Best Books to Give to Kids This Holiday Season
RCM’s resident librarian lists her favorite book picks to give (and receive!) for 2020. I know first hand there’s NO ONE in Madison County that gets excited about good books like Mandy. Take her advice – when in doubt, get them a good book!
Board Books for Babies & Toddlers
The Itsy Bitsy Snowman by Jeffrey Burton – Board books are great for babies and toddlers. They withstand rough handling and chewing and you can wipe them down with Clorox and they come back wanting more. That said, this is a cute new twist on the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song, only with a cute snowman family. It’ll make a great stocking stuffer or gift for a winter baby.
– As an avowed owl fan, this one caught my eye. It’s a lift-the flap (or wing) book, so it’s more interactive- but children LOVE that. The illustrations are really beautiful, and children will enjoy discovering the special surprise at the end. Included forest animals are a fox, a bear, a porcupine, a cat, a dog, and owl and a pig.
Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick – This is the story behind one of children’s literatures most famous and beloved characters. This lovely book chronicles Harry Colebourn, a Canadian veterinarian during WWI, acquired and cared for the bear that would inspire Winnie-the-Pooh. The illustrations are just wonderful and tender.
Flashlight by Lizi Boyd – This one if for every storytime ever done by flashlight. I have a VERY hard time picking favorite picture books, or any books, for that matter (let’s just be honest- this post gives me nervous ticks- I CAN’T CHOOSE JUST 20!!!). Anyway, what stands out here are the amazing cutouts. Each page is a discovery! Is the dark scary? Not with our flashlight! What’s outside the tent? A whole world of cool stuff! This one is a dazzler on the first read, and when you’re done, they’ll want to see it again and again. Better have your flashlight handy, though.
I Really Like Slop! By Mo Willems – (Gr K-2) First, let me calm myself down from the crushing reality that soon, there will be NO MORE ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE BOOKS. That’s right; Mo will leave us forever wanting more Gerald and Piggie but is retiring the popular series. This addition, which came out October 27, is another fun romp through their world with a hidden lesson. Who likes to try new things? What happens when you do not like them? The vocabulary is simple, and Gerald and Piggie use voice bubbles to talk. The illustrations are simple, but SO much is conveyed- adults enjoy the witty repartee as much as the children (maybe more so!). The series are all basically stand-alone, so you can pick up any one and read. Beginning readers will enjoy them as much as experienced Big Kids. I will miss my friends.
What This Story Needs Is A Pig In A Wig by Emma J. Virjan – (Preschool+) This building story uses rhyme to engage young readers in a very silly adventure. We have a pig in a wig on a boat in a moat, and more animals come. Hilarity ensues, but the boat gets too crowded. Pig must have her guests disembark, but is lonely with them gone. What to do? Read and find out, then brace yourself for giggles. This is the first in a new series.
Chapter Books/Nonfiction Books
National Geographic Kids Big Book of the World by Elizabeth Carney – (up to Grade 3) This one can also work for children as young as preschool. I for one loved the wonderful photography in this series- what else would you expect from National Geographic? The text is easily broken down for young readers and there’s a lot to see and learn. Even those who aren’t yet readers will enjoy the pictures and asking questions. Nonfiction titles make great gifts!
Pirate Pig by Cornelia Funke – (Gr 1-3) Fans of the Mercy Watson series will enjoy this chapter book (though there aren’t technically chapter markers here, so gift a cool bookmark, too). Two sailors discover a pig washed ashore, and she isn’t any ordinary pig: she can sniff out treasure! Soon, word gets out about this amazing pig, and the pirates who trained her show up, willing to do ANYTHING to get their pig back. This high-seas adventure will keep readers engaged and snorting for more. Cornelia Funke is also known for the Inkheart series and The Thief Lord, The Dragon Rider, Igraine the Brave and many others.
The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell – (Gr 3-7) I actually went back to check on the recommended ages for this one, because I did read it and wanted to be sure- but it is recommended for grades 3-7. That is a very broad range. I would aim to the higher end, due to some content. That said: this book was BEAUTIFUL. I have recommended this to adults and teens as well as young readers. Feo and her mother are wolf wilders- they take in the former “pet” wolves of Russian aristocrats and make them remember that they are wolves, and wild. Feo has only known the love of her mother and the wolves, and loves them fiercely. This love is returned after tragedy strikes and Feo must set out on a rescue mission with her wolves. The world building in the novel is breathtaking – I found myself shivering with the cold and weeping with Feo against the inhumanity of man. A must read for fans of wolves, wilderness stories and stories of triumph against all odds. I loved this book.
Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate – (Gr 4-6) Have you ever had a best friend? What if that best friend was one no one else could see? Jackson’s friend is Crenshaw, and he’s a cat. He’s also huge, outspoken and likes bubble baths. He’s come at a really bad time – Jackson and his family have fallen on bad times: his dad is sick, and they don’t have much money for things like rent or food. Jackson doesn’t want to live in the minivan again, and Crenshaw showing up is the last thing he needs. Or is it?
If you loved The One and Only Ivan, you will recognize Applegate’s way of finding stories about family, friendship and hope in the most unlikely places. This is a great way to talk about how material things aren’t what are important, as long as you have each other. Jackson is a great character, and his voice is understandably emotional – while Crenshaw is just the guiding influence he needs to sort through his feelings- something many children need in their lives. We could all use a Crenshaw.
The Sword of Summer By Rick Riordan – (Gr 5-9) Have you been missing Asgardian lore? If so, this new series by our buddy Rick will set your Valkyrie alerts on high, because all the Norse Gods are getting together on this one. Our main character for this new series of adventures is Magnus Chase. Riordan fans might notice the name is familiar – he is in fact Annabeth Chase’s cousin. Building on the familiar while branching out into new worlds makes for a fun new adventure – Magnus is the son of a Norse god and must search the Nine Worlds for a weapon that has been lost for thousands of years to prevent Ragnarok – Doomsday. This one is ACTION PACKED.
The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co #3) by Jonathan Stroud – (Gr 3-7) Fans of the Bartimaeus Series will not be disappointed by this new entry by Stroud. In this Victorian-age caper, children are the first line of defense against the supernatural world. As proprietor of his very own business, Anthony Lockwood employs his own team of supernatural crime fighters- the ever-insightful George and brave Lucy. The ragtag trio is often beset by not only supernatural baddies, but in the flesh ones as well. This edition is no exception, as supernatural outbreaks, assassins and a really annoying assistant emerge to test our trio in all new ways. I enjoy these books, as Lockwood, George and Lucy remind me of how much fun a good mystery can be, and ghosts thrown in are just icing on the spooky cake. I can’t wait for #4!
The Curious Tale of In-Between by Lauren DeStefano – (Gr 4-7) I will admit, I adore her books. I will recommend this one to more mature middle-grade readers, because it is a ghost story and does deal with death (obviously). Pram Bellamy can see and talk to ghosts- because her mother did the unthinkable while pregnant with her. Raised by eccentric aunts, her only companions are her books and her ghost friend, Felix. When Pram is sent to school, she meets a boy named Clarence, who is also looking for answers about his past. Together they meet the mysterious Lady Savant, and their lives are forever changed. Note: this book was devoured in one sitting because I was on the edge of my seat. It was sad, suspenseful and empowering all at once. I can’t wait for the next one.
Beastkeeper by Cat Hellisen – (Gr 7-10) I picked this up when it came out and was in love with it. It’s a new take on the Beauty and the Beast tales we all know, but with a twist. What if the Beast was a girl? The day she falls in love for the first time, Sarah will transform into a beast . . . unless she can figure out a way to break the curse forever. Beautiful, unforgettable and highly recommended: It stayed with me long after the pages were finished.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander – (Gr 6-10) This came out in 2014, but I have used it a lot this year with young tweens/teens. It is unforgettable- winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal and a 2015 Coretta Scott King Honor Winner. It’s the story of twin basketball prodigies- Josh and Jordan Bell. Written in verse, this novel chronicles the boys through the tough waters of growing up, growing apart and experiencing the triumphs and tragedies of life. It is an amazing read for everyone. Reluctant readers will be hooked by the slam style of the narrative- it’s in your face, fast and fresh and doesn’t stop until you’re soaring with the story right up until the end. I had goosebumps.
Winter by Marissa Meyer – (ages 12-18) OK, OK – It TECHNICALLY isn’t out yet, as I write this. But this book, last of the Lunar Chronicles, is very highly anticipated. Haven’t read them? Well, they make great gifts, and look awesome lined up on a shelf! The quick and dirty: It’s a cyborg Cinderella, with pinches of neo-fairytale characters thrown into an interstellar action adventure that will leave you wanting more. Oh, yes, and there IS a wicked queen. And she is WORTH IT. If your teen hasn’t read the series, start with Cinder. If YOU haven’t – I can tell you that they are a great read!
The Heir by Keira Cass – (Gr 9+) I admit it. I judged these, and the amazing Chemical Garden trilogy by Lauren DeStefano- by their covers. Girls posing in pretty dresses, looking away to something poignant in the distance- it’s SO not my thing. But this series had me hooked. The overwhelmingly enthusiastic recommendations by multiple co-workers pushed me into peer-pressure reading, and I found myself placing holds on the entire series at the library. Without giving anything away- imagine that America as we know it is gone –replaced by a totally different world. In its place is a caste society ruled by a monarchy. However, the Selection exists to choose the next Queen. What is the Selection? A National lottery, where eligible girls are thrown into televised dating competition to win the prince. Oh, and there are rebels, family secrets, dress ripping and etiquette lessons. Just read it. You won’t be disappointed. Start with The Selection, though.
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki – (Gr 9+) This is definitely one for the older teens – it’s rife with angst, unrequited love and a smidge of mischief. (Note: teen drinking). However, Tamaki is best known for co-creating the award-winning young adult graphic novels Skim and This One Summer―moody and atmospheric bestsellers. They were bestseller and award-winning for a reason – THEY ARE GREAT. Supermutant isn’t exactly new; it’s been a webcomic for a few years now. If you remember the crushing insecurity you felt as a teen- the awkward relationships between friends and first loves. The casual cruelty that can exist, even among magical teens frames this offbeat story of the perils and trials of coming-of-age. It’s not all dark and gloom- slapstick humor pervades the pages, and wacky adventures abound (they are often HILARIOUS). It’s worth a try. SuperMutant Magic Academy has won two Ignatz Awards.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School by Jeff Kinney – (Gr 3-7) This is kind of a hybrid- not entirely graphic, but heavy on the illustrations. Watching my co-workers make moldy cheese in anticipation for the release party for this with a kind of reverence made me mention this – it has a cult following. This tenth volume asks an age-old question- was it really better back in the day? Greg Heffley brings readers along on another hilarious adventure as his whole town decides to “unplug” and Greg must deal with the consequences. Is he cut out for this life? Can the adults REALLY follow-through? Read and find out!
Star Wars Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown – (Gr 3-8) With all the excitement about Star Wars: The Force Awakens coming this December, this series is a must-read for all fans. It follows Roan, a middle school-aged Padawan as he navigates Jedi Academy. It’s really fun and a great entry into the Star Wars universe for kids. Adults will also enjoy these. Just sayin’.
My Little Pony by Katie Cook/Andy Price/others – Pony fans of all ages and genders will adore this ongoing series that ties into the animated series. The humor is a great blend of what kids and adults both can enjoy, and the storylines are a mix of lighthearted fun and captivating adventure. The messages that are conveyed are also really great: everyone has something that makes them important and special- no matter one’s size, ability, age, gender or background. It’s really empowering and wholesome, and the fan base is dedicated and far-reaching. Is it any wonder?
*Note: grade level suggestions taken from School Library Journal or publisher suggestions when possible.
Mandy Pinyan has been a passionate book lover from an early age, where being busted for bringing Stephen King to school (a book, not the guy) led to much reading by flashlight. She turned out okay. She is the Youth Services Coordinator and Manager of Outreach Services at the Huntsville Madison County Public Library Extension and Outreach Department, where she can be seen driving a Rainbow Van or a Bookmobile in between gigs. Mom to a tween, Adelyn and wife to a ruggedly handsome outdoorsman with an obsession with planting bamboo, Mandy finds enjoyment in painting, gardening and geeking out over various pop culture. A small menagerie of pets - dachshunds Matt Damon and Angel, kitty BB and Boston-Chihuahua-chupacabra mix Bailey just make the chaos complete.
Thanks Mandy. This looks like a terrific list. I will definitely try these with the Middle Schoolers that I mentor. I read to the group to settle them down before we go to work. I have been using picture books all fall but I really like some of the chapter books you reviewed.
Thanks, Sally! I find it hard to choose just a few- there are a LOT of great books out there. Luckily, the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library Branches have Super Librarians (we even have capes!) to help you select the perfect books! It’s one of my favorite things to do. 🙂
What a great list! Thank you so much for this. We LOVE books, but there are SO MANY toddler books & many aren’t any good, so I tend to stick to the same 3 or 4 classic authors rather than try anything new. This will help me branch out!
I KNOW! When Adelyn was a toddler, I brought home a lot from the library, and there are some real duds out there. She liked the ones we could sing together or clap out. Babies tend to gravitate towards high contrast books- think black and white illustrations, or pictures of people’s faces. Just have fun with books, and your children will, too.
We always liked “Goodnight Gorilla” as a classic. There’s nothing wrong with them- that’s why they’re classics! However, I’ll admit to ordering some of those BabyLit Primers at my old branch-because I am a sucker for that stuff, and they are cute. The Cozy Classics edition of Moby Dick cracks me up- who can’t love a tiny angry felted Ahab? (https://tinyurl.com/pgwc3v2) I couldn’t resist.