Books to Give Kids You Don’t Know Very Well

So, there I was in the Bank Street College Bookstore, looking for my holiday gifts when I found myself helping other shoppers find the perfect book for their nieces, nephews, grandchildren and young cousins. I must have lost track of time and was startled when I heard my husband shout over from the stairs, “She doesn’t work here! Lisa, get back to your own shopping!”

My gift to readers for this holiday season is the 4th annual Books to Give Kids You Don’t Know Very Well. This is the time of year when we’re asked to recommend titles for that 4-year-old niece who is dying to learn to read (Mo Willems, Elephant and Piggie books, Disney/Hyperion), chapter books for that five-year-old emerging reader who lives in another state (Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick), the young adult cousin who can’t wait for the Hunger Games movie, (Divergent by Veronica Roth, HarperCollins/Katherine Tegan; Legend by Marie Lu, Penguin/Putnam; or Variant by Robinson Wells, HarperTeen).

I’ve organized the selections by age levels and interest; below are suggestions for younger children and for kids who just don’t like books (yet).

Here’s the links to the rest of the lists

Picture Books

Chapter Books

Middle Grade  and YA Sleepers


Best New Holiday Books

Board Books for New Family Members


Baby Animals, a series that includes the titles Pets, In the Jungle  and In the  Forest, various authors, Macmillan/Kingfisher. $5.99 each

Heavy stock board covered with close-up glossy photos of adorable baby gorillas, parrots and deer (there’s a reason is so popular).


The More We Get Together and You Are My Sunshine illus. by Caroline Jayne Church, Scholastic, $6.99 each

Shiny metallic covers envelope two classic songs with quietly sweet illustrations that embody friendship and love.


Little Black Book and Little Pink Book by Renée Khatami, Random House. $8.99 each

From the soft fluffy “touch and feel” fur of the black bunny to the page “seek and find” of licorice shapes, these are delightfully interactive color concept books.

Preschoolers Ages 3 to 5

If You’re Hoppy by April Pulley Sayre, pictures by Jackie Urbanovic, HarperCollins/Greenwillow, 16.99

A joyously buoyant retelling of the song “If your happy and you know it” with hoppy bunnies, growly bears and flappy butterflies.



Ages 3 and Up


I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal, illustrated by Marc Rosenthal, S&S/Atheneum, 14.99

A little boy is missing his stuffed monkey. Willy reminisces about past events that Bobo helped him through like going down a steep slide and walking past a big dog. He has looked everywhere! There isn’t a family who hasn’t experienced the loss of a treasured comfort object.

Mine! by Shutta Crum, pictures by Patrice Barton, RH/Knopf, 16.99

A toddler explains to a baby that the toys – a stuffed giraffe, starfish, airplane and ball are “Mine…mine…mine” until the dog decides that they all need a good washing.


Bears! Bears! Bears! by Bob Barner, Chronicle, 14.95

Cut paper collage and rhyming words depict a variety of bears from “Polar bears dive for an icy seal” to “Sun bears lick up a sticky meal” in this fact-filled information book.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star written and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney, Hachette/Little Brown, $16.99

Beginning with the endpapers as the moon smiles benevolently down on the woodland creatures, we sing the familiar tune. As dusk descends, we follow a chipmunk on a fantasy journey into the evening sky and back again. Caldecott winner, Pinkney paints a dreamy bedtime tale.

A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka, RH/Schwartz and Wade, 16.99

A wordless tour de force, Raschka paints in loose lines rendering a dog who is enthralled with big red ball. He rolls with it, bounces with it and naps with it on the comfy green and blue striped couch. One day at the dog park, the ball is snatched by another dog and burst. We see that our little dog is bereft as the pictures display the stages of grief over his loss. Don’t worry, although it takes time, things do turn out all right.

Kids Who Just Don’t Like Books

A book?! (the child’s face falls in disappointment as the wrapping is torn off). If that is the anticipated reaction, let’s try to turn it around.

Aesop’s Fables: A Pop-up Book of Classic Tales, illustrated by Chris Beatrice and Bruce Whatley, Little Simon, 27.99, Ages 5 and up

Familiar tales like The Lion and the Mouse and The Goose That Laid the Golden Egg are rendered in 3-D, pop-up glory. The lion leaps off the page struggling in the hunter’s ropes, Tortoise and Rabbit inhabit a lush garden while Crow teases a Fox at the top of a tree that looms twice the book width high.

Bob Staake’s Look! A Book!: A Zany Seek-And-Find Adventure, Hachette/Little Brown 16.99, Ages 3 and up

For the fans of the Walter Wick, I Spy Books, this is a volume jam-packed with graphic silly, absurd and teeny tiny images to engage readers. This is the book for the holiday trip on trains, planes and automobiles.


How to Speak Wookie: A Manual for Intergalactic Communication by Wu Kee Smith, Illustrations by JAKe, Chronicle, 16.95

No really. Want give a Wookie directions in a starship? “AHH ARGH, ARRGHH!” That phrase translates to “Turn Right. Right!” or “Jump to hyperspace”? AARRR WWGGH WAANH” If we are still unsure of the correct pronunciation, the author has provided digital audio for ten commonly used Wookie phrases. I can’t stop playing with it.

The Worst-Case Scenario: Survive-0-pedia Junior Edition, Chronicle, 16.99

This one is an accidental pick. Faced with two boys that needed to be entertained for a couple of hours while waiting for the Thanksgiving turkey, I grabbed this from a stack of book. It worked. Want to know how to survive an avalanche? A shipwreck? Living on a deserted island? An active volcano? No problem. Start reading.

2 Responses to “Books to Give Kids You Don’t Know Very Well”

  1. Josianne Says:

    Excellent list, thanks! This is perfect. I’m an elementary librarian but I’ve already recommended my usual titles and I needed a few more to the parents who keep coming back. Thanks for helping me keep my street cred up. :-)

  2. Best Books for Kids: 2011 Edition | DBRL Kids Says:

    […] writes about new books for kids at the website EarlyWord, and she recently posted a handy list of recommended books to give kids you don’t know very well. These titles are sure to please a wide-range of […]