On Monday, I shared a little about my own philosophy on reading to/with my kids, and I talked a lot about how much we love books in our home and the importance of having a home “library” of quality children’s literature. (Thank you for your supportive comments, emails, etc. in response to that post!) Since then, our country has elected a new president and, I, along with many other Americans, am more committed than ever to raising my children to be kind, compassionate, loving, strong, smart, and respectful. One of the best ways (although certainly not the only way) I know to do that – especially when they are very young – is through literature.
Yesterday, I fell down the rabbit hole (and it is a deep one) of searching the internet for some “best of” lists and looking for books to get my kids for Christmas this year that would help nurture and grow those qualities in them. My list grew quickly (I had to cut it off at 21), and there is no way I can buy every single title on it; but, I enjoyed learning about some of the great books out there for little people this season. I’ve asked Jeff to humor me with a night at Barnes & Noble sans kids to read through some of these and decide on our favorites (we’ll probably get three or four per kid and that will be the main/only gift from us) to purchase. But, in the meantime, I figured I’d at least make some of my time worthwhile by sharing my list with you + a couple we already have and love that you may not be familiar with…. (FYI: This post isn’t sponsored in any way… Just my own Amazon Wish List, shared.)
To be fair, I haven’t read all (or even most) of these books. But, based on the reviews and summaries I read, I feel like I’ve put together a pretty good list as a starting place. There are SO many books out there and – though I’m perfectly fine with the silly/non-sensical stuff too – books aren’t cheap, so I’m pretty picky about the ones I’m actually going to buy and plan to keep in our home forever/ one day pass down to my grandkids.
Here’s what I looked for in the books I included —
- Develops character (kindness, love, compassion, respect)
- Empowers / encourages self-confidence
- Features strong girls
- Introduces diverse cultures, races, lifestyles, etc.
- Educates about some historical, scientific, or cultural concept
And here’s the list I’ve settled on (for now) in no particular order —
There are actually three very-inexpensive board books in this little series – the one above about gratitude plus one about sharing and one about worry, all very important topics (that can sometimes be intimidating) to talk about with little ones.
This looks like a sweet and simple story about the moon following a little girl home to the country from a playdate in the city with beautiful illustrations made from cut-paper; but my favorite part is that it shows a bi-racial friendship without making a big deal about it (it’s not even mentioned the best I can tell).
This comes from the same author and illustrator pair that did The Day the Crayons Quit (another favorite of ours). It has the same silly and fun humor, but it also hits on themes of friendship, loneliness, and growing up.
Personally, I’m not quite ready to talk to my kids (5 and not-quite 2) about issues like transgender and sexual identification (Obviously, that’s a personal decision, and there are actually some good-looking books out there for parents who do want to tackle that topic early); but, this seems like a light-hearted introduction to identity and feeling “different” without going all the way there… It has great reviews on Amazon, and – regardless – appears to present a good message for all children about figuring out an accepting who you really are.
This book was on my list last year and didn’t quite make the cut, but it’s continued to be highly praised and has won lots of awards and recognition – mostly for its illustrations I think. The premise is simple: that home looks different for many people,, but the concept is the same. I like the whimsical approach the book takes, but it makes my list because of the way it broadens children’s worldview and exposure to different cultures and norms.
6. The Journey
This is one that I’m pretty excited about. It’s brand new (September 2016) and explores the current refugee crisis through beautiful illustrations and simple language/narrative that even young kids can understand. I first heard about this on Cool Mom Picks Blog, and the writer – who reads LOTS of children’s lit – said this is “the most powerful book [she’s] read this year. Maybe of [her] entire career.” I take that recommendation pretty seriously, so this one is at the top of my list.
I’ve written many times about the other two books by this author/illustrator duo (mentioned above) – they are, truly, some of my very favorites to read aloud to my kids, and I’ve given them as gifts countless times – so, naturally, I’ve got my eye on their latest release. I’m confident that this one – which features a strong girl (who also happens to be of color) as a scientist and teaching lessons about curiosity, making mistakes, and problem-solving – will not disappoint. It’s probably the only “sure thing” on my list right now – especially since Sam’s Christmas list is shaping up to be somewhat “science themed.” (P.S. All three of these combined would make an AWESOME gift for a preschool-aged niece, nephew, or the like.)
This one – actually released in 2014 – showed up on a lot of lists I looked at and is an Amazon best seller. In the same vein as Ada Twist, it celebrates curiosity, invention, and perseverance – all skills I really want to develop in both of my kids, but especially in my girl!
One more – a lot like the other two before it – but can you ever really have too many books about strong, smart, curious, and creative girls?!?!
Another new title in 2016, this one is all about stereotypes, being different, and treating others with respect and kindness.
11. Freckleface Strawberry (5 books by Julianne Moore)
I admit, I’m a little bias over this one since Nora is probably going to be a “freckleface strawberry” one day, and I can certainly relate to a little girl wanting to get rid of her freckles… This one is actually a little older (2007), but there are several in the series – which originally is about accepting (and celebrating) what makes your own appearance different and unique – and cover a wide-range of life/relational skills. Super cute whether you have a red-head with freckles in your family or not.
Last Stop won the 2016 Newberry Honor Award AND the 2016 Caldecott Honor Award. That alone makes it an almost definite “buy” for me; but it’s also been highly praised on several blogs I follow. The story seems simple – but SO important. Here’s the summary from Amazon: Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But today, CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty—and fun—in their routine and the world around them. Good, right?
I mentioned this on Monday, and – as planned – we started it on Election Day. It’s a very high-quality book, the content is in-depth and very educational, but there are enough “fun facts” (like the types and names of former Presidents’ pets etc.) to keep a five year old interested. It reads more like a chapter book or reference book than a picture book – two or three pages at a time is about our cap – but I think it will be a really nice thing to have in our “library” and refer to long term.
14. The Most
A friend of mine from college that lives in Nashville now actually wrote and illustrated this book. The illustrations look adorable and the story is all about identifying unique characteristics, embracing differences, accepting others, and friendship.
These two books (Idea came first and Problem was released in July of this year) are also highly praised for their message about dealing with problems, thinking outside the box, and building confidence. (Side note: A lot of the books I’ve mentioned with these themes feature female protagonists and I included that as one of my “criteria” above. This book, however, has a, perhaps more-traditional, male lead. It’s worth pointing out that I, obviously, think these lessons are relevant and important for ALL children, so I like to have a good mix of boy and girl main characters to teach BOTH of my kids (not just my daughter) that gender has nothing do with skills, possibilities, or potential. #anotherpostforanothertimemaybe)
Another cute story about the power of imagination and creativity, but this one has a splash of gratitude and gratefulness in it too – always good for little kids (especially around the holidays).
Another bestseller, this one is really more geared towards younger kids and features beautiful illustrations and a list of “wishes” from parents for their children. A great keepsake book – for a baby shower or first Christmas – with a heartfelt note inside. (This reminded me a little of You Were the First – a beautiful book that’s my absolute FAVORITE to give your own first-born before welcoming a new baby or to give as a gift to a family that just announced #2.)
This isn’t as overtly “educational” as some of the others I’ve shared, but I think the story – about a little girl that helps her neighbor makes hats for everyone and decides to make one as a gift for her – seems cute. I like the spirit of generosity and kindness it promotes, and there seems to be an underlying message about overcoming frustration and learning a new skill. (If you’re a knitter, there’s also a knitting pattern included in the back. This would be a cute gift to give to an elementary-age child with a big ball of yarn and a “coupon” for time to make something together.)
This isn’t new at all (1996), but I’d never heard of it before Modern Mrs. Darcy (my favorite, you know) included it in a list of her family’s favorite picture books (linked below). It’s about an imaginative journey one child takes around the world to gather the ingredients to bake an apple pie and includes a recipe in the end. I like the emphasis on travel and sharing/collaboration and community. Wouldn’t this be so cute to give with a kid-sized apron, mixing spoon, and pie pan?!? (It’s also available in paperback for less than $5.00!)
Another MMD recommendation (also slightly older – 2011), this is a great girl-power book with an added primer on great women from history – think Julia Child, Ella Fitzgerald, and Amelia Earhart. It’s definitely educational and inspiring.
I went back and forth about including these on the list because whether or not they meet my “criteria” is debatable. They aren’t super educational (although they do cover things like opposites, counting, emotions, etc.); but I really do love them and the fact that they subtly and simply introduce kids to some “big names” in literature very early on. I have five of these for Nora, and I want every single one! I absolutely love the illustrations in them – they seriously look like something from Anthropologie – and I envision one day (maybe when she is done reading them so much) lining a whole wall in her room with them displayed on a shelf if for no other reason than to simply put the titles and (original) author’s in her back pocket for later. (I was shocked to learn that these were sold on Amazon – usually for much cheaper than anywhere else – but you can also find great deals and bundles around the holidays at BabyLit.com and on pop-up sites like Brickyard Buffalo.)
Well, there you go. That should keep you busy for a while – and help get your mind off all the things you can’t change today.
What did I miss? Any recent-ish titles you know and love that I didn’t mention? What’s on your list? Please share in the comments!
P.S. Here are some other related book lists (some of which I used to compile this one) worth checking out: