Buying (and Giving) Picture Books

The last few months have been spent buying and fretting over and giving gifts, and receiving gifts, via a variety of holidays. For me, this is especially so because my mother, my boyfriend, and two very close friends all have early January birthdays.

One of my favorite gifts to give is books. (Few of you are surprised.) But although I don’t always have occasion for this, children’s books are my favorite to give. And I have a lot of thoughts on what goes into a good picture book gift for a child.

I have five main criteria.

1. Is the book performative in some way? Is it fun for parents or other adults to read? (If so, they’ll read it more often.) Fun for the kids to get to learn to read themselves? Press Here, The Book with No Pictures, and the Pete the Cat series are good examples of this.

2. Is it relatively easy to read and to follow along? How many words are on a page? These books are relatively easy to transition children into reading themselves, and include Mother Bruce, recommended to me by Judy Blume (no really), I Want My Hat Back, The Day the Crayons Quit, and the Llama Llama series.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a staple of my gift-giving repertoire. Many people have discovered it in the past few years, which I am all about, but I still find that it’s a book I can give to new parents. Parents didn’t grow up reading it, so even though kids have adored it for almost a decade, new parents are delighted by it and not all have even herd of it. (If this is a second or third child, I assume they know the pigeon.)

3. Is the book diverse in some way? The Last Stop on Market Street teaches empathy in a city setting with diverse characters and is written by a person of color. I like to make sure white families have books with characters who don’t look like their child, as reading diversity teaches empathy. It’s vitally important that children of color see themselves in the stories around them and in their heroes. Furthermore, little boys need to learn that girls’s stories are important by being allowed to read books starring girls. (There’s no such thing as a “girl book” or a “boy book”. They’re just books. Fight me!) And I like to support diverse writers. Other good pictures books meeting this criteria include Jingle Dancer, What to Do with an Idea, and Ada Twist, Scientist.

4. Is it visually beautiful? Journey, Interstellar Cinderella, and Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich all make this list. Some have no words, some have lots of words, but all are striking. They encourage children to enjoy art, and provide access to the story even before kids can read for themselves.

5. Is it a stretch book? This is especially true for kids who can read. “Stretch books” are a little more difficult than the child’s ability, and can be a great motivator! I remember a copy of Twas the Night Before Christmas being that way for me growing up. However, because my brother is 3 years older, whatever books he was reading became my stretch books. The more beautiful or fun the book looks, the more enticing!

I’m happy to make book recommendations from babies to teens, so feel free to ask! I have no shame about learning from the Book community of Twitter and reading children’s and young adult books for myself.

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