Spring is in full swing and often it brings baby showers and first birthdays, as well as other random celebrations for little ones. If you know me well, then you know my philosophy is that books are the best gifts. A book is a way to give again and again; something that develops the child; plants memories; and introduces joy, silliness, beauty and so much more. To quote a favorite movie, “When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”
It is a big responsibility to choose a book for a child; one that too many people take lightly. If you know the family well, you can choose books that you think will fit their personality. But often, you just need some quality books to choose from. Being the kind person I am, I’m letting you in on my secret list – well, at least sixteen from it. There are lots of books that people consider a must for a baby library, many I like and some I really don’t. I have not included the most familiar ones as I find that the parents probably already have those, someone else will gift them, or I just want to give an even more unique one. Here is my top sixteen list of children’s picture books that are excellent baby shower gifts, first birthday gifts, or just because you are cute gifts.
1. Counting Kisses by Karen Katz, 2001
It is very hard to go wrong with a Karen Katz book. This one was a quick favorite in our house as no baby can resist the big faces on the cover. Available in board book or regular, this is a reverse counting book, going from 10 to 1, and using each number for the amount of kisses on that part of baby: “nine laughing kisses on busy, wriggly feet.” The pictures are captivating with bold colors and lots of illustrated people; and the concept is strong in teaching numbers (albeit backwards), body parts, and even adjectives and adverbs. Extra bonus if the reader gives those kisses with each page too!
2. Belly Button Book! by Sandra Boynton, 2005
It is even more difficult to go wrong with a Sandra Boynton book. We have many favorites, Hippos Go Berserk! being also at the top of the list, but this belly button one seems to be on continual rotation. Boynton books always rhyme, have awesome cartoon characters, and are easy to read again and again. With a die cut “button” on the cover, this board book has helpful hippos who describe their love of their belly b’s.
3. My Friends by Taro Gomi, 2005
Taro Gomi images are so lovely. This particular book is about a little girl sharing what she has learned from each of her friends. She has learned to run from her friend the horse, explore the earth from her friend the ant, and kick from her friend the gorilla. Not a typical subject for babies, it is quite genius in its introduction to the different animals. There is a subtle lesson about being observant and teachable, all wrapped up in stunningly vibrant images in Gomi’s painterly style.
4. Jamberry by Bruce Degen, 1983
Easily a favorite book from my own childhood, I can still quote this one from cover to cover. Rhyming, occasionally nonsensical text gives a very lyrical background for fantastic images of a boy and a bear celebrating every berry you can possibly find. “Mountains and fountains rain down on me. Buried in berries, what a jam jamboree!” This should be a classic and in every child’s library!
5. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle, illustrated by Jill McElmurry, 2008
If you haven’t discovered this fact yet, most great baby books rhyme. But not just any old rhymes, clever ones with action, intriguing words and depth of story. Little Blue Truck is just that. Available in board book or regular, Blue, the little truck, is the star of this book. A friendly guy who honks at everyone and gets a response from all. The animals love Blue and when he overextends himself helping a not-so-friendly dump-truck; Blue’s friendliness pays off and there is much celebrating in the form of “Beep,” “Oink,” “Cluck,” and “Maaa.” This is on a fast track to becoming a classic, in my opinion at least.
6. I Am a Bunny by Ole Risom, illustrated by Richard Scarry, 1963
This is probably my fastest go-to gift, but it is just that good. A tall golden book with stunning illustrations by the ever-fabulous Richard Scarry, this story is about little bunny Nicholas as he discovers the seasons through the things he likes to do. Chasing and being chased by butterflies, staying dry under a toadstool, watching leaves – there is no end to the beauty of nature experienced with this little bunny as your guide.
7. Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden, 2000
The simplest book of the bunch, this is a book you’ll be reading again and again, and thankfully won’t quickly tire of it. A smart die-cut exists on every other page allowing baby to glimpse the coming image, and it ends of course, with “Peek-a-you!” and a charming little mirror that can reflect baby’s face or even the reader’s. This is a fun, fresh take on the beloved “Peek-a-boo” game.
8. Baby Giggles by Rachael Hale, 2009
Every baby loves other babies. Rachael Hale has honed in on this concept and created a sweet book full of baby photographs, each showing a different expression and a matching (rhyming) phrase. Appropriately named, this book definitely brings smiles on the page and the onlookers.
9. Animal Sounds by Aurelius Battaglia, 1981
Books describing the sounds of animals are a must in any baby’s library. Battaglia adds his signature illustrations to this old book full of a veritable barnyard. The only problem you might introduce is conflicting opinions on what sounds certain animals make!
10. Toes, Ears, & Nose! by Karen Katz, 2003
This might technically be cheating to list two Katz books, but what can I say? They are great! This particular one is a “lift-the-flap” book. We love it, but as with all flap books, adult supervision is always recommended. That is, unless you want the flaps to permanently disappear! Lots of faces accompany this one as well as you lift a scarf, or boots to reveal noses, teeth, toes and more. The ending is always the favorite, while also the most precarious of flaps.
Eventually, I probably need to do a post just on books for bedtime; but in the meantime, this book heavily belongs on every bedtime rotation. Mem Fox is a brilliant poet and with her soothing phrases and light repetition, this is a lovely book to send your little one off to sleep. “It’s time for bed, little sheep, little sheep, The whole wide world is going to sleep.”
12. The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by Julie Morstad, 2012
If you get tired of seeing this beauty on my blog, I’m sorry. I can’t help but be enamored with this great book. Using Stevenson’s lovely poem about the epitome of childhood play, Morstad has painted a sweet world of boys and girls swinging, “up in the air and down!
13. One Red Sun by Ezra Jack Keats, 1968
Another brilliant counting book, this is one that is easily enjoyed by baby all alone. Each page contains only the number in numerical form and word. These are accompanied by objects of that number in bold, fun, and not-stereotypical choices. Ezra Jack Keats of The Snowy Day fame has many books of note, and this is one for the baby.
14. All of Baby, Nose To Toes by Victoria Adler, pictures by Hiroe Nakata, 2009
There are no words to fully describe how much love this book receives at my house. A whim of a purchase at a bargain store once, I will never regret the discovery. Parts of that cute cover baby are highlighted with fun descriptions and end with “Who loves baby’s fill-in-the-blank?” This is followed by a full spread of baby and a family member and the words, “Me, I do!” Memorizable, lovable, and so fun to read – I sincerely recommend this book.
15. Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss, 1970
While I definitely feel Dr. Seuss books are great gifts, I’m always hesitant to buy them as they are always a quick go-to for people, especially those who don’t know books. If I do grab one, it is good old Mr. Brown’s tantalizing compilation of sounds that he shamelessly boasts and encourages participation. Always a fun read and easily referenced in daily occurrences.
16. A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na, 2007
If you are still with me, I give you the reward of this gorgeous book by Il Sung Na. It is a book about sleep, as the title gives away, but it is told from the perspective of the watchful owl who is the last to go to sleep. If you know anything about owls, then you now know the book does not end in nighttime. The watchful owl checks on each animal and is continually surprised by the various ways that different animals sleep. Some standing, some in peace and quiet, and some with eyes open! I’m a huge proponent of not just buying the books your kid gravitates towards; but taking your job seriously of expanding their palette and helping them learn discerning taste in beauty. Il Sung Na’s books, available in board book or regular, are works of art. The colors are deep and moody. These pages are all frame-worthy and full of pattern, texture and details to be discovered with every read.
Well, there you have it, a handy list of some lovely children’s books to give as baby shower gifts, first birthdays (or second, sixth, ninth!), or any other occasion that warrants a great children’s book. My list is ever-evolving so I would love to hear your favorites, even if you think they fall into the old classics. I’m always game to relive the love of The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Good Night, Gorilla!