I’ve expanded my list of books-for-giving this year.
Unlike the best-of lists popping up everywhere,
today I’ve got both new and classic titles, a number of which aren’t quite as well-known.
I hope you discover something for people you love on your gift list!
Where possible I’ve linked to my original review where you can find out more about these titles.
Hats of Faith, Medeia Cohen and Sarah Walsh, 2018, Chronicle Books
Colorful, bold portraits of nice folks wearing head coverings associated with their faith. Simply brilliant.
Jump!, Tatsuhide Matsuoka, 2019, Gecko Press
Exuberant creatures greet you and then…leap! BOING!! Splendid fun.
Peek-a-Who Too?, Elsa Mroziewicz, 2019, miniedition
Such cleverness in this beautifully-designed book. Lift the flaps to reveal who makes the sounds.
Clap Hands, Helen Oxenbury, Little Simon
One of a series of four, originally published in the 80s, still probably my favorite board books ever. Roly-poly, racially-diverse babies. Simple and warmhearted.
More, More, More, Said the Baby, Vera B. Williams, Greenwillow
Another classic and all-time favorite of mine. Join three families singing just the sort of sweet nonsense we invent for beloved babies. Crammed with love.
Farm Animals, Phoebe Dunn, Random House
A wee, chunky size perfect for pudgy hands. Another old favorite from the 80s, and surprisingly, a rare board book with friendly animal photos in natural settings.
Picture Books for ages 18 months and up
Animalphabet, Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai, 2018, Dial
Wonder-filled, gorgeous, riddlesome, inventively-designed. You’ve never seen anything quite like it.
B is for Baby, Atinuke and Angela Brooksbank, 2019, Candlewick
Vibrant, clever, charming, full of love and joy in an African setting.
Red House Tree House Little Bitty Brown Mouse, Jane Godwin and Blanca Gómez, 2019, Dial
A jaunty journey with the added fun of spotting details, counting, and discovering colors.
Out and About: A First Book of Poems, Shirley Hughes, Candlewick
Joyfully celebrating outdoor play in every kind of weather with child-friendly poems and the iconic artwork of Shirley Hughes. Perfect for a dose of beauty every day.
Mr Gumpy’s Outing, John Burningham, Square Fish
My children are astonished anyone can grow up without knowing Mr. Gumpy. Venture out with one nice old fellow and his raucous bunch of passengers. Brilliance from the late John Burningham.
One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller, Kate Read, 2019, Peachtree
Bold, spirited, funny. Start with one famished fox, introduce some hens, and count your way though to a surprise ending!
Picture Books for ages 4 and up, up, up
A Chair for My Mother, Vera B. Williams, Greenwillow
About 40 years old and still one of the best picture books of all time. A story of family, resilience, community, and love.
Chirri & Chirra Underground, Kaya Doi and David Boyd, 2019, Enchanted Lion
These two intrepid girls have quickly become some of my fave new characters. Join them on fantastical journeys on their bicycles, this one into dreamy underground realms!
D’Aulaire’s Book of Trolls, Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, New York Review Children’s Collection
Weave the enticing weirdness of Norse troll mythology with the masterful illustration work of the D’Aulaires and you get this enchanting classic to read aloud with a wide age-range.
What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street, Felicita Sala, 2019, Prestel
Sala’s ravishing artwork, a houseful of multicultural neighbors cooking up a welcoming feast, and delicious recipes for every dish. A stunner.
The Skies Above My Eyes, Charlotte Guillain and Yuval Zommer, 2018, words&pictures
The sequel to The Street Beneath My Feet, this book accordions out to major lengths, taking us into outer space and back. Extraordinarily exciting design, packed with cool info.
River, Elisha Cooper, 2019, Orchard Books
Immensely handsome. This account of a tenacious solo-canoe journey down the Hudson River will appeal to young and old.
Chapter Books for Sturdy New Readers
Anne’s Kindred Spirits, Kallie George and Abigail Halpin, 2019, Tundra
This is the second book in the charming Anne of Green Gables series that’s being re-crafted for young readers. Lovely through and through.
Dory Fantasmagory: Tiny Tough, Abby Hanlon, 2019, Dial Books
The fifth in this fizzing series about one small gal with the most active imagination there ever was. I have loved every one of these funny books! If you don’t know Dory, be sure to start with the first in the series.
Mr Penguin and the Fortress of Secrets, Alex T. Smith, 2018, Hodder Children’s Books
The second in a zesty adventure series starring an Indiana Jones-esque penguin and his trusty sidekick, Colin, a spider. Brilliant, jauntily-illustrated, and humorous.
Peter & Ernesto: The Lost Sloths, Graham Annable, 2019, First Second
The two lovable sloths who won my heart in their first adventure return here to yet more trouble when a hurricane downs their tree and they must venture into the jungle to find a new home. A graphic novel series you’ll love as much as your kids.
Detective Gordon: The First Case, Ulf Nilsson and Gitte Spee, 2015, Gecko Press
This is the first book in a swell series coming to us from Sweden. It’s a delightful little mystery starring a portly toad detective and his nimble assistant, charmingly illustrated.
The Stories Julian Tells, Ann Cameron and Ann Strugnell, 1989, Random House
A classic read that all my kids loved. Meet Julian and his little brother Huey in these warmhearted, funny stories. I think the new covers are awful (I’ve posted the lovely older one), but the stories and interior artwork are the same as ever.
Great Fiction and Non-Fiction Reads
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Ian Fleming and John Burningham, 1964, Candlewick
If you think you know this story written by James-Bond-author Ian Fleming, but have only seen the Disney movie — think again! It was one of my kids’ favorite read-alouds. I prefer the Burningham illustrations though other editions may be easier to get. Ages 6 and up.
Heartwood Hotel: A True Home, Kallie George and Stephanie Graegin, 2017, Disney-Hyperion
This is the first in a sweet series starring a mouse named Mona and the new family she finds in a charming woodland hotel. It’s a great choice for kids looking for something on the gentler side. Ages 7 and up.
Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome, David Godine
I’m always promoting this long series of classic British outdoor adventure stories. They comprise some of our family’s best read-aloud memories. Get sailing with this first book! Ages 7 and up.
The Undefeated, Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson, 2019, Versify
A powerful poem, a proud narrative of Black History in America, and Kadir Nelson’s stunning paintings. This is such an astounding piece of art, I wasn’t sure what category to put it in. Consider it for readers ages 8 to 100.
Gregor the Overlander, Suzanne Collins, 2003, Scholastic
Suzanne Collins, who rocketed to fame with her Hunger Games series, wrote this fantasy series first and it’s fabulous! Less intense than Hunger Games, yet with a marvelous array of unforgettable characters, unique setting, and breathless plot. Ages 9 and up.
Harry Potter — Illustrated Editions, J.K. Rowling, Jim Kay, Arthur A. Levine
These glorious, full-color, profusely-illustrated editions are an enormous treat. The fourth book was released this year. Whether you’ve got a die-hard Potterhead on your gift list, or someone you’re just introducing to the series, this is a gobsmacking way to go! Ages 9 and up.
Earth Heroes: Twenty Inspiring Stories of People Saving Our World, Lily Dyu, 2019, Nosy Crow
I picked this up when I was in Ireland this fall. I love these heroes and the international scope of this collection. Facing the facts about our climate emergency and the environmental restoration needed today is critical. Inspire your kids with these 20 mini-bios. Ages 10 and up.
The World’s Greatest Detective, Caroline Carlson, 2019, Harper Collins
Witty, clever, adventurous — this detective story is one of those books that’s just a blast to read. Immensely entertaining for a wide age range. I thoroughly enjoyed it! Ages 10 and up.
Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, Tania del Rio and Will Staehle, 2015, Quirk Books
I loved this madcap, Edward Gory-esque adventure with its extremely cool art and design. Take a decrepit mansion, stir in weird guests and a hidden treasure… makes one walloping story that’s sure to please. 10 and up
Hoot, Carl Hiaasen, 2005, Yearling
Hiaasen has written a number of these eco-adventure stories, spilling over with action and humor. This is the first one, and a great place to start. Pancakes, alligators, and owls, oh my! 10 and up
Queen of the Sea, Dylan Meconis, 2019, Walker Books
One of the most captivating books I read this year is this graphic novel inspired by the life of Elizabeth I, set on a remote island that serves as a convent. Intrigue and historical detail combine for a highly original story. Ages 11 and up.
Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie, 1990, Penguin Books
If you’ve got kids who love fantasy, here’s a gem they may not have met yet. Sparkling writing from a master storyteller featuring a 12-year-old boy on an epic quest. Ages 11 and up
Ideas for grown-ups from my 2019 reading year
I don’t usually recommend books for adults in particular, although every children’s book I list on my blog is certainly fair game for adults. This year, I thought I’d mention a few titles that I especially enjoyed in 2019.
The Harry Potter series — I decided to re-read some books this year. In the past, I’ve discovered that re-reading a title even three or four times brings astonishing revelations, yet it’s a practice easily foregone in the ravenous desire to read all the tantalizing new titles. Reading all seven of the Harry Potter books for the second time through in 2019 made me love these stories ever so much more as I was able to better absorb their rich human insights.
Gilead; Home; Lila; by Marilynne Robinson; published in 2004, 2008, 2014 by Picador
I also re-read these three novels which are certainly among my favorite books of all time. Again, this second time through was a far richer experience for me. Robinson probes the intricacies of our human condition, the beauty and pain, lostness and longing, grief and comfort, with stunning perceptiveness.
Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home, Nora Krug, 2018, Scribner
Because my daughter lived in Germany for three years, I became more aware of this culture and the blighted narrative of Germany that remains in our children’s literature. By this I mean that it is immensely difficult to find any children’s book set in Germany that is not about WWII, as though that is the entire identity of Germany. Krug’s graphic novel is a phenomenal wrestling with and exploration of what it means to be German today. I was riveted.
My First Summer in the Sierra, John Muir, originally published in 1911; this edition Gibbs Smith
Muir’s chronicle of his summer working as a shepherd in the Yosemite Valley contains passage after passage soaring with appreciation of the details of nature he encounters. His love for the natural world, his ability to notice and wonder, touched me deeply. We would all be happier if we had this sort of relationship with nature.
A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick, 2018, Enchanted Lion
A gorgeous, hefty volume in which dozens of “culture-makers” write briefly about the joys of reading, accompanied by stunning art by top-notch children’s illustrators. For those of us who live and breathe literature, and children’s lit in particular, this is a delicious tome.
Born to Fly: The First Women’s Air Race Across America, Steve Sheinkin and Bijou Karman, 2019, Roaring Brook Press
Middle grade non-fiction is an untapped resource for lots of adult readers. When I see Steve Sheinkin’s name on a book, I know it’ll be a fascinating read. His incredible account of a coterie of the first women pilots in America and their formidable air race across the country in 1929 is a spellbinder. Ages 12 through adult.
I’ll be back next week with a blizzard of wintery titles!
Please note that this year I’ve chosen not to add Amazon links to my gift lists. I encourage you to shop for books at local, independent booksellers, or use Indiebound to order on-line. Some day soon I’ll write a post explaining why this is such a better option.