for just the right present for kids that we don’t see all that often, and books are a natural choice. As the nieces and nephews and godchildren gather around the tree or finish lighting the menorah, it’s great to offer each one an alternative to the inevitable pile of gadgets and software, and as the saying goes, a book really is a present you can open again and again.

But with the number of titles available, how do you choose? Not a day goes by after Black Friday that I don’t get five or six emails saying something like this:

I’d love some ideas for 5 grandsons, ranging in age from three to twelve. The ten-year-old loves to read, but the twelve-year-old only loves sports. Last year’s suggestions were very well liked!!

When you’re faced with such a plea, a little reconnaissance pays off big. How old is each recipient? Do you have a clue about likes and dislikes — particularly any subjects, toys, or themes that add up to an obsession? Even a small amount of information, will help you achieve the goal of getting a smile when the gift is unwrapped.

To aid you in your mission, I’m offering my picks from the thousands of children’s books published this year, sorted by age group, with notes to help you spot just the right book for that young reader, attempting to answer the question that plagues adult gift givers with children in their lives: “How do I buy a book for a gift for a kid I don’t know very well?”

We’ll divide this into sections.  Below, selections for the very young. In the following posts, I’ll suggest titles for early elementary and older kids.

This is more art than science, so I may have overlooked some of your favorites. Please mention them in the comments section.

For Families With A New Baby Or Toddler

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No Two Alike, Keith Baker, (Little Simon, Board Book)

Particularly appropriate for families with new twins, but it works for others as well.  Baker’s art and ear for language is pitch perfect for young children and their parents. In the book, we observe a pair of red birds making their way in the snow-covered world.

Moo!, David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka, (Bloomsbury, Board Book)

This was a read aloud delight when it arrived as a picture book in 2013. There never was a more expressive story told with just one sound — “Moo.” Now available in a board book edition we can share our enthusiasm with the pre-reading set

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Honk, Honk! Baa, Baa!,  Petr Horacek, (Candlewick)

This heavy stock board book has a comforting familiarity with Horacek’s mixed media illustrations of common farm animals and the noises they emit. As we turn the die cut pages they form a black and white bovine surprise on the last spread (if you’re having trouble imagining that, watch a kid discover it for himself in this video).

Also from Horacek is Las Fresas son Rojas, (Candlewick)

This is a new Spanish language edition of Strawberries are Red a cornucopia of fruit and colors with a die cut surprise at the end.

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Pat-a-Cake and All Fall Down, Mary Brigid Barrett, illus. by LeUyen Pham, (Candlewick Press)

The familiar nursery rhymes are stretched and expanded in these delightfully silly rhyming romps. Have you ever patted a pickle cold and bumpy? A fuzzy caterpillar? Did your recitation of “Ring around the Rosie” include “potatoes in a mound, plopping green peas all around”?

For Families With Preschoolers Ages 2 To 5

This is the age when kids start to get reading ready. It important for them to explore colors, numbers, and shapes as well as concepts like up and down and in and out through pages of a book. The following will bring surprise and wonder from that most jaded of readers, the parent, who often has to read them again and again.


Countablock, Christopher Franceschelli, ills. by Peskimo, Abrams 16.95

From the team that brought us Alphablock (Abrams, 2013), this is a brick of a book weighing in at almost 1 ½ pounds of counting fun. We count from 1 to 10 as 6 balls of yarn become 6 sweaters and 7 pots of paint become seven colors of the rainbow in bold graphics that include an oversized depiction of the number then we count by 10s to read a double page spread of 100 puzzle pieces (see more interior photos here).

Circle Square Moose, Kelly Bingham,  illus, by Paul Zelinsky, (Greenwillow Books)

The creators, Z is for Moose broke down the structure and predictability of the alphabet book. Shapes are the feature of this reprise of the adventures of Moose whose enthusiasm for the subject matter exceeds his social skills. See below for


9789888240852_2afc8Number Circus: 1-10 and Back Again!,  Květa Pacovská (minedition, Dist. by IPG)

This playful, tactile volume with embossing, die-cuts, and interactive lift-the-flaps is an artistic volume that nods to the influences of modern masters such as Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Joan Miró.


For Families Sick of Reading the
Same Bedtime Books Over and Over

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Thank You, Octopus,  Darren Farrell, (Penguin/Dial)

Absurdist humor seems to be a winner this year and I would give the prize to this one. The familiar structure of the children’s games “Fortunately/ Unfortunately” and “That’s Bad/ No That’s Good” are used here as a knitted cap-wearing Octopus offers what at first seems a to be typical bedtime rituals of a warm bath, bringing a “Thank you, Octopus!” But, wait, that bath is made of egg salad. “Gross! No, thank you, Octopus!” This holds up to repeated readings, as we explore the ship where the boy and the octopus reside.

Small Blue and the Deep Dark Night,  Jon Davis, (HMH)

Small Blue is white bunny. Small Blue is imagining scary creatures like gremlins and goblins when the lights are turned off at night. The grownup in the house is Big Brown, an enormous bear. Big Brown suggest imagining something fun not scary in the dark like delightful doggies riding unicycles. The bunny’s bedroom when lit is a cozy space of glowing yellow strewn with toys and books contrasting with the deep blues where the fantasy beings appear in the dark. Sure to become a favorite.

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