Gift Books for Kids

Nov 25, 2009

I just came across a book that has become The One I Give to New Parents So They Do Not Lose Their Minds Reading the Same Thing Over and Over. For years I gave new parents/children the charming and quirky George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends by James Marshall. I am convinced that this series of stories about love and friendship, read aloud ad infinitum in my sons’ impressionable years, has kept them amicable toward one another — and even toward their parents.

All-the-worldBut now G & M has been supplanted by All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and Pasadena-based illustrator extraordinaire (and Caldecott Honor Medalist) Marla Frazee. This charming picture book (named a New York Times Best Illustrated — you don’t have to take my word for it!) perfectly expresses the interconnectedness of the whole wide world, and what better message to send little kids and their parents this holiday season?

Since our own Marla hit this home run, I asked her a few questions — specifically, what makes a great kids’ picture book?

“To me, a picture book is a pretty perfect way for children (and grownups) to take in a story. The words say one thing, the pictures say another, and together the words and pictures combine to be more together than they could ever be apart. The page turns contribute to the narrative, too, which is an awesome thing, totally unique to the picture book. When the spare, rhythmic words of a great picture book are read aloud to children, and they are able to listen and also absorb what’s in the illustrations, the combination of sensory experience creates an emotional spell that resonates over repeated readings and for many, many years. Maybe even throughout a lifetime.

That’s a tall order, but great picture books do that.”

And what are Marla’s family’s all-time favorites?  She has three sons: one a sophomore in high school, one in college and one a graduate. Here are their most beloved:

stray-dog-coverBesides the classics like Where the Wild Things Are, The Carrot Seed, The Little House, etc. here are some more relatively recent books that we’ve loved.

For the youngest children:
Peek-a-Boo by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Finn Throws a Fit by David Elliott and Timothy Basil Ering
The Stray Dog by Marc Simont — to me, THE MOST BRILLIANT picture book

For all ages:
Roxaboxen by Alice Mclerran and Barbara Cooney

For older kids and grown-ups about the immigrant experience and about opening your mind:
The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Marla inspired us, but we wanted more ideas for holiday giving, getting or checking out. So we went to Dornel Cerro, mother of two and head librarian at Sequoyah School, whose well-stocked, well-loved library, housed in a former chapel in the heart of the campus, speaks volumes about the centrality of literature in children’ lives.

For younger independent readers:

A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
In which we revisit that crotchety old grandmother in the author’s award-winning novel, A Long Way from Chicago. Nice holiday read.

Extra Credit by Andrew Clements
Social and religious mores get tangled up in a pen-pal relationship between an Afghani boy and an American girl.

The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
A magician’s trick goes awry. A story of healing and redemption.

marcelointherealworld-coverFor junior highers and above:

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
Marcelo hears music that no one else can hear, part of an autistic-like condition. His father doesn’t believe him and challenges Marcelo to “work in the real world” … his law firm’s mailroom. There Marcelo discovers something that connects him to the real world ‘s injustices and learns what he can do to fight back. Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.

Next, I went for advice to Tera Forrest, who wins Best Name Ever Award, Elvin Category. She is the youth services librarian at the beautiful Crowell Library in San Marino. She recommends:

For early readers:

The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems (newest title is Pigs Make Me Sneeze!)
Beginning readers and their caregivers will get a kick out this whole series. Children will fall for the simple silliness and adults will love the clever humor.

For middle readers:

The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
Any kid will think you are cool for getting a title from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Both boys and girls love the humor and cartoon illustrations of the life of Greg Heffley.

hunger-games-coverFor teens:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Twilight is too easy for teens. Try this and its sequel, Catching Fire. These two fly off the shelf!

For everybody:

White Noise: A Pop-up Book for Children of All Ages by David Carter
Everyone loves pop-up books! White Noise is the fifth installment in Carter’s color series, and it’s a fun book for everyone.

Finally, my own children would surely disown me if I did not mention their hands-down holiday favorite, the rollicking Rover Saves Christmas by the inimitable Roddy Doyle. Note that it must be heard aloud in a broad Irish brogue to truly savor the slightly scatological but still somehow deeply spiritual (okay, superficially spiritual, but incredibly funny) story of an intrepid dog, two eejit boys and Santa.



Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

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