The time for holiday shopping is almost upon us. This is the perfect time to start planning so you can give gifts with consciousness and everyone on your list will receive just the right thing.
Every year I give my own children three things — something handmade, a book, and something they really want. Books make such great gifts — I feel good about giving them and the children love to escape into the imaginary world that is wrapped up in that little package.
Finding the right book can be a little tricky, though, so over the next few days I’ll give my recommendations for different ages.
Birth to Three
Books at this age should be durable and ready to be loved. Little ones should have books that they can look at themselves in addition to books that are read to them by a parent. Board books fit the bill perfectly. But what should the content of these books be? Well, there are two ways to go.
Books that have only pictures, without any written words at all are great. They allow the child (who isn’t reading anyway) to imagine the story. They also encourage parents who are “reading” the book to the child to create a story in their own words. Parents can tell a tailor made story that they know will engage and interest their children. There are lots of great options.
My children loved the Carl books by Alexandra Day. There is a fairly extensive series, all of them about the things that a little girl and her dog do when they are left alone. I did have to get past the initial premise. In one of the books the parents go off to a Christmas party and leaving their daughter in the capable paws of the big black dog, Carl, but because I was making up the story I was able to say something to my children about that as we read. (“Isn’t that silly? The parents are going to the party and letting Carl take care of the little girl?”) Thankfully Carl is a pretty good caretaker and my children loved seeing all of the things that Carl and the little girl did together. All of the books have few words — usually just the parents saying hello and goodbye at the beginning of the story.
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs is a must-have classic. The story about the adventures a little boy has with his snowman-come-to-life companion is certain to delight children of all ages. The pictures are soft and lovely and the story is simply dear. If you can get your hands on it, the best version is the older one. It has no words and a longer story presented in comic book format. More recent versions include a scaled back story narrated with simple sentences (here), an early reader (here), and a board book (here). The original is best, but all of them are pretty good.
Rhyming books are also great for children of this age. Books with a regular rhythm, meter and rhyming pattern allow these youngest children to delight in the sound of language. Being able to recognize and create rhymes is one of the first steps in literacy and it is a safe, no-pressure way to start along that path.
If you don’t already own Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown your child is missing out on a piece of American culture. It won’t be long before your little one is saying it along with you while you read and “reading” it to herself.
Though not technically a rhyming book, The Runaway Bunny, also by Margaret Wise Brown, is another book enjoyed by little ones. The language is repetitive and the story is simple and sweet. A definite classic.
There are lots of other rhyming books out there and a parent might be tempted to pull Dr. Seuss off the shelf. Though Dr. Seuss books are fun, their silly, cartoon-y illustrations and fantastical story-lines are better suited for children a little bit older. Remember, simple is better.
Here are some basic things to look for when choosing books for these littlest children.
- Beautiful illustrations with soft lines and muted tones.
- Few characters
- Stories that the child can relate to his or her everyday experience
- No silliness
- Rhyming words, repetition or no words at all.