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Holiday Gift Guide: Board Books & Picture Books

guideWhy, yes!  The clock is ticking.  Hanukkah begins on Wednesday night, and Christmas is right around the corner.  If you are still hunting down the perfect gift for a toddler, preschooler, emerging reader, or anyone who enjoys picture books, you have come to the right place!  Forget trying to figure out which Lego set or which character toys they already have (hint: they don’t need more Elsas).  No need to know sizes.  Do they already have every toy and game known to mankind?  Well, it’s impossible to have too many books for children to enjoy.   Here are eight wonderful board books and picture books that any child (and family) will love… and, of course, everything listed is currently available via Amazon Prime to make your shopping quick and easy.  Tuesday, I’ll share a gift guide of chapter books for school-aged children.  Get your pretty wrapping paper ready!




thegiftofnothingThe Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

I do indeed note the irony of including this book in a gift guide, but bear with me.  The Gift of Nothing is a great book with a great moral and features Mooch and Earl, animals from the Mutts comic strip.  Mooch struggles to find the perfect gift for Earl, who needs nothing.  McDonnell enjoys playing with the concept of “nothing” as a gift, sending Mooch on a search for nothing and discovering that nothing isn’t something you can buy.  He does eventually wrap nothing up for his dearest friend.  The book is very charming and simple and not at all preachy or overbearing, but it packs a wallop of a message that all kids and grownups need to hear.

Perfect for:  Kids 5-10, especially, but enjoyable for all.


thedaythecrayonsquitThe Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt

Is there anything funnier than anthropomorphic letter-writing?  The answer is, “No.”  Have you ever wondered what a crayon on strike would say?  Surely we all have!  In The Day the Crayons Quit, you can see for yourself how the black crayon feels typecast, how the oft-ignored crayons feel about being in the shadow of popular colors, and how certain colors are rivals.  They air their grievances in letters and drawings.  It’s a Crayola soap opera, and it’s hilarious.  Main character Duncan has to solve the problem of appeasing all the crayons (and making them feel understood and valued) so that he can enjoy coloring once more.

Perfect for: Kids 4-8; families who celebrate Festivus; adults who like to color.


thedarkThe Dark by Lemony Snicket

It’s an almost-scientific fact that 94% of children are afraid of the dark to some degree.  Lazslo is among that group, but in The Dark, he meets… The Dark.  The Dark is a character who speaks to him and encourages him on a journey through the creaky house into the dark basement.  There, The Dark instructs Lazslo to open a dresser drawer, where he makes a discovery that gives him calm and teaches him to trust and coexist with that murky, lurking darkness.  This is definitely not a book for children who are going to be too scared to get to the end — it’s not a scary book, but there is a bit of suspense that might overwhelm truly dark-phobic kids.  There is a happy, peaceful ending that’s a great payoff for those with a typical childhood fear.  Jon Klassen’s wonderful illustrations pay respect to how children really feel about the dark — it’s big and heavy and absolute — but does so without making the story scary or ominous.

Perfect for: Kids 3-8; anyone who loves an unconventional bedtime story.


outsideOutside by Deirdre Gill

Winter is a time when many of us feel housebound and limited by the weather, but Outside offers a different perspective.  A boy is bored and is told to go outside and play.  Yes, in the winter.  Yes, when it’s snowy and freezing.  What he finds before him is a truly blank, quiet canvas of winter.  He has a new perspective, his imagination gets to work, and he has many wonderful moments outside.  The illustrations are really the star of this book.  You feel the chill, the warmth of the house, the excitement of the little boy as he steps outside and experiences the wonder of winter.  It’s a seasonally appropriate reminder of the joys of simply going outside.

Perfect for: Kids 3-8; kids who need encouragement to go outdoors to play.


fantasticflyingbooksThe Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce

Joyce’s text was created after the award-winning short film of the same name, but that doesn’t make it any less fantastic.  We meet Mr. Morris Lessmore [puns!], who is writing his own memoir while sitting on a balcony when a storm hits and sends all the pages of his life story flying away.  How he recovers from that great loss and the upending storm is a story filled with magic, love for books, and references to great literature.  The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore will fill children with wonder and delight, and grownups who love books will appreciate every moment, as well.

Perfect for: Anyone of any age who loves books, reading, and writing.


katyandthebigsnow Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton

I feel like wonderful classics often get forgotten when shopping for kids’ books, but Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow is a perfect, timeless book.  Originally published in 1943, this large board book features a big red tractor named Katy who becomes a hero through her care and enduring spirit.  Katy dons a plow in response to cries for help from all of Geoppolis’ city leaders, and she clears the roads so life can resume after a rare snow storm.  The illustrations remain perfectly modern and exciting.   A map offers great details that preschoolers and early readers can enjoy relating to the story, giving the book an added layer of depth and adding a secondary older audience.  And, as usual, I love any book that features a female tractor!  This is a book that shows boys and girls that big machines and heroes are not “boy things.”   Katy and the Big Snow is also available as a paperback and in hardcover, depending on your recipient’s age.

Perfect for: Kids 0-6.


goodnightsongsGoodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

There is an amazing story behind Goodnight Songs.  A few generations ago, Brown, author of the ubiquitous Goodnight Moon, died unexpectedly after a routine surgery.   In the 1990s, her family found a trunk stored in an old barn on her property,  Inside were stacks of unpublished stories, poems, and songs.  Publisher Sterling Children’s Books selected twelve of the poems and songs to publish as a lullably, and they recruited twelve award-winning illustrators to provide the visuals for each one.  The result is a remarkable collection of pictures and song, and it feels like a special treasure to read these.  It truly was finding a trunk full of gold, just in literary form.  The book comes with a lovely cd of the poems/songs presented as lullabies.  It’s a beautiful gift for babies, toddlers, young children, and their parents.

Perfect for: Kids 0-8; music lovers; poetry lovers; fans of Margaret Wise Brown.



Very Little Red Riding Hood by Teresa Heapy

I love a new spin on a familiar favorite, and Heapy’s take on the fairy tale is pretty terrific.  Very Little Red Riding Hood is indeed very little — she speaks in toddlerese — but she is brave, stubborn, and feisty.  Big Bad Wolf?  Hardly!  Very Little Red Riding Hood calls him Foxie when she encouters him in the forest, and she is absolutely, totally unafraid of him.  He joins her on a sleepover at her grandmother’s, and we get to see him and the entire family in a whole new light.  The illustrations by Sue Heap (not to be confused with author Teresa Heapy) are sweet and balance tradition and contemporary styles very well.  Very Little Red Riding Hood will become a series with more titles to follow, so you have a great opportunity to be a trendsetter!

Perfect for: Kids 0-6.

One Cool Friend

onecoolfriendOne Cool Friend

by Toni Buzzeo

My daughter and I had the great pleasure of meeting author Toni Buzzeo last week at a Young Authors Festival here in Michigan.  She shared some very useful tips for young writers, and she shared a lot about her own process as an author.  In doing so, we heard the backstory and the evolution of edits that yielded her newest (and wonderful) book One Cool Friend

Elliot is an unusual boy who speaks very formally and wears a tuxedo everywhere he goes.  He doesn’t enjoy the chaos of other children, but when his father suggests they go to Family Fun Day at the aquarium, he is much too polite to tell him he’d rather not.  Off they go, and the adventure begins.  Elliot asks his father if he can have a penguin, and his father hands him $20 to buy what he presumes is a stuffed animal.  Oh no; the only stuffing involved is Elliot fitting the penguin into his backpack.  Once the penguin, whom he names Magellan, is settled at home, Elliot accommodates his penguin needs with some creativity and fun.  It takes a while for Elliot’s father to discover that the penguin Elliot keeps talking about is real and not imaginary or a toy, and when he does, there is a great surprise ending!

This charming story is full of silly laughs for kids, but there’s plenty of wit to amuse parents, too.  This is particularly fun to read aloud with voices we don’t always get to use for little boys and their fathers… and how often does one get to “GROK!” like a penguin?  There are clever bits of foreshadowing and references to geography throughout the story, making it interesting to read multiple times.  I can honestly testify that it’s still lively and fun the 34th time.  It’s also wonderful to see a story featuring a father and son and their time spent together.

Illustrator David Small did a beautiful job with this story.  His scenes are a perfect match for the text.  They are simple and still very detailed; cool and still very comfortable; and refined but still appropriately animated.  There are great little moments everywhere in this book — a penguin wearing a tiny bicycle helmet, the curve of the halls in the aquarium, Magellan gorging himself on seafood from the freezer.  It’s not a surprise at all that this book is a Caldecott Honor winner.  At the festival, Buzzeo shared that the librarian to whom the book is dedicated is featured in the story, and even though David Small had never seen a picture of her, her character looks exactly like the real woman — short red hair, glasses, the works.  Perhaps it’s a coincidence, but it’s clear that Small was really feeling the story.   The text and the pictures work together beautifully to tell a quirky, interesting, and fun tale.

One Cool Friend is a delight for all youngsters from preschool through elementary school.  It would make a lovely gift this holiday season, especially for penguin lovers.  Or anyone who enjoys laughing and surprise endings.  Or those waddling friends who enjoy anchovies.


Thanksgiving Book Roundup

thanksgivingroundupsmall Thanksgiving is nearly here, and we all have so many reasons to be thankful.  For one, there are really great books for our children.  Another? There are really great books about Thanksgiving for us to sit and read with our children as the tryptophan coma wears off.  We’re featuring some books ranging from factual to fun for families to enjoy during this warm and cozy holiday season.





The Thanksgiving Story

by Alice Dalgliesh

thethanksgivingstoryThe Thanksgiving Story is a Caldecott Award-winning text that’s full of accurate and kid-appropriate information about the first Thanksgiving.  Dalgliesh shares the story of a pilgrim family’s difficult first year at the Plymouth Colony.  While many children will know the basics of the Thanksgiving story, Dalgliesh stirs up curiosities and gives additional details to satisfy them by sharing the experience from the children’s point of view.   The illustrations by Helen Sewell are warm, simple, and evoke primitive folk art, but they have a modern quality that appeals to modern youngsters (and their parents).  We see the seasons change as the Hopkins family endures a difficult year, and we learn how Chief Massasoit and the Wampanoag people were integral to the survival of the colonists.  This all ends, of course, in the first Thanksgiving feast.  Children will enjoy the really interesting details in the story and illustrations, and the children’s perspective really makes it all the more attainable to young readers.


giveandtakeGive and Take

by Chris Raschka

While not explicitly about Thanksgiving, Chris Raschka’s newest book, Give and Take, is the perfect setup for having a conversation about the holiday and what it means.  This harvest-time fable about a farmer and two little elves, named Give and Take, will teach children the benefit of sharing and finding the middle ground… and appreciating the results.   As always, award-winning author Raschka’s illustrations are bold and animated, but at the same time, they’re comfortable.  Give and Take are impish looking, and they both live up to their names.  The farmer is easily persuaded by each.  He gives away his entire crop at Give’s urging.  Then he takes a kind pumpkin farmer’s crop at Take’s urging, even though he doesn’t even care for pumpkin.  He sees how both extremes impact the farm and all creatures it supports, including himself.  That is, until he sees Give and Take fighting one another and has an idea for how to balance giving and taking in the form of working together and sharing.  All enjoy a tasty, tasty treat as the grand payoff, much like family and friends all enjoy a communal Thanksgiving feast!


thankyousarahThank You, Sarah:  The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving

by Laurie Halse Anderson

Did you know that it was very likely that the celebration of Thanksgiving would have died out completely in the 1800s?  Imagine the sadness of no pumpkin pie, turkey, a couple days off work watching football or shopping for holiday gifts?  Well, you don’t have to, and it’s all because of one fiercely determined woman named Sarah Hale.  Thank You, Sarah tells this little-known and interesting story.  It took Hale nearly 40 years leading a movement and writing many letters to Congress and other politicials, but she was determined not to let the Thanksgiving holiday die out.  In 1863, President Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, phew.  This text is full of interesting history and shared it with great humor and fun, making it a really fun way for kids to learn about what the country was like and how this one tough woman’s perseverance paid off.  It’s also a great opportunity to reflect on the historical timeline between the first Thanksgiving and our current celebrations, with sociological/anthropological and political changes on all points of the line.  Bonus points to this book for demonstrating a woman’s ability to make change even when society wasn’t very friendly to women.  Reading this book with your kids will surely inspire them to think of Sarah Hale while they’re hiding a piece of pie under a mountain of whipped cream.


petethecatthanksgivingPete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving

by James Dean

Yes!  Even this cool cat celebrates Thanksgiving.  Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving is a great lift-the-flap book featuring this holiday.  It’s a lot of fun for kids, but this is not your usual, silly Pete book.  It’s a little more serious, and it’s got some little kid-friendly history and facts.  You won’t be walking around singing whatever new song Pete has shared (because there isn’t one), but your preschooler or kindergartener will learn about history and the holiday with a favorite blue feline friend.  This is a great introduction to the history of Thanksgiving for the younger set, and it’s sure to please with the surprises hiding behind flaps on every page.

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