Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
Even if you haven’t heard or don’t follow this gift-giving formula, gifting something to read to children during the holiday season is probably a tradition, or at least, it should be! This is our children’s books gift guide for this holiday season. These books aren’t all new releases from 2019, but they are all books that we have read and loved and think would be excellent additions to any kid’s library. In fact, I love some of these books so much that I think they are absolute necessities, that a library isn’t a library without them. We’ve divided this children’s books gift guide into categories to make it easier to navigate.
Children’s Books Gift Guide
Read-aloud Children’s Books
It is no secret that reading aloud does wonders for children, and some books are basically made for reading aloud. Try not to have fun while reading these aloud. Go on, I dare you.
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
The ultimate in read-aloud books and what I hold as the gold standard whenever I come across a new book and try to assess its read-aloud-ability.
This and That by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek
My other ‘gold standard’ for read-aloud books, and this one is shorter than The Gruffalo so it is even better for the youngest readers with shorter attention spans.
Sofia Valdez, Future Prez (The Questioneers) by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts
We love The Questioneers picture book series, which is also now an early chapter book series! This is the fourth and most recent picture book in the series, which can be read in any order. It tells the story of a little girl and her abuelo, and her passion to turn a dangerous junkyard into a park. It doesn’t matter that she’s just a child; she has a passion and a voice and she knows what’s right! This book is just as good as its predecessors. All the books follow a very fun and readable rhythm.
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
This is the very first book my daughter wanted to read over and over and over again. If you have any new little ones in your life, then this is the book you should gift them for the holiday. If you already have this one, the Llama Llama series is giant. There are board books and picture books, and they’re all fantastic and addictive and immensely readable.
Bedtime Children’s Books
These ones actually overlap with the previous category, and my picks for this category are also fabulous for reading aloud (and for that matter, the read-aloud books would also be great for bedtime). But there are a lot of books that specifically address bedtime so here we are.
Good Night, Sleep Tight by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek
I’ve written before about the importance of nursery rhymes, and this is a wonderful book that weaves nursery rhymes into the story. It has the best ending for bedtime and makes it a great book to be the last book to be read in the bedtime routine: ‘It’s long past your bedtime. It’s time for sleep now, okay? So goodnight, sleep tight.’
Bonnie and Ben Rhyme Again by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek
This is the sequel to Good Night, Sleep Tight, with more nursery rhymes, bright illustrations, and the same read-aloud magic as its predecessor. We’ve been reading this one a lot lately.
Children’s Books About Vehicles
Can your child tell you more about tractors and planes than you can? These books are for them.
Planes Go by Steve Light
I love the illustrations in this book (and the others in the series), and it is a very fun book to read aloud as long as you throw yourself into the onomatopoeia. Tilly’s current obsession are planes and this is a book we both adore.
My Big Wimmelbook: Cars and Things that Go by Stefan Lohr
All of the Wimmelbook books are fantastic, and my favourite search and find books ever. The cars one is probably my favourite out of the series. There are recurring characters in each spread and you can follow their individual stories, the pictures are big enough to see a lot of interesting detail but small enough that you do still have to search and find, and there is a lot of charm to these books. Tilly and I can spend ages looking at and talking about these books.
Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney
I think I’ll have this book memorized for the rest of my life. We are unabashed fans of Anna Dewdney, the creator of the Llama Llama books. The rhythm of her prose makes her books immensely readable, and this particular book has taught Marian the names for all sorts of tractors: excavators, loaders, bulldozers, dump trucks, cranes. The story is about a little excavator who just wants to help renovate a disused lot into a park. But he’s too small! Thankfully, at the end of the book, he’s given one of the most important tasks, and only he can do it.
Fairytale Children’s Books
A Dublin Fairytale by Nicola Colton
This is a delightfully quirky retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that takes place across the city of Dublin. I absolutely loved the illustrations in this book and I also loved how the author manages to transport you to another (real) country with an imagined story. There might be some bias here too because Ireland is one of my favourite countries in the world and this book reminds me of the time I spent there.
Goldilocks for Dinner by Susan Montanari, illustrated by Jake Parker
This is a very funny book, with familiar characters and a story that subverts expectations. Clever, well written, fun to read, and with really fantastic illustrations.
Cinderella Liberator by Rebecca Solnit
Told as if it were the original tale, in Cinderella Liberator, eminent feminist Rebecca Solnit seeks to liberate “Cinderella” from its misogynist predecessors (yes, plural, there are many Cinderella stories) by presenting an entirely new tale told in fairytale prose. If you’re looking to read longer fairytales to children, but you want to avoid the sexism of the earlier tales, this is a must-read. This story isn’t for younger children, but for older elementary to middle schoolers. The illustrations are taken from Arthur Rackham’s art that accompanied a 19th century Perrault version. It makes the book lovely and giftable on top of having a good message.
The Three Ninja Pigs by Corey Rosen Schwartz, Illustrated by Dan Santat
I recommend this book and all of the fairytale books by Corey Rosen Schwartz. This one is my personal favorite, but I also love Ninja Red Riding Hood (and there are several others). Corey Rosen Schwartz, like Anna Dewdney and Julia Donaldson, writes immensely readable prose. You will find yourself speaking in the rhythm of her books. She also tells really fun adventure stories where the children (aka the pigs) certainly do not need saving. The hero of the story is a pig that knew that practice made perfect, so when the big bad wolf arrived, she was ready to kick some wolf butt. For children who love fairytales or martial arts.
Children’s Books About food
Nom nom nom.
Big Cities Little Foodies: Hong Kong by Cheryl Yau Chepusova, illustrated by Isabel Foo
A wonderful counting book with gorgeous graphic-design style illustrations and lovely rhyming text. I really love this book because the food reminds me of my own childhood and I can smell and taste the foods as I read. There are a lot of children’s books about food, and even books about Asian and Chinese food, but this is the first one I’ve come across that’s specifically about Cantonese food.
United Tastes of America by Gabrielle Langholtz, illustrated by Jenny Bowers, photography by Danielle Acken
This, out of all of my recommendations on this list, is truly a gift book. It has a large cookbook/coffee table book format, the paper is heavy, the design and artwork is stunning. This is a children’s cookbook with a recipe from every state in the USA and there is also interesting information about food from each of the states. This is another one of my favourite books of 2019.
Proud to Be Latino: Food/Comida by Ashley Marie Mireles, Illustrated by Edith Valle
This board book features yummy Latinx foods for toddlers to point at and name. It’s a great food book and learning words book that’s also bright and colorful.
Children’s Books About nature
The Hike by Alison Farrell
One of my favourite books from 2019. This book is a wonderful celebration of friendship, adventure, and the outdoors. It is a delight to look at and read, with charming illustrations and a story that reminds me why childhood is the best.
Most of the Better Natural Things in the World by Dave Eggers, illustrated be Angel Chang
A book that illustrates a lot of physical geographical formations, like archipelago and lagoon, but with a lovely mystery too that’s told in the pictures: in each spread there is a tiger carrying a chair — why is she carrying the chair and where is she going? This book is a wonderful celebration of the earth and it makes my geographer heart happy.
Ruby’s Sword by Jacqueline Veissid, Illustrated by Paola Zakimi
Both Tilly and Marian recommend this book. It’s fun to listen to, and best of all, features sticks! What child doesn’t love a good stick!
Children’s Books About Family
I already made a nice big list of children’s books about family, but here are two of my favorites from 2019.
Saturday by Oge Mora
Saturdays are special for Ava and her mother. On Saturdays, they go to the park, the library, they get their hair done. But this Saturday is going wrong wrong wrong. Thankfully, these two have some tactics for pulling themselves together when things go wrong. This book is gorgeous and sure to win some awards. Every mother has days like these, and every child sees them struggle! Marian and I review it more here.
When Aidan Became a Brother by Kyle Lukoff, Illustrated By Kaylani Juanita
Aiden’s parents thought he was a girl, but when he grew up a little, he realized he was actually a different type of boy. Now Aiden’s mommy is pregnant, and he wants to make sure that his new sibling won’t feel the same kind of alienation he felt. He wants everything to be perfect for the new baby. This is such a great book about a transgender child struggling with the anxiety of having a new sibling. It’s a great way to introduce children to the concept of being transgender.
Feminist Children’s Books
We review a lot of feminist books on the website because girls are awesome!
Suffragette: The Battle for Equality by David Roberts
This is an illustrated history book for late elementary to middle schoolers about the Suffrage Movements in the UK and US. 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the US, so it’s a great time to study the movement with children (and really, it’s always a great time). You will probably recognize David Roberts’s illustrations from the Questioneers series (Rosie Revere, Engineer). Suffragette is a nicely illustrated big book which makes it very giftable, and it covers a very important historical moment.
The Feminist Baby Board Book Series by Loryn Bratz
If you’re looking for feminist board books for toddlers, this series is my favorite. They’re fun to read, and just as funny to the adult as they are to the toddler. The most recent book in the series–Feminist Baby! He’s a Feminist Too!–came out earlier this year.
Children’s Books About Poetry
Poetry books are some of my favorites to gift. Here are two of my favorite picture books, but also check out my list for toddlers.
Hawks Kettle, Puffins Wheel: And Other Poems of Birds in Flight by Susan Vande Griek, Illustrated by Mark Hoffman
The poems in this collection are as beautiful as the illustrations, which are all frame-worthy. I’m both a poetry and bird fiend, so this book combines two of my passions. This is the perfect gift for nature or poetry-loving elementary-aged children. The quality of the illustrations makes it a special gift.
A Stick Is an Excellent Thing: Poems Celebrating Outdoor Play by Marilyn Singer, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Another absolute favorite to read, Marian actually has all the titles to the poems memorized, and can usually finish words for me. This book collects poems about nature, but it also shows nature in an urban setting, which I especially like since we live in a city. Sticks, mud soup, sprinklers, doves, and so much more all find themselves celebrated.
Children’s Books About Christmas
A holiday gift guide wouldn’t be complete without some Christmas books!
Between Us and Abuela: A Family Story from the Border by Mitali Perkins, Illustrated by Sara Palacios
For Christmas this year, María and her family drive to the border to see their abuela through the border wall. It’s been five years since María has seen her abuela, but she still remembers the sound of her voice calling her angelita, and misses her warm hug. They’ve made Christmas presents, though they’ll have to exchange the gifts through the border fence. María’s scarf fits easily between the fence, but Juan’s painting does not. Thankfully, with a little ingenuity, they manage to get Juan’s present to Abuela. I challenge you not to tear up when you read this! I love this because it’s a Christmas story that many children experience, yet is rarely if ever told in children’s stories.
Lit for Little Hands: A Christmas Carol Adapted by Brooke Jorden, Illustrated by David Miles
The Lit for Little Hands series retells classics in board book format for toddlers. The interactive pages are the best part of the series. You can pull a piece to slide the Christmas tree into view, slide a wheel to make the dancers go round and round, and more. There’s an interactive piece on every page, making it a wonderful gift for toddlers!
What books are you giving the children in your life this holiday season?