We love books, and have pretty much set a monthly fund for “growing the library”. It has been growing so well that the books are now everywhere. They are spilling off the shelves, and can be found in the baskets by our beds, on the kitchen table, and in the car. It feels right: books are a big part of our everyday life. But what about holidays?
When it is time to celebrate, everyone in our family can be sure to find a book or two in their pile of gifts too. Of course, for a special occasion the desire to surprise and please grows! That is why we spend a while deliberating over those book gifts. We do not want them to get lost in the pile of wrapping paper and other gifts.
Over time, we have gathered a few of our favourites, and here they are.
1. Wordless Books.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. As a book lover, in most cases I prefer a thousand words. Give me a million words, a cozy couch, and call it my ultimate happiness. But when it comes to wordless books, I often take my hat off. It is a lot of work to tell a story without words, and the illustrations created in the process are truly wonderful: emotional and full of details.
Another benefit of wordless books is that children of different ages can enjoy them together. At one a toddler will ask to name different objects, at two and three he or she will listen to the story attentively, and for older children wordless books are wonderful prompts to practise storytelling. These books develop verbal, observational and logical skills, and can stay favourites for many years. With children growing quickly, I consider anything that can keep interest for longer than a year a worthwhile investment!
A few of our favourite wordless books:
– In the Town All Year ‘Round: Whether you flip through all the seasons at once or concentrate on one, this book has hundreds of stories to unravel and characters to follow. Toddlers will delight in pointing at all of the familiar objects of town life, and older children can pick one or two favourite characters and tell stories about them. Even after looking at this book for months every day, children will still find something new! Read more about this book here.
– The Circle of Seasons(now sold separately as Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter): Some books are awe-inspiring, some books are hilarious, and these books are very cozy. They will charm children with the simple – pastoral – pleasures of life that come with different seasons: from watching baby birds in the spring to splashing in puddles in the fall; from fireworks in the summer to ice-skating in the winter. Since Budster turned one, we were giving him one book for each season, and he adores them. Read more about the volume Spring here.
– The Yellow Balloon: A small yellow balloon travels through time and space across the pages of the eclectic world created by Dutch illustrator, Charlotte Dematons. In that world a pirate’s frigate sails next to a cruise liner, and flying carpets race airplanes.
– Journey: A lonely girl takes a red crayon and draws a door on the wall in her room. Upon opening, the door leads into a different world. It is full of magic, but there are dangers too. Breathtaking illustrations!
2. Treasury Collections
When a few previously published picture books are gathered in one volume, they are often called a treasury collection. We are very fond of them. First of all, it is an expedient and thrifty way to get some classic stories onto our book shelves. Then, of course, if I get one story in a picture book, there is always a possibility that my son will not like it very much. But if there are a few stories, he can pick his favourite. In case of several children who have different tastes in the family, a treasury collection is great as well!
I like to keep a treasury collection of one author or another in our car, so that if my son gets bored, there is a selection of stories I can read to him.
A few of our favourite treasuries:
– Jan Brett’s Christmas Treasury: This book has seven of Jan Brett’s amazingly illustrated stories, including her famous The Mitten, The Hat and Troubles with Trolls. We had a few of her stories in abridged versions for babies and loved them. It is a delight to hold this full-sized book and see all the spectacular details of her paintings. This book is going to be among my son’s Christmas gifts this year.
– The 20th Century Children’s Book Treasury: This book is truly outstanding in its own way! I think that if I was going to raise my son on an uninhibited island, I would pack this one for sure. On its pages, you can find more than forty classical stories for children: Madeline, Where the Wild Things Are, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Guess How Much I Love You, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, Amelia Bedelia are only a few. True: in order to fit all of the stories into this treasury, the illustrations had to be compressed. It is also true that on comparing every story in this book with its stand-alone edition, the representation in this book would lose, if only by a little bit. But think: more than forty stories! It is an amazing way to introduce many famous stories to children without submitting to buying every one of them as a separate picture book.
– You’re a Good Dog, Carl!: The oil and watercolour paintings of this book are lavish and gorgeous, ready to be framed and put on the living room wall. Yet, the story depicting the exploits of the best dog nanny is as full of wit and humour as any Sunday comic strip would be. Read more about the series here.
– James Herriot’s Treasury for Children: Since being a child, I always loved the stories about the Yorkshire vet. While, on the first glance, they seem like stories about animals, in truth, they are stories about people and their love for animals. Touching and witty – those stories are a comfort blanket to me. I cannot wait to read them with Budster in a couple of years, for while most of James Herriot’s books are meant for adults, this little treasury presents seven of his stories for children with gorgeous watercolour illustrations.
– Stella! (Treasury): The imaginative Stella and her quiet brother Sam play and discover the world around them, making original, unique and witty observations about it, the way only children can.
3. Pop-Up and Lift-the-Flaps Books
The mechanics of a pop-up book are fascinating to adults and children alike, and even if the plain version is already in the home library, the pop-up book will cause waves of excitement. While older children realize that no pop-up fancy can compare with the magic of a well-worn copy of The Hobbit or Wizard of Oz, it is great for children to play with books when they are small: make the pictures move, open the flaps and have a feeling of awe again and again as a three-dimensional castle grows from a flat page.
Do I think that everyone should fill their shelves with pop-up books? Nope. Do I think that a pop-up version of an excellent book will make a great gift for a little one? Absolutely!
A few of our favourite pop-up books:
– We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Pop-up: There will always be a special place in my heart for this book based on a traditional folk song, for it was Budster’s very first favourite book. If I am thinking of a baby gift, it comes to mind right away. Read about it more here.
– Birds of a Feather (also check Out of Sight and In the Ocean): While I find all pop-up books to have a playful element in them, this book comes especially close to being a game. Before opening little flaps in the shapes of eggs and silhouettes, children can guess the birds that hide behind them! Another page has a colourful puzzle. It is an amazing introduction to the world of ornithology for children. We got it for Budster when he was a little bit over a year, and he has been reading it every day for many months, with us and by himself. He loves it. Read about it more here.
– Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Pop-Up Adaptation: I have a couple of friends who collect “Alice” books, illustrated by different authors. This one will be wonderful, whether as the first or the fifth “Alice” book on your shelf. The pop-ups do magic to the famous story: readers feel as if they had fallen into Wonderland along with Alice.
– Encyclopedia Prehistorica Dinousaurs: There is a mysterious force that attracts children to dinosaurs, and it must also attract them to this book. While they can find some interesting facts about dinosaurs in this book, it will be a while until they get to that part, because playing with pop-up dinosaurs is addicting.
4. Non-Fiction Books for the Youngest Scientists
While the appeal of fictional books often depends on personal taste, non-fiction books can be judged more objectively. You can get a great fictional book, yet it will not make an impression on a child, simply because he or she has a different taste. The sense of wonder that a good scientific book awakens is more universal. So you can read a few pages of the book and trust your judgment, or read the reviews that other people left – my observation is that they are more reliable in the case of non-fiction books.
Another great thing about non-fiction books is that children do not grow out of them as fast. If you have an animal encyclopedia, a baby will like looking at the pictures, and for a toddler it may even become his favourite book. For instance, our Budster loves an oversized book about the sea world with high-resolution photographs of whales and coral reefs. Soon parents will find themselves reading little facts from the encyclopedia to children, and in no time they will be writing essays, using the book as their reference.
All in all, I find good non-fiction books to be great gifts for children, because they are naturally curious, and they want to know about the world!
A few of our favourite non-fiction books:
– National Geographic Little Kids First Book of Animals (and other National Geographic Little Kids First Books: Bugs, Dinosaurs, or Planets) : This is a particularly great book for little scientists. It has plenty of pictures – a few for every animal – and a variety of interesting facts to entertain even an adult reader. In its 128 pages, only a few animals can be introduced, but I find it to be an advantage of this book. It is not overwhelming, and there will be longer books in the future.
– Sounds of the Wild Ocean (and other books of the series): While being packed with scientific facts, this little book will appeal to everyone, starting with babies. As they turn pages, they will hear a whale’s singing and seagulls’ cries, as realistically painted animals will pop up on the pages. Read about it more here.
– The Beetle Book: This book will work both as the first identification guide for beetles and a beautifully illustrated introduction to the beetle world.
– The New Way Things Work: While meant for elementary-aged children and up, this book will help you get through those years when everything requires an explanation and children yearn to know how things work. Necessary reading for every parent!
A few of these books fall into several categories: Birds of a Feather, for instance, is a pop-up book, but it is also a non-fiction book, opening the diverse world of birds to children. In the Town All Year ‘Round is a wordless book, but it is also a treasury because in Germany, where the book comes from, it is published in four volumes.
What books do you like to give as gifts? What books were you happy to receive as gifts for your children? Please, share your finds, so that we could put them onto our Christmas wishlist!