November 21, 2016

Gift books for kids, 2016 edition

Each December, the staff who work with children's books here at NoveList try to choose just one book that they believe would be a perfect present. Here are our picks out of the ones we read (or rediscovered) this year. They range from books for toddlers to teens and appeal to all kinds of readers. Your child's new favorite may be on this list. It's our gift to you.

For can't-sit-still kids:

We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, ages 3-6, contributed by Renee Young
The charming, cumulative tale shows a young family setting off on a walk, with the clearly-stated intention of finding a bear. Along the way, they traverse a meadow, a river, a mud bog, a forest, and a blizzard -- each stop accompanied by an onomatopoeic refrain, irresistible to little ones -- before finally reaching a dark cave and the long-awaited bear. Despite its age, which only serves to underscore its status as a children's classic, this is a timeless visual adventure that can be enjoyed across many generations. 

For crafty kids:

Extra Yaarn by Mac Barnett, ages 4-8, contributed by Suzanne Temple

Annabelle finds a box filled with yarn. She makes herself a sweater but has yarn left. As she tries to use up the yarn, she generously makes sweaters and hats for friends, family, animals, and even inanimate objects in an attempt to use all of the yarn; however, the yarn appears to be endless.

The story is very light and warm, infused with the classic, subtle Barnett humor. Rendered mostly in black-and-white ink, each of the uncomplicated illustrations is full of texture. This would make a great bedtime story or quiet read-aloud and an even better gift for the knitter in your life, no matter what age!

For kids who like flawed, mischievous characters:

The Enormous Crocodile by Roald Dahl, ages 6-10, contributed by Lindsey Dunn
The Enormous Crocodile has "secret plans and clever tricks" to help him enjoy a tender, juicy child for lunch. Readers will delight at the lengths to which the crocodile will go in this picture book for older readers. The crocodile is at the same time funny, wicked, and sympathetic on his quest. He is foiled at every step by each of the animals to whom he brags, who seem determined to keep him from eating any of the little dears. My favorite part is the horrific, memorable, and slightly gruesome ending. 

 For kids who keep it real:

Ghost by Jason Reynolds, ages 10-14, contributed by Rebecca Honeycutt
From the outside, the story of Castle "Ghost" Cranshaw -- a troubled kid whose dad tried to shoot him and his mom -- might sound awfully heavy. But that brief background doesn't do justice to the distinctive, rough-around-the-edges character of Ghost. He feels like a real kid: he loves world records and sunflower seeds, his temper is as quick as his feet, and his sense of belonging when he joins a track team is matched by his fear that he'll mess it all up. Ghost's voice is so authentic and memorable that it will lodge itself in readers' hearts and minds after only 192 pages, making it the perfect pick for kids who want a short read that won't leave them feeling short-changed.

For outside-the-box kids: 

Quackers by Liz Wong, ages 3-7, contributed by Jennie Minor
Quackers is an adorable orange cat who lives at a duck pond and believes that he is a duck … that is, until he meets another cat named Mittens. After meeting other kittens, Quackers feels at home, though he begins to miss his duck friends. Ultimately, Quackers realizes that maintaining his identity as both a cat and a duck makes him the happiest. Anyone looking for a delightful children's book celebrating individuality and friendship need look no further than Liz Wong's, Quackers

For puzzle-solving kids:

In Plain Sight: A Game by Richard Jackson, ages 4-7, contributed by Autumn Winters
Award-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney joins forces with children's book editor Richard Jackson for this warm, intimate look at the relationship between a grandfather and a granddaughter who share a home. Each day, while Sophie is at school, Grandpa hides an ordinary household object "in plain sight" for her to find when she returns. Readers can play along with Sophie, poring over Pinkney's lush watercolors to spot the object in question, wittily hidden. In Plain Sight is a great model of finding the extraordinary in the everyday that may inspire gift givers to start a similar tradition with the kids they love. 

For teens who like humor and a "happily ever after:"

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, ages 13-17, contributed by Amy Morgan
This alternate history is told from the perspectives of Edward, Jane, and Gifford Dudley in an England that is not divided by Catholics and Protestants, but rather by E∂ians (shapeshifters) and Verities (non-shapeshifters). Readers follow these characters as try to outmaneuver Mary and help Edward regain his rightful place on the throne. The book is packed with romance, adventure, courtly intrigue, and much banter. There are also many pop culture references from Game of Thrones to Monty Python that add to the fun. Give this fantasy to teens who want a light read and like history reimagined with humor and a happy ending.

For tender-hearted kids:

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, ages 4-8, contributed by Lisa Chandek-Stark
Living by the ocean and gathering any "glint" of glass, the Uncorker faithfully fulfills his duty of delivering ocean bottle messages, all the while wishing that a message would come addressed to him.  One day, he finds a party invitation with no name attached. He cannot figure out the intended recipient and heads to the party to apologize to the sender.  It is true that I tend to cry during greeting card commercials; I was not surprised, then, to find The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles brought me all the way to tears. From the start, this book speaks to all readers who long to feel connected to someone.   

For word-loving kids:

Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet, ages 7-12, contributed by Kathy Stewart
Some Writer pairs Melissa Sweet's fabulous art with riveting information about author E.B. White, including tidbits that I didn't know. (White won his first literary prize for a poem at age 9!) There is enough visual pop to interest youngsters and enough substantive material in the form of inspiring quotes and back matter to enable older readers to learn more about this author and his works. Sharing Some Writer (and maybe a copy of Charlotte’s Web, too!) would be a gift that keeps on giving, to inspire young word-lovers as they discover their own worlds.

Lindsey Dunn is an Editor/Bibliographer at NoveList. She's a kidlit expert and creates resources for all the librarians out there grappling with keeping up with what books kids are reading. Want to hear more from her? Sign up for Lindsey's Book Squad email updates. 

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