Book ideas for my young nieces and nephews.
January 18, 2012 1:21 PM   Subscribe

What are the best books for young kids? I have two nephews and a niece (two 1 year olds and a 5 1/2 year old), and I've resolved to get them books for their birthdays and other gifting holidays. I realize that makes me the lame aunt, but I think it's important to surround them with as many books as they can get their hands on!

1. Do you think this is a terrible idea? I honestly don't care if they hate me as 10 year olds for always giving them books, but I wonder if, as a parent, it would annoy you if someone just kept getting them books as gifts. There are plenty of other wonderful people in their lives to spoil them with other assorted gifts.

2. What are some of your favorite/classic books for young kids? Right now there are two 1 year olds and a (soon-to-be 6 year old). I'm specifically looking for nonreligious books. I'd be happy to get recommendations for books for ages 1 to 15+ years old, as I hope to be using this as a gift guide for years to come. Most recently purchased books: "I Love You Through and Though", "On the Night You Were Born", and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" for the babies and "Where the Sidewalk Ends" for the 5 1/2 year old.

Thanks in advance!
posted by two lights above the sea to Grab Bag (48 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
The Shrinking of Treehorn
posted by Rat Spatula at 1:28 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dr. Seuss for the little ones and Shel Silverstein for the older. In the future, Ogden Nash.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:30 PM on January 18, 2012

I think it's a great idea. I have three children - ages 5, 8 and 11. They love books and love receiving books.

My five year old loves: Marcel the Shell, Bad Dog Marley, and any and all Biscuit books (which he has loved since he was 2).

Other favorites in our household (regardless of age):
Wild About Books
Why The Banana Split
Flat Stanley
The Mister Men Books
Stranger in the Woods
I Spy books
posted by Sassyfras at 1:31 PM on January 18, 2012

I once gave my young step-nieces and -nephew a copy of Pish, Posh, said Hieronymus Bosch. They liked it a lot, despite their father's protestations that it would give them nightmares. I'd say go for it. The best children's books are also great for adults.
posted by brianogilvie at 1:32 PM on January 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think books are great gifts for the 2-5yrs bracket as they are essentially props to encourage storytime.

Don't let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a fun one.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:33 PM on January 18, 2012

1.) This sounds like a really wonderful idea. I always thought books were a great gift when I was kid, but that's because I was always surrounded by them. Hopefully your nephews and niece will be the same way, thanks to all the books you give them.

2.) For the 5 1/2 year old, I would recommend Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens. My first grade teacher read it to my class multiple times because we all loved it so much. But she did narrate using funny voices, so that may have had something to do with it.
posted by dean_deen at 1:34 PM on January 18, 2012

The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease has a lot of good suggestions divided by age group and interests. He also has a lot of good picks on his website.
posted by Pollfabaire at 1:34 PM on January 18, 2012

My 18-month old thinks that the Max and Ruby board books by Rosemary Wells are the funniest thing on the whole planet.
posted by murphy slaw at 1:40 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's a great list of "over 400 books with positive food, nutrition and physical activity messages for children."
posted by wherever, whatever at 1:41 PM on January 18, 2012

I think it's a great idea! As a parent to a toddler, I would love if people gave more book gifts and less plastic crap gifts. And as a kid who read all the time, I would have loved an aunt who gave me books.

When my son was around 1, he loved all of the Sandra Boynton books and anything with lots of pictures so he could point to things and name them. First 100 Words was a favorite.

Now at two years old, his favorite books are All the World, Ollie and Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. He also loves any books that have anything to do with trains since he's completely obsessed with trains.
posted by logic vs love at 1:45 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are several (at least) other threads on this, but here are some of my personal favorites from our bookshelf:
In the Town All Year 'Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Happy Birthday, Monster by Scott Beck
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Make Way for Ducklings (if you have any connection to Boston; if not, Blueberries for Sal) by Robert McCloskey
The Holes in Your Nose by Genichiro Yagyu
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:51 PM on January 18, 2012

As a parent, I would be thrilled for my child to receive books instead of another noisy plastic toy. Right now, my 15 month old son's favorite books are Where is the Green Sheep? (he calls it Baa Baa!) and Goodnight Gorilla.
posted by chiababe at 1:53 PM on January 18, 2012

Zen Shorts is the best book ever.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:58 PM on January 18, 2012

Mo Willems books. Especially the pigeon series.
posted by sabh at 2:08 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever is what it says on the tin. Although the older child might also enjoy it at this age, I'd target the younger ones around the age of 2 or 3, as it's a book that works well as both a read-aloud book and for the beginning independent reader, so the younger two would get several more years of mileage out of it.
posted by drlith at 2:11 PM on January 18, 2012

Echoing everyone who said that I'd love if people gave more books! I love it, they love it, it's win-win!

For the 5 1/2 year old girl:
Eloise (love love love Eloise. Get the full books not the shortened "ready to read ones...not as funny) Also, Eloise in Paris.
I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato and all of the books in the Charlie and Lola series
Frog and Toad
George and Martha (and anything by James Marshall)

My 7 year old girl likes chapter books now so...
Encyclopedia Brown
Judy Moody
Ivy + Bean
Mrs Piggle Wiggle
Guinea Dog

Also, my 7 year old was given a cool book for coin collecting that has started a cool hobby for her. It has slots to put each coin...she loves it: Coin Collecting for Kids
posted by biscuits at 2:23 PM on January 18, 2012

When they are a little older:

Over Sea Under Stone. Read it as a young Jewish lass and didn't think that the Christian eschatological overtones got in the way of a good yarn.
The Book of Greek Myths
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:46 PM on January 18, 2012

I guess I could just tell my wife, the OP, this in person, but for the benefit of future readers: when I was young (<4>Cars and Trucks and Things That Go.

Also: A Child's First Library of Learning. I worry about things being out of date, but it must be a minority, right?
posted by supercres at 2:48 PM on January 18, 2012

A book for everybody--The Random House Book of Poetry for Children.

I´m almost 25, I still have my copy, and I still think it´s gold. Interesting thematic chapters (food, seasons, etc) to hold the attention of kids with different interests, good mix of simple vs complicated language and silly vs serious poems. My mom still gives copies to every family member/friend´s new baby.
posted by ActionPopulated at 2:53 PM on January 18, 2012

Toys Go Out, plus two others in the series. Fun, and funny, books, my daughter and I both love them.
posted by upatree at 3:00 PM on January 18, 2012

It's a lovely thing to give the kids books throughout their childhoods. I'm in my 50s and I still have many of my childhood books. Some of them a greeting written on the fly-leaf: Happy Birthday from Aunt Poppy, 1966. My aunt died years ago and the book is a nice keepsake.

You might ask the parents to make an online wishlist for books the kids would like or need. When the kids get older, they could keep their own wishlists.
posted by valannc at 3:10 PM on January 18, 2012

Seconding ANYTHING by Sandra Boynton (we have all loved our copy of Doggies for example, which book is now into its 12th year of service); but I also want to suggest Chicky Chicky Chook Chook, which is really unusual looking and so much fun to read; and Baby Boo, which I thought would suck, but has been adored by our baby since she was one. Books are a wonderful present!
posted by thylacinthine at 3:13 PM on January 18, 2012

I do this! I am the aunt who always gets books for her nieces and nephews for all gifting holidays! I do it because I loved receiving book-gifts as a child, because I love love love to read, and because I want to help pass on the love of reading to the children who are dearest to me. So far, most of the kids in my life are very happy with this arrangement. I will say that when a child reaches a certain age, you can tell whether or not s/he is a reader and a book-lover -- and if s/he isn't, well, you've done what you can and maybe THEN it's time to consider other kinds of gifts. :) Several of my nieces and nephews appreciate books as much as I do, and it's a true joy to help them build their libraries.

The little ones have enjoyed the Knuffle Bunny series. The 6-10 year olds liked the Spiderwick Chronicles and the Series of Unfortunate Events. I also recommend the Trixie Belden books, the Nancy Drew books, and the Oz books, although they can be harder to find (try used book stores).

Have fun!
posted by Boogiechild at 3:21 PM on January 18, 2012

If the parents are at all nerdy (or even if they aren't), Tiny Titans is fantastic. Lots of DC characters as little kids. You can get trade collections of 5 or 6 issues. My two year old daughter loves me to read them to her again and again and again--and her cousins of three and six both love them too.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:21 PM on January 18, 2012

If you were my aunt as a kid, I'd adore you!

The kids are too young now to actively like or dislike books, so giving them a steady supply could inculcate a fondness for reading, if they're not already being encouraged into that by their parents.

I'm not familiar with books for such small children, but as they get older, I recommend Philip Pullman and Orson Scott Card. If they like animals, Gerald Durrell is delightful. And mysteries like the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators are always fun.
posted by redlines at 3:49 PM on January 18, 2012

For your niece specifically, I love the Song of the Lioness quartet - the first book is probably suitable for a 10-12 year old, depending on maturity, and the latter books are suitable for older readers.

I also highly recommend, again for your niece, Dealing With Dragons and the other books in that series. This is probably good for ages 9-10 or older.

I absolute love both of these series, and the message they send is that women can do whatever they want. Both series feature strong female protagonists who defy family expectations and are strong, independent, and brave. The books are well-written and I still enjoy them as an adult.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:51 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I'd like to enthusiastically second foxy_hedgehog's recommendation of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. I adored that.
posted by insectosaurus at 3:55 PM on January 18, 2012

As a parent, books are my FAVORITE gift to recommend for my kids. So go right ahead with your idea.

Instead of recommending specific titles, I would recommend going to a bookstore and taking a look at what's there. Find things you like, talk to a salesperson about what's current (if you like), and combine that with what you know about the kids -- you'll come up with something good every time. The best books (esp. as kids get older) are likely the ones that tie into or piggyback on interests they're developing.

There's also this: AADL World of Reading
posted by hms71 at 4:14 PM on January 18, 2012

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
posted by troll at 4:15 PM on January 18, 2012

Thanks, everyone for the suggestions. (They're my niece/nephews... In law, I guess?) Really great stuff in here; plenty to go on at least until puberty.

For what it's worth, the oldest is a nephew.
posted by supercres at 4:21 PM on January 18, 2012

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business (The funniest book you could ever give a 5 year old.

And awww, you probably can't get it there: The Little Yellow Digger

Although, it's odd which books a kid will fixate on. For my nephew, it's been "Reptiles and Frogs" for ages...
posted by Elysum at 4:32 PM on January 18, 2012

Books are fantastic gifts!

Lots of good suggestions above, I'll just add that any of the If You Give..... series by Laura Numeroff (and I think she has a book about aunts and uncles too) are top picks of the resident 2-year-old around here. And if you want a gift in the same vein as books but slightly different, the DVDs and CDs by They Might Be Giants (Here Come The ABCs, Here Come The 123s and Here Comes Science) should go over huge.
posted by shrieking violet at 6:02 PM on January 18, 2012

I got a copy of this book for myself as a "checklist" for my niece and nephew, basically.

But Mo Willems' work is a good start; and David Weisner's Tuesday is fantastic.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:49 PM on January 18, 2012

I'll nth Mo Willems. My two year old loves the Elephant & Piggie series in particular.

13 Words by Lemony Snicket has been quite loved too. Definitely a vocabulary expander.
posted by eelgrassman at 7:49 PM on January 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Books are always a fantastic gift. One that we love for babies but is not seen often is called "I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean". It is fun and has a twist towards the end which the adults will enjoy.

Biggest thing in the Ocean
posted by markblasco at 8:24 PM on January 18, 2012

1. On the contrary, this is an awesome idea! Books are vital for building reading and reasoning skills. Books feed the imaginations of the kidlets. You are an awesome aunt, and you have set your sails on a great adventure!

2. I suggest:
- Any and all of the books by Beatrix Potter
- Any and all of the books by Robert Munsch. (Some of them are deeper than you think.)
- Goodnight Moon
- Tintin
- Asterix the Gaul
- I argue that it's good for children to have access to a high-quality atlas and dictionary
- When they are ready for it, Daniel Pinkwater and Roald Dahl
- Everybody Poops

You might want to head over to the public library and ask the children's librarian what they recommend. You are bound to get some really great recommendations.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:31 PM on January 18, 2012

I would love it if you gave my kids all kinds of books all the time! Check out your used bookstores. I find that there are older books that have collections of stuff - stories or poems that can be really neat. Also some of the reference books can be cool - we got one that explains why we celebrate each holiday and use it all the time. They just don't seem to make books like that any more.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:15 PM on January 18, 2012

1. I think it's a good idea! I get mine books and DVDs and clothes and my sister appreciates it - with a bunch of kids in the house and many relatives sending gifts, they have too much plastic junk as it is. The kids don't care about the clothes so much, but they love the movies and the books. It's great getting to introduce things I loved to them.

2. When I was six or seven I loved books about plucky orphans - Heidi and The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables and Matilda. Roald Dahl, depending on the kid - if they're the more sensitive type, maybe something like The BFG, which I remember as relatively gentle, rather than something like The Twits. I also loved Charlotte's Web and books with adventure plots, such as Enid Blyton's Famous Five books. I also loved the descriptions of farm life in books she wrote like The Children of Cherry Tree Farm. Of course, taste is so individual, but they're all writers with something going for them.

I also LOVED my book of fairy tales and myths as a little kid. I was obsessed with it. Oh, and I loved The Paperback Princess, too. Such a great book, especially for girls. The heroine is so much fun.

I have a harder time remembering books from when I was super little, but I did love Possum Magic and There's a Hippopotamus on the Roof Eating Cake and Goodnight Moon and my nephews loved them all as well as little ones.
posted by Lina Lamont at 10:58 PM on January 18, 2012

* The Paperbag Princess, whoops!
posted by Lina Lamont at 11:01 PM on January 18, 2012

** Matilda is not actually an orphan, my memory's just terrible.

Oh, and I always found the Magic Schoolbus books fun even though I usually wasn't the type of kid to enjoy educational-but-fun books.
posted by Lina Lamont at 11:08 PM on January 18, 2012

One is the perfect age for Hairy Maclary From Donaldson's Dairy, which I believe I've enthused about on Mefi before.

And Lina, if you alter the genre to "plucky kids without parental support" Matilda is totally an orphan.
posted by the latin mouse at 11:52 PM on January 18, 2012

I'm intrigued that you even need to ask whether books make a good gift. It suggests that your family culture is different from mine-- in my family, you might as well ask, "Do gigantic hot-fudge sundaes delivered by an adorable talking puppy make a good gift?" But maybe my family is unusually book-hungry. Anyway: YES! Speaking as a parent, an author, and a book-addict, I can't think of a better gift to give.

I mention the family culture thing because, if you are the only person (or one of the only people) who is giving books to these kids, then I think it's absolutely critical that the books be fun. Resist the urge to give a book just because it teaches an important lesson or imparts useful fact. The most important lesson a kid can possibly learn from reading a book is that reading is awesome. This will be especially true as they get older and start asking you for things like "Inspect Poopy Fartmonster, Book 18." If that's what they want (and if the parents don't object, obviously), then don't pass judgment-- give them books they love, discuss them with them enthusiastically, and never let on that you think it's trashy. A kid who reads all 30 volumes of Inspect Poopy Fartmonster might one day go on to read Dostoyevsky... but a kid who gets his love of books squashed at an early age never will.

Also, along those lines--there will probably come a period where they are reading chapter books (or having chapter books read to them) but they're still reading picture books, too. Sometimes well-meaning parents push kids at that stage to abandon picture books, but I personally think that's a mistake.

In general, find out what they like to read, and gently steer them towards the best examples of that kind of thing, but always stay focused on keeping them hooked on reading.

Anyway. Long answer to your Question #1. Regarding Question #2:

• My one-year-old loves books with photos in them, and books with babies in them. His absolute favorite? A book with photos of babies' faces! He also likes books with chunky puzzle pieces that he can pull off the page, like this one or this one.

• 6 years old is a great age for picture books, because they can appreciate humor and storytelling but they still have a great sense of innocence and imagination. King Bidgood's In The Bathtub has a fairly simple text but richly detailed (and hysterically funny) pictures. Along those lines, the Where's Wally books are great for kids; my four-year-old can spend ages pouring over the pictures looking for things, and I think she's going to appreciate the books more and more as she gets older and can get more of the jokes.

• Since moving to the UK, I have discovered a couple of picture books that every British child knows about, but that are criminally underappreciated in the US. I would recommend anything by Judith Kerr, but especially The Tiger Who Came To Tea and Mog the Forgetful Cat. Also I would recommend anything by the team of Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler, but especially The Gruffalo.
posted by yankeefog at 5:00 AM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear is very popular in my Nursery class. They also love Goodnight Moon, Walking Through The Jungle, and I Want My Hat Back.
posted by emmling at 8:27 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Remember that you can always ask your local public library's children's librarian for recommendations!
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2012

The books people give my kids are rarely the books my kids want.

We live near a great library and are there all the time, so there's no shortage of books in my kids' lives. If someone gave them a copy of Goodnight Moon I'd wonder why they thought my kids didn't have that already.

Giving classics can be tricky. Many of them have not aged well, or have boring illustrations, or aren't funny, or are intent on teaching morality. You don't want a gift to feel like homework.

If you are going to give books, try to find ones that are more obscure; I strongly endorse yankeefog's suggestion of The Tiger Who Came to Tea and the Mog books, which are not only great but aren't on every American kid's bookshelf already.

My sister-in-law gives my kids graphic novels, which I like because I know nothing about what's good in graphic novels, she does, and we don't have a lot of them lying around. (My kids like them because they're comic books, duh!)
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:27 AM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are so many wonderful children's books that I couldn't even begin to list them all. If you're looking for picture books, this list of books read on Reading Rainbow is a great place to start. For early chapter books, kids *love* the Magic Treehouse series. When I worked in the chapter books section of a bookstore (in 2011), this series was the single biggest early-chapter-books seller. I also have to plug The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex. It's hilarious, touching, addresses racism without being a Message Book, and is totally original. I love this book so much!
posted by epj at 12:13 PM on January 19, 2012

My husband and I visited our 4 year old nephew this weekend, and all thought What's Going On In There? was a lot of fun.

For younger kids, The Runaway Bunny has a sweet story and gorgeous illustrations.

When the kids are older, Holes is a fabulous adventure story, with some serious issues (racism, punishment/redemption) handled in a non-preachy way.
posted by creepygirl at 9:06 PM on January 19, 2012

I definitely think books are a great gift idea. I instilled a love of books in my daughter by reading to her constantly since she was an infant. Books have been such a big part of our life that I created a website called Books for Children to share my recommendations with other parents, teachers, caregivers, and aunts and uncles too! For the youngest ones maybe try Emily's Balloon and for the older one maybe King Hugo's Huge Ego and one of the Otis books. You can find a lot more of my recommendations on the site ( Please feel free to ask me any questions about specific titles there, I'd be happy to share my passion about any of them.
posted by Dansaman at 10:31 AM on July 27, 2012

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