Best Books to Give to Kids…Even Those You Don’t Know Very Well

We want to give books this holiday season. We want to give books because we want to share the joy of perfectly written, joyous-to-read-aloud picture books. We want to give books because childhood memories are made when we settle into the big armchair and share the adventures of a fearless mouse (The Tale of Despereaux). We want to give books because we want to be the ONE who introduced that seven-year-old to Clementine.

Specifically, I want to be the cool godmother who slipped a teen Someday This Pain Will be Useful to You. I also want to be the goddess who gave the perfect book to the kid who “doesn’t read.” I also want to give books because I want to support the “content providers.” I want my gift giving money to go to children’s book writers and artists.

Out of the thousands of new children’s books published this year, which ones will make the perfect gift?

Allow me; making the match is the most exciting moment for the children’s librarian or bookseller.

Lisa Von Drasek’s Annual Best Books to Give to Kids When You Have No Idea What to Get Them Because:

  • You Don’t Know Them Very Well
  • They’ve Read Everything

The following recommendations are sorted by age of recipient and topic.

Best New Baby

Perfect Piggies! Book and Plush Set
Sandra Boynton
Retail Price: $16.95
Hardcover: 24 pages
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company – (2010-11-15)
ISBN / EAN: 0761162305 / 9780761162308

(Ages 6 months and up)

From the genius who created Moo Baa La La La, a delicious bebop board book rhyming romp of buoyant pink piggies paired with a cuddly soft stuffed toy.

Best New Sibling

Pecan Pie Baby
Jacqueline Woodson
Retail Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile – (2010-10-28)
ISBN / EAN: 0399239871 / 9780399239878

(Ages 3 and up)

There’s Going to Be a Baby
John Burningham
Retail Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Candlewick – (2010-09-14)
ISBN / EAN: 0763649074 / 9780763649074

(Ages 4 and up)

Is there an older sibling? Time to emphasize that the older brother and/or sisters are big, smart, and fabulous. Both of these give a humorous take on the uncertainty and terror that the impending infant can instill in the first child. No sugar coating and plenty of fun.

Best Concept Book

One Blue Fish: A Colorful Counting Book
Charles Reasoner
Retail Price: $9.99
Hardcover: 26 pages
Publisher: Little Simon – (2010-07-20)
ISBN / EAN: 1416996729 / 9781416996729

(Ages 2 and up)

The biggest, fattest, bluest number one stands out sharply out from a background of solid yellow. Lift the page and underneath swims a fish with scales in tones of blue that range from sky to gray to almost purple. We count the sets of animals up to ten yellow ducks. No reason not to count right back down again.

Best Picture Books of the Year

Animal Crackers Fly the Coop
Kevin O’Malley
Retail Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Readers – (2010-04-13)
ISBN / EAN: 0802798373 / 9780802798374

(Ages 5 and up)

In this punny retelling of the Brementown Musicians, the chicken (a pint-sized Henny Youngman…get it?) leaves the farm to become a comedian and avoid getting cooked on “Fry-day.” Along the road she picks up the usual suspects; an unwanted dog, a cat who would rather sing than catch mice, and a cow with jokes on the brain, all done in detailed pen-and-ink illustrations with color wash.


The Quiet Book
Deborah Underwood
Retail Price: $12.95
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children – (2010-04-12)
ISBN / EAN: 0547215673 / 9780547215679

(Ages 4 and up)

A cohort of cuddly critters, softly rendered in pencil sketches demonstrate the various forms of quiet,  from “First one awake” to “Don’t scare the robin” quiet. As we read between the lines with hints from the illustrations, big feelings of embarrassment, sadness and joy emerge in the telling.


My Garden
Kevin Henkes
Retail Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow Books – (2010-02-23)
ISBN / EAN: 0061715174 / 9780061715174

(Ages 4 and up)

It may seem strange to recommend a summery garden book in the dead of winter but I would be remiss not to recommend one of the best books of the year in a gift-giving round-up. Caldecott-winning picture book creator, Henkes begins the story subtly with a little girl helping her mother in the garden then takes off in a flight of fancy as the child imagines if this was her garden, the flowers would re-appear instantly after being picked… there would be no rabbits eating the crops because the rabbits would be chocolate and she would eat them!


The Rabbit Problem
Emily Gravett
Retail Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing – (2010-11-02)
ISBN / EAN: 1442412550 / 9781442412552

(Ages 6 and up)

Is there a really smart six-year old in your life? One who takes joy in teasing out puzzles or figuring out logic problems? This is THE book. Gravett in the form of a monthly calendar graphically renders the Fibonacci problem “If a pair of baby rabbits are put in a field, how many pairs will there be: a) at the end of each month? b) After one year?“ We follow the progress of January’s one lonely rabbit through the humorous interactive lift-the-flap, pop-up pages, containing February’s knitting pattern for a lovely striped hoodie to a very crowded December that explodes rabbits off the page.


A Pig Parade Is a Terrible Idea
Michael Ian Black
Retail Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing – (2010-09-07)
ISBN / EAN: 1416979220 / 9781416979227

(Ages 6 and up)

Do you know a family with a snarky sense of humor? One with a fine appreciation of the absurd?  The deadpan narrator assures us that although we may think a parade made up of a lot of pigs would be a lot of fun; it is assuredly a bad idea. Perhaps we were not aware that pigs do not want to wear snappy uniforms, tend to shuffle rather than march and do not appreciate rousing marching tunes, preferring sad country ballads. Oh, and the only floats pigs would enjoy are the ones with root beer and ice cream. Artist Hawkes conjures up cute cartoony pigs as well as realistically rendered decidedly sticky ones for our enlightenment.


How Rocket Learned to Read
Tad Hills
Retail Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade – (2010-07-27)
ISBN / EAN: 0375858997 / 9780375858994

(Ages 5 and up)

Rocket, a spotted fuzzy dog had no interest in reading until a tiny yellow bird flew into his life. She read aloud to him, taught him the glories of the “wondrous, mighty, gorgeous alphabet” and how to spell words like grrrr and whoosh. The passage of time as fall turns to winter is exquisitely portrayed as the bird leaves for the winter and Rocket practices what he had learned.


Clever Jack Takes the Cake
Candace Fleming
Retail Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade – (2010-08-24)
ISBN / EAN: 0375849793 / 9780375849794

(Ages 5 and up)

Jack has been invited to the Princess’s birthday party. Although he is poor, he uses his wits to gather the resources to make her present, a two-layer cake with candles and a ripe succulent strawberry. On the way to the festivities he encounters aggressive blackbirds, an ogre at a toll bridge and a greedy bear, all who whittle away the cake. What will the princess think if he arrives empty-handed?

The Perfect Teacher Present

Miss Brooks Loves Books (And I Don’t)
Barbara Bottner
Retail Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers – (2010-03-09)
ISBN / EAN: 0375846824 / 9780375846823

(Ages 5 and up)

An overly enthusiastic school librarian oppresses our droll narrator. To make matters worse the student must select a book to present for Book Week. “I ask my mother if we can move to a new town. My mother says there’s a librarian in every town. I ask if she wants to do my assignment for me. ‘I’ve already been to first grade,’ says my mother.” It’s a pitch perfect read aloud.

Best Information Books

Steve Jenkins
Retail Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Reference – (2010-08-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0545046513 / 9780545046510

(Ages 5 and up)

Jenkins cut-paper collage art never ceases to amaze. Here he looks at bones… animal bones, mammal bones, bird bones and frog bones. Fact-filled and endlessly fascinating; did you know that there are 206 bones in the adult human body? That a stork has thin, hollow bones to make to light enough to fly? That bugs have their skeletons on the outside, an exoskeleton?


Animal Pop!: With 5 Incredible, Life Size Fold-outs (In Your Face)
National Geographic
Retail Price: $14.95
Hardcover: 20 pages
Publisher: National Geographic Children’s Books – (2010-10-26)
ISBN / EAN: 1426307160 / 9781426307164

(Ages 4 and up)

This is the book for the kid that is crazy about animals. Here is a perfect compendium of facts and photographs about tigers, dolphins, turtles woves and pandas to peruse. The animal profiles contain thumbnail sketches that show where they live, what they eat as well as some snapshots of typical development or how they communicate. AND……a stunning pop-up life-size photograph of the animal.


The Sounds of Star Wars
J.W. Rinzler
Retail Price: $60.00
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books – (2010-09-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0811875466 / 9780811875462

(All Ages)

Yes this is the most unexpected pick of the list.  Rinzler was the sound engineer for the Star Wars movies. In this oversized encyclopedic volume, he describes how the movie’s sounds were crated. Press 003 on the digital audio box to hear the robot’s voice, the sound of the light sabers, and the “growls” of baby Emma that became the basis for sound of the Sando aqua monster.  Over three hundred pages of movie stills and archival photos, 256 sound bites; the perfect gift for the geek in all of us.

Best Easy Readers

Bink and Gollie (Junior Library Guild Selection (Candlewick Press))
Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee
Retail Price: $15.99
Hardcover: 96 pages
Publisher: Candlewick – (2010-09-14)
ISBN / EAN: 076363266X / 9780763632663

(Ages 6 and up)

Two best friends, one short, one tall, one impulsive, one deliberate are introduced in this limited language chapter book. I could try but nobody says it better than Sarah Ellis in the New York Times Book Review.


Ling & Ting: Not Exactly the Same!
Grace Lin
Retail Price: $14.99
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers – (2010-07-01)
ISBN / EAN: 031602452X / 9780316024525

(Ages 6 and up)

These identical twin sisters are not so identical since Ling sneezed during a haircut. Newbery Honor author, Lin, presents two distinct girls with different strengths, likes and dislikes in a brightly colored early chapter book.


Cat the Cat, Who Is That?
Mo Willems
Retail Price: $10.99
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Balzer + Bray – (2010-02-16)
ISBN / EAN: 0061728403 / 9780061728402

(Ages 4 and up)

From the author of the award-winning Elephant and Piggie and the Knuffle Bunny series, a new cast of characters is introduced in the simplest of language for our brand new reader buddies. The repetitious language, quiet humor and plots that turn on early childhood issues make these instant classics. Give the whole set.

Best Early Chapter Book

Lulu and the Brontosaurus (Junior Library Guild Selection (Atheneum))
Judith Viorst
Retail Price: $15.99
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publisher: Atheneum – (2010-09-14)
ISBN / EAN: 1416999612 / 9781416999614

(Ages 5 and up)

“There once was a girl named Lulu, and she was a pain. She wasn’t a pain in the elbow. She wasn’t a pain in the knee. She was a pain – a very big pain – in the b u t t.”

Viorst’s entertaining storyteller voice paired with Smith’s humorous pencil sketches, packaged in an old-fashioned cloth bound irregularly shaped vertical volume, give us a story that begs to be read aloud. Every child will recognize Lulu who gets what she wants, when she wants or throws a fit and then gets what she wants. We heave a sigh of relief when she gets her comeuppance in a most unexpected way.

Best Graphic Novels

The Little Prince Graphic Novel
Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Retail Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 112 pages
Publisher: HMH Books – (2010-10-18)
ISBN / EAN: 0547338023 / 9780547338026

(Ages 9 and up)

Better known to kids for his Little Vampire series, Joann Sfar tackles adapting this beloved classic of the downed pilot and his mysterious friend, a small boy from another planet who tells tales of his travels. This illustrated edition perfectly captures the tone of the original as well as illuminating the characters such as the dashing pilot, the selfish rose and the geographer with no interest in exploration.


Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Barry Deutsch
Retail Price: $15.95
Hardcover: 144 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books – (2010-11-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0810984229 / 9780810984226

(Ages 10 and up)

“Yet another Troll-Fighting 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish Girl” says the tag line and basically that’s all you need to know. Part fairytale, part fantasy/quest tale unusually set in an observant family, we know immediately that Mirka is not like all the other girls at school. Due to a complicated set of mishaps, our protagonist finds herself stalked by a pig, hounded by a bully and enthralled by the prospect of fulfilling a greater destiny. Nothing is as it seems in this compelling volume, the first of the series.

Best Books for the Kids who love Diary of a Wimpy Kid

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
Tom Angleberger
Retail Price: $12.95
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: Amulet Books – (2010-03-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0810984253 / 9780810984257

(Ages 10 and up)

The story unfolds as individual students in alternating chapters relate the mysterious ability of a folded paper finger puppet named Yoda to give sage advice to a class of sixth graders. Not the usual school story of friendship, bullies, and first girlfriends told in journal entries, cartoons, and doodles.


Finn Reeder, Flu Fighter: How I Survived a Worldwide Pandemic, the School Bully, and the Craziest Game of Dodge Ball Ever
Eric Stevens
Retail Price: $9.99
Hardcover: 80 pages
Publisher: Stone Arch Books – (2010-01-15)
ISBN / EAN: 1434225623 / 9781434225627

(Ages 9 and up)

The non-event of the swine flu epidemic seems long ago, but this extremely funny story of a kid whose teachers, friends and family begin dropping like flies is perfect for the kid who has run out of Wimpy Kid books and refuses to touch anything else. Gross humor abounds as Finn becomes the last kid standing.

Best Novels for the Kid Who Reads Everything

Out of My Mind
Sharon M. Draper
Retail Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Atheneum – (2010-03-09)
ISBN / EAN: 141697170X / 9781416971702

(Ages 10 and up)

Imagine if you had no control of your body, that although you had plenty to say about almost everything, all anyone heard is grunts and groans. We hear Melody’s voice in her head as she navigates the world of typical students and finds a way to let everyone know what is inside her mind.


One Crazy Summer
Rita Williams-garcia
Retail Price: $15.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Amistad – (2010-02-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0060760885 / 9780060760885

(Ages 10 and up)

It was the summer of the Black Panthers, when three sisters are shipped west to spend time with the mother who abandoned them when the youngest was still an infant. Delphine, only eleven, is charged with being responsible for the younger two as their mother continues to neglect their care. Should she call her dad? Will her mother ever BE a mother?


The Search for WondLa
Tony DiTerlizzi
Retail Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing – (2010-09-21)
ISBN / EAN: 1416983104 / 9781416983101

(Ages 10 and up)

For the kids who loved Harry Potter and the The Lightning Thief, comes this excitingly original fantasy quest tale of a little girl, Eva Nine who was raised in an underground residence with only the company of a many-armed robot caretaker named Muthr. Abundantly illustrated with obvious references to Baum’s Wizard of Oz, readers can delight in sinking into a whole new world filled with magical creatures, heart stopping adventure scenes and sly embedded humor.


A Tale Dark and Grimm
Adam Gidwitz
Retail Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile – (2010-10-28)
ISBN / EAN: 0525423346 / 9780525423348

(Ages 10 and up)

This would be the under-the-radar book. Who is this book for? For the kid ready to graduate from Goose Bumps, for the kid who wants a really scary book, for the kid looking for action but also for the thoughtful kid. This book is a well-crafted retelling of classic (read bloody, gory, not-cleaned-up, not Disney) Grimm’s Tales with the construct that Hansel and Gretel were actually the main characters of all the stories. Gidwitz knows his tales and provides pitch perfect pacing. We can imagine him as the charming narrator reminding us again and again to take the little ones out of the room. Follow that advice.

Best Novels for 12 and Up

Fever Crumb
Philip Reeve
Retail Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press – (2010-04-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0545207193 / 9780545207195

For the young adults who have already gobbled up the Hunger Games series, a new fantasy adventure set in an alternative London. Reeve, a pioneer of the Steam Punk genre presents Fever Crumb, who is the only female member of the Order of Engineers. Fever’s past is a mystery and her future is in jeopardy as she tries to survive in the dangerous streets. e are pleasantly surprised when at the very end this fast-paced tale is revealed as a prequel to the Hungry City Quartet (HarperCollins).


Jennifer Donnelly
Retail Price: $18.99
Hardcover: 496 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers – (2010-10-12)
ISBN / EAN: 0385737637 / 9780385737630

For those supernatural romantics, here is one just for them.

Donnelly, whose previous novel was the critically acclaimed and award winning A Northern Light, weaves the popular culture of present day Brooklyn Heights with the terror of Paris during the French Revolution.  Part mystery, part romance and part fantasy, we witness Andy Alpers is a high school senior as she is breaking down, not just because of her mother’s erratic behavior but also in response to her younger brother’s death. She is going to be kicked out of her competitive private school if she doesn’t complete her senior project (which she hasn’t even started). Can it get worse? Her father arrives to intervene and forces her to relocate to Paris. Can she make her escape? Does she really want to?

YA — Contemporary Angst/Humor

Will Grayson, Will Grayson
John Green, David Levithan
Retail Price: $17.99
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile – (2010-04-06)
ISBN / EAN: 0525421580 / 9780525421580

The co-authors have written a coming of age novel in the voices of two high-school students who meet accidently and coincidentally have the same name. This is as much a book about friendship as it is about finding one’s place in the world. What does it mean to acknowledge and support a friend who is gay? And of course there is a musical.

Final Next Installment of a Series

A Conspiracy of Kings
Megan Whalen Turner
Retail Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow Books – (2010-03-01)
ISBN / EAN: 0061870935 / 9780061870934

(Ages 12 and up)

While every one was going crazy over Mockingjay, I was relishing the final (UPDATE: Good news! It’s been pointed out that is is NOT the final installment. The author herself said in an interview that  she’s planning two more books in the series. Thanks for the link, Susan Cassidy) in The Queen’s Thief series, set in a fantasy kingdom built of palace intrigue, mistaken identities and romance. The first, The Thief, was a Newbery Honor. This volume is just as satisfying as the previous three.

10 Responses to “Best Books to Give to Kids…Even Those You Don’t Know Very Well”

  1. Susan Cassidy Says:

    Lisa, I loved this list. What a pleasure to read. But as a fellow Megan Whalen Turner fan, I wanted to be sure you knew that she says she’s planning two more books in the Queen’s Thief series. Here’s a link to the interview where I read it:
    Susan Cassidy

  2. Renee McGrath Says:

    Fun Choices!

  3. Kathy Hartzler Says:

    This is a wonderful list from one of the best librarians I know. Run don’t walk to you nearest internet source or independent bookstore and buy these books!

  4. Danielle Wood Says:

    What a great list! Love to come across like souls similarly passionate about uncovering the perfect book for a child. Curious if you have suggestions for “kids who read everything” who are younger than 10, particularly boys. For kids not quite ready for Harry Potter, but beyond easy chapter books, it’s sometimes tough to find a match.

  5. Monica Edinger Says:

    Terrific list, but one quibble — Conspiracy of Kings is not the last of that particular series. She has more in the works.

  6. Julie cummins Says:

    Terrific list, thanks! And Happy Reading and Holidays

  7. Tanya Says:

    As a children’s bookseller and amateur kid’s book review blogger, I wholly approve of your list! You have a fabulous selection of books, including a few that never made it to the shelves of the Barnes & Noble where I work. I’ll be ordering those in asap!

  8. Lisav Says:

    Okay, Okay, I stand corrected… I am delighted that Conspiracy of Kings is not the last… I suppose for me it means that I wasn’t left hanging…thanks for letting me know…

    For the boys who are a tough match pre- Harry Potter but have read everything (I guess I am assuming they have gone through the run of Wimpy Kid, Magic Treehouse, Time Warp Trio) Our kids are nuts for Franny K. Stein, Chet Gecko and we have a sudden run on the Box Car Children. Lightning Thief just came out in a graphic format.

  9. gae polisner Says:

    What a great list and a great post. Saw Someday This Pain… on it and knew it would be good. Can’t help but want to recommend two to add to it: YA: Marcello in the Real World. Oh my goodness, what a book! And, not that she hasn’t garnered enough attention already, but I guess if you deserve it, you deserve it: Kate DiCamillo’s Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane has pleased everyone old and young I’ve ever given it to. Another unbelievable gem. And, oh, the illustrations.

  10. Becky Says:

    Great list. I just picked up a fun kids book today that some of you may be interested in… it is titled, “The Thanksgiving Coat: Illustrated by Kailee” written by Elizabeth A. Hoadley. Carries a great message of sharing with the homeless and the hungry. The most amazing part is that the beautiful illustrations are illustrated by a 5 year old. Amazing!