Our favorite gifts for the littlest readers on your list
Books are my favorite gifts to give and receive. It’s always been that way and will no doubt remain that way (despite my continued love affair with my Kindle, a holiday gift last year). Here are some great new books to give to the children in your life.
I’ll start with a holiday classic that’s good for all ages: Jan Brett’s delightful Snowy Treasury. Here in one handy edition is a collection of four of Brett’s wonderful picture books: Gingerbread Baby, The Mitten, The Hat and The Three Snow Bears. Brett’s meticulous illustrations have long been a favorite in our house, and the stories in this volume transport readers to the snowy kingdoms of a Swiss forest, a Ukrainian woodland, Denmark and the Arctic. Put Snowy Treasury out within easy reach and you’ll see everyone from adults to preschoolers snuggle in for a warm, cozy read—preferably next to a crackling fire.
Yet another treasure—literally—is a new, unabridged edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, featuring woodcuts by John Lawrence, acclaimed author and illustrator of books such as This Little Chick. This large-format edition with large print makes Stevenson’s swashbuckling story easily accessible for a new generation of readers. With a yo-ho-ho to Long John Silver, Lawrence’s many woodcuts and their soft pastel hues are a fine accompaniment to Stevenson’s exciting tale.
Such excitement may well work up an appetite, so consider giving your favorite little chef a copy of Paula Deen’s Cookbook for the Lunch-Box Set with Martha Nesbit, illustrated by Susan Mitchell. My 10-year-old daughters and I will definitely be trying this out soon. The colorful, spiral-bound book is well written with clear, numbered directions for young cooks. It’s also attractively laid out, with labeled illustrations at the beginning of each recipe showing not only what ingredients are needed, but also what kitchen tools are required. The varied chapters include such themes as bake sales, sleepovers, family cooking night and a Christmas cooking party. My girls and I will soon be trying Stained Glass Cookies, Oreo Truffles and Cheese Bread. The recipes are kid-friendly, yet packed with Deen’s down-home style.
How about treating someone special to a few of Julie Andrews’ favorite things? She and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, have collaborated on Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies. This collection would make a great present for everyone from newborns to elementary school children, the latter of which will enjoy the wide variety here, as well as the lovely watercolors throughout by award-winning artist James McCullen.
You’ll find classics from the likes of Kenneth Grahame and Robert Frost, along with lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and Ira Gershwin. As Andrews explains: “I feel that many lyrics are poems in themselves. For me, it’s so hard to separate the two that I chose to make this collection embrace both.”
A pair of pop-ups
Leave it to Mo Willems to do something different. This award-winning author/illustrator has created a “Pop-Out” book called Big Frog Can’t Fit In with paper engineering by Bruce Foster. Though there are few words, this story about an oversized frog who needs the help of her friends is funny, ingenious and guaranteed to be loved by the seven-and-under set—all typical of Willems’ work. (Be sure to note the book’s odd shape when you see it.) It’s hard to beat Mo Willems when it comes to creating laughs with simple illustrations and text.
Matthew Reinhart’s A Pop-Up Book of Nursery Rhymes is another small book that packs a lot of pop-up punch. Each spread has one big pop-up, such as the cow jumping over a grinning moon, along with two smaller pop-ups, much like little books that unfold on each page. This beautifully executed little gem is perfect for a short bedtime treat.
Where was My Little Red Fire Truck when my son was a preschooler? Oh, how he would have adored this book! Stephen T. Johnson, the creator of My Little Red Toolbox, has produced another delight in which children can fill up the fire truck’s gas tank, check the tire pressure, drive and more. The book has built-in, removable tools (made of sturdy cardboard) so that all of these tasks can be taken care of by your busy young firefighter. He or she will love being on the job!
Preschoolers will also revel in Dinosaur Park, with illustrations by Steve Weston. This Jurassic play set includes nine press-out dinosaurs, four different play scenes, plus a field guide perfect for young dino fans. Open it if you dare!
On a more graceful note, elementary-age dancers will enjoy Kate Castle’s The Ballerina’s Handbook. This compact volume contains letters, postcards, flaps and an insightful tour through the ballet world, from a beginning class through a professional company on tour. There are many clever sidebars, too, on such topics as healthy food and makeup tips for dancers, a glossary of terms and a short list of legendary dancers.
Finally, older elementary students can explore the world with Philip Steele’s A Mariner’s Tale. The highly interesting and illustrated text discusses the early days of exploration and includes 3-D artwork, pull-out flaps, a model caravel ship and a secret mariner’s chest with a compass and telescope to construct. Readers can sail along with the world’s most famous explorers, from the Phoenician sea traders to the Vikings and Columbus. This fun package is perfect for whetting the appetites of young Marco Polos!
A book that truly stands out (and up!)
Is someone on your holiday wish list begging for a pet? Try the next best thing. Eye-Popping 3-D Pets: Phantogram Animals You Can Practically Pet, by Barry Rothstein and Betsy Rothstein, is a gift guaranteed to have tremendous appeal. Who can resist popping on a pair of 3-D glasses? (And thoughtfully, the book comes with not one but two pairs.)
The book’s subtitle is absolutely correct—these glasses really do make viewers feel as though they are petting the animals. Rothstein uses a special process known as phantogram 3-D, which makes the images appear to stand up. What’s more, the book is large, so some of the animals are actually life-size. Eye-Popping 3-D Pets begins with a two-page guide to how the phenomenon works and ends with an interesting spread about another type of 3-D (stereo).
The 28 pets covered include cats, dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, potbellied pigs, fish, frogs, rosy boas, corn snakes, tarantulas and more. Each spread also contains basic information on taking care of these pets, so the book is not only fun, but a helpful guide should your family ever get the real thing. Just be forewarned: the three hairy tarantulas contained in these pages will look like they’re crawling in your living room. No screams allowed!
Alice Cary explores the world of children’s books from her home in Groton, Massachusetts.