Books as Gifts

Holiday Buying Guide 2020

 

Penguins carrying gift-wrapped books for children

It’s that time of year when we think of gift-giving for the young children in our lives. Though this year’s celebrations are likely to be different, stories continue to delight and inform — and most importantly — to connect us. Celebrate this season of sharing with books and reading.

This year's list includes charming new board books for the youngest ones, stories about animals and nature, historical fiction, graphic novels, sports stories, books about heroes who have made our world a better place for all, and stories about community, family, and friendship. Happy Holidays from Reading Rockets!

For 0-3 Year Olds

ABC What Can I Be?

By: Jessie Ford
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Explore different professions and jobs from A to Z, or just look at the illustrations. Brief descriptions of each job’s primary focus accompany the colorful, accessible illustrations on sturdy pages.

Eek! A Noisy Journey from A to Z

By: Julie Paschkis
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

A mouse’s unexpected adventure begins with a sneeze (ACHOO) and buzzes on to a comfortable and quite unique place to sleep (ZZZ). This alphabetic journey is told primarily through vibrantly colored illustrations reminiscent of folk art punctuated by lively alliterative words and sounds.

Paper Peek Animals

By: Chihiro Takeuchi
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

There’s more to this book than first meets the eye. Travel the world, meet various animals, name them, and count them. Then look closely at each image to see (intricately presented) the wildlife contained in each shape.

Pat-A-Cake: First Book of Nursery Rhymes

By: Ailie Busby
Genre: Poetry
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Familiar (and a few not so familiar) traditional rhymes are presented and illustrated in a simple, child-like style.

Sleep Tight Very Hungry Caterpillar

By: Eric Carle
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Make getting ready for bed an adventure with familiar creatures as young children try to guess who (or what) they will find. With a lift of each sturdy flap, the hidden answers are found.

Sun Flower Lion

By: Kevin Henkes
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Limited colors and simple shapes encourage young readers to see a flower, a lion, and a sun. Each two-page chapter brilliantly introduces a tale that calls on imagination and encourages reader participation.

The Farm That Mac Built

By: Tammi Sauer
Illustrated by: Jackie Urbanovic
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level:

This rollicking barnyard show is filled with funny animals, a scarecrow host, and lots of lively language — just right for a joyous reading aloud. The repetition is sure to encourage participation as the silliness builds along with each rhyme.

This Is a Book of Shapes

By: Kenneth Kraegel
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Simple shapes, bright colors, and a silly story combine to present basic concepts. This board book is sure to engage young children.

This Is My Daddy

By: Mies Van Hout
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Lively and colorful illustrations show young critters on one side with four pictures of adult animals on the opposing page. Simple text asks, “Who is my daddy?” With a turn of each sturdy page, readers will find a larger picture of the youngster proudly introducing the papa.

Tummy Time Friends

By: Pat Brisson
Age Level: 0-3
Reading Level: Pre-Reader

Photographs of infants on their tummies are accompanied by a brief and reassuring, gently rhyming text. This lively board book unfolds accordion-style and can be placed upright — tummy-time babies will lift their heads to see the beautiful, diverse faces surrounding them.

For 3-6 Year Olds

Amadou’s Zoo

By: Rebecca Walsh
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Young Amadou’s enthusiasm for a class field trip to the zoo cannot be dampened by rules. Instead, his imaginative exploration adds color and joy for the teacher and children alike.

Bye, Penguin

By: Seou Lee
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Few words are needed as a small penguin is separated from his group on an ice floe but soon delights in his changing surroundings. After traveling around the globe, the penguin returns home. Expressive illustration presents changing scenery and changing emotions.

Frog and Toad Are Friends

By: Arnold Lobel
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Even though these amphibian friends turned 50 this year, they’re as fresh, fun, and satisfying as when they first appeared. In this commemorative edition, information about the Caldecott Honor book author/illustrator is included, sure to delight readers new and old.

Joy

By: Yasmeen Ismail
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A kitten’s play is temporarily halted with a bump and thump down some stairs. The comforting mother, however, makes sure all is well and soon the animated play begins again. Jaunty illustrations and alliterative language create a memorable play day.

Louis

By: Tom Lichtenheld
Illustrated by: Julie Rowan-Zoch
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Children may see themselves and how they treat a favorite toy in this book. Narrated by a slightly grumpy and overly handled teddy bear named Louis, expressive illustrations and understated humor may make children think about how they treat their toys that love them, nonetheless.

One Little Bag: An Amazing Journey

By: Henry Cole
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

No words are needed as a tree is transformed into a paper bag and begins its own journey from lunch bag to seedling carrier. Shown through illustrations that are punctuated with small splashes of color several stories are presented without words to inspire telling and sharing — and maybe a bit of environmental awareness.

Our Little Kitchen

By: Jillian Tamaki
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Energetic illustrations capture the cheerful and productive frenzy in a community kitchen as a diverse group comes together to prepare a meal. The tale is told in rhyming text which is enhanced by conversation bubbles from the team working together.

Robobaby

By: David Wiesner
Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A family of mechanical parts greets its newest member, baby Flange. Intricate illustrations and a lot of humor (especially for savvy readers) reminds us that a new child is always a happy event.

Swing

By: Michael Hall
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Several colorful letters are together on a playground. Because they are different (one is too round, another comes from the wrong side of the alphabet), they learn to come together in a very satisfying way. Bold graphic design and limited text create a memorable and easy-to-digest story of acceptance.

The All-Together Quilt

By: Lizzy Rockwell
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Inspired by the Norwalk Community Quilt Project, this fictionalized account shows how a group of young and old come together to create a quilt for the library. The author/illustrator’s signature style is effective in presenting the step by step process. A final note and photograph of Peace by Piece participants concludes this uplifting book.

The Heart of Mi Familia

By: Carrie Lara
Illustrated by: Christine Battuz
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

In the young narrator’s home, “two worlds become one.” Her family is “a mix of dos cultures…”, one Spanish speaking, the other English. Together the family joyfully prepares to celebrate a birthday. Colorful, child-like illustrations and a straightforward narration present a bicultural family.

The Suitcase

By: Chris Naylor-Ballesteros
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Three animals ask the strange creature who drags a large suitcase into their midst what it contains. As he rests, they are humbled by what they learn. This accessible story, simply illustrated, is gently told and sure to evoke a range of emotions in readers — including the importance of treating newcomers with kindness.

This Old Dog

By: Martha Brockenbrough
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A dog remembers earlier days when things were slower, before a baby arrived. But as the child grows, the dog discovers that an old dog and a toddler share a great deal in common, including rolling down a hill and playing in leaves. The warm relationship between an old canine and a young child is warmly presented in illustration and straightforward text.

Ways to Say I Love You

By: Marilyn Singer
Illustrated by: Alette Straathof
Genre: Poetry
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

All creatures whether furry, slithery, or feathered, show affection. Lush illustration and rhythmic, gently rhyming verse combine to demonstrate just how it’s done. A bit of factual information about animals is included.

When I Draw a Panda

By: Amy June Bates
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

A child celebrates her creativity and individuality as she creates a panda on a large blackboard. Soon Panda steps off the board and joins in the creation of art. Illustration incorporate the pair’s chalk drawings and combine with a conversational text for a playful look at the creative process.

You Matter

By: Christian Robinson
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 3-6
Reading Level: Beginning Reader

Detailed, almost delicate illustrations of a diverse cast of characters affirm the joy in differences, all because each and every one matters. The illustrator’s signature style is worth multiple examinations.

For 6-9 Year Olds

Becoming a Good Creature

By: Sy Montgomery
Illustrated by: Rebecca Green
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The author started learning about animals by observing her dog as a child. Her respect and affinity for animals grew as she did, turning into a career as a writer and chronicler of animals and their behavior. Gently illustrated, the author shares thoughtful tidbits which is sure to lead readers to her other books.

Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away

By: Meg Medina
Illustrated by: Sonia Sanchez
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Daniela and Evelyn are more than neighbors, they’re lifelong friends. How they cope with Evelyn moving away is touchingly presented in Daniela’s realistic but hopeful narration and fetching illustrations. (Also in Spanish, Evelyn Del Rey se muda)

I’ll Believe You When ... Unbelievable Idioms from Around the World

By: Susan Schubert
Illustrated by: Raquel Bonita
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Words that paint pictures to give one pause are called idioms. And they are used everywhere in the world! In America something unusual will happen when pigs fly but in India it happens when crows fly upside down. Stylized cartoonish illustrations complement the playful language and subtle introduction to various cultures.

Little People Big Dreams: Greta Thunberg

By: Maria Isabel Sanchez Begara
Illustrated by: Anke Weckmann
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

How a young Swedish girl’s concern for the environment became a global movement is presented here in straightforward language and illustrations that suggest Nordic art. Factual information and photographs complete this entry in the series.

Stand Up! Speak Up! A Story Inspired by the Climate Change Revolution

By: Andrew Joyner
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Staccato language is a call to action by children to do something about climate change. Black/white line illustrations are punctuated with green to provide emphasis and focus in this charming call to action. Actual young climate activists are presented at the end of the book.

Thanks to Francis Perkins: Fighter for Workers’ Rights

By: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrated by: Kristy Caldwell
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Once, there were no protections for workers who often toiled in dangerous conditions for long hours. Until Francis Perkins, that is. After she witnessed a tragedy, Perkins toiled tirelessly to help workers all over the United States. This illustrated biography of the first woman on President Roosevelt’s cabinet is compelling, highlighting the events that shaped Perkins. Additional resources are included.

The Polio Pioneer

By: Linda Elovitz Marshall
Illustrated by: Lisa Anchin
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The child of immigrants, Jonas Salk helped develop the first flu vaccine in response to the devastating 1918 flu epidemic and went on to do again with the polio vaccine. This timely look at one man’s impact provides a glimpse at his life and the science of vaccines.

The Secret Life of Trees

By: Moira Butterfield
Illustrated by: Vivian Mineker
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Oakheart the Brave, an old tree, introduces trees in fact and folklore. The anthropomorphized narrator’s text is generously illustrated for an inviting and informative look at trees.

The Sewer Rat Stink

By: Elisabetta Dami
Illustrated by: Tom Angleberger
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

What is that dreadful smell in New Mouse City? Not to worry — Geronimo Stilton is on the job! In this first graphic version featuring the rodent star of many books, cartoon illustrations and over-the-top silliness are sure to please young graphic aficionados.

This Way, Charlie

By: Caron Lewis
Illustrated by: Charles Santoso
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

All friendships have ups and downs and it is no different for Jack, a cantankerous goat, and a blind horse named Charlie. Inspired by actual animals at a sanctuary, this gorgeously illustrated tale will remind readers about the enduring power of friendship.

Welcome to Ballet School

By: Ashley Bouder
Illustrated by: Julia Bereciartu
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The author, a principal ballerina, introduces children to a ballet school. Boys and girls all begin with warmups, moving on to basic positions for both arms and legs. Readers are encouraged to try for themselves with the children depicted throughout.

Were I Not a Girl: The Inspiring and True Story of Dr. James Barry

By: Lisa Robinson
Illustrated by: Lauren Simkin Berke
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Girls weren’t allowed the freedoms known today. So how did an Irish girl named Margaret become an accomplished doctor and surgeon named James Barry in the 1800s? While her entire story isn’t clear, what is known is presented in evocative illustration and a crisp text with a factual afterword.

What Do You Do If You Work at the Zoo?

By: Steve Jenkins, Robin Page
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Have you ever wondered what a zookeeper does each day? Large, textured collages focus on animals as we learn about a zookeeper’s duties which involve everything from cuddling a joey to brushing a hippo’s feet. Factual information about zoos, the animals presented, and additional resources conclude this handsome book.

William Still and His Freedom Stories

By: Don Tate
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

William Still was the youngest child of parents who escaped slavery and went on to become the father of the Underground Railroad. His record keeping of those seeking freedom helped to reunite families separated by enslavement. Accessibly written, attractively illustrated, and well-researched, readers will discover a new and different kind of champion.

Your Place in the Universe

By: Jason Chin
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 6-9
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Starting small and familiar, children look into a telescope and the amazing comparisons begin. After glimpsing the cosmos, readers are brought back on earth with children viewing their place in the universe. Limited text and stunning illustrations progress to present enormous ideas of cosmic proportion in this memorable look at one’s place in the universe.

For 9-12 Year Olds

A Pinch of Magic

By: Michelle Harrison
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

A curse prevents the Widdershin sisters from leaving their home in a dreary town on an island called Crowstone. The curse kicks in when one sister inevitably leaves, and the girls must rely on each other — and magic — to reverse it. This is a fast-paced and fun fantasy.

A Place at the Table

By: Saadia Faruqi, Laura Shovan
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Two girls from very different backgrounds each struggle with different issues. But Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, whose mother is British and father American, come together in a cooking class. There they discover friendship and more revealed from both girls’ perspectives.

Act

By: Kayla Miller
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Olive decides to act when she disagrees with a school policy that prevents some kids from going on a field trip. Humor and activism combine for a plausible, engaging middle school tale.

Before the Ever After

By: Jacqueline Woodson
Genre: Fiction, Poetry
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

ZJ (short for Zachariah) turns to music and the support of friends and family when he begins to lose the father he knows and loves. A successful football career has resulted in his dad’s diagnosis of a chronic brain injury (CTE). Told in verse, this moving story remains realistic but hopeful.

Britannica All New Kids Encyclopedia: What We Know & What We Don’t

By: Christopher Lloyd
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Start at the beginning or jump into a topic that interests you! Whichever way you approach this handsome, fresh, and large volume, you will find fascinating information on a range of topics. As its reputation suggests, the venerable Britannica provides trustworthy information from cited authorities all in an engaging package.

Condor Comeback

By: Sy Montgomery
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Scientists are working to save the endangered California Condor. In rich narrative, the author provides information on the condor as well as the history and efforts of scientists to bring them back from the brink. Accompanying photographs add drama and personality for both feathered and human subjects.

Finish the Fight

By: Veronica Chambers
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

“It took the better part of a century to pass a law saying American women had the right to vote.” The 19th Amendment was the result of a massive effort by “tons of women beyond Susan and Elizabeth’s demographic…” Black, Native, Asian, and white women who contributed are presented here in an attractive format to broaden the understanding of women’s history.

Gridiron: Stories from 100 Years of the National Football League

By: Fred Bowen
Illustrated by: James Ransome
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Stories from the NFL’s long history intertwine with American history in this handsome and accessible examination of the sport. Captured in a conversational tone and dramatic illustrations this well-organized volume is sure to intrigue sports fans.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance

By: Donna Barbra Higuera
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Lupe is an ace baseball player who just happens to be Chinese and Mexican. She must get straight A's to meet her pro baseball player hero — and that includes physical education’s mandated square dancing. Lupe’s voice is authentic and sure to make the reader laugh out loud as she works to get rid of dancing but ultimately succumbs with the help of a bright teacher, making friends along the way.

One Time

By: Sharon Creech
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Gina Filomena’s imagination is freed when she meets her new language arts teacher and a mysterious neighbor boy name Antonio. The power of creativity, writing, and friendship are touchingly presented in this short, introspective novel by a Newbery medalist.

The Wanderer

By: Peter Van den Ende
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

A boat sets out for a sea voyage that evolves intriguingly and abstractly. Highly detailed black/white illustrations call to mind Escher’s impossible but riveting creations in this surreal adventure by a Dutch artist. Fans of Shaun Tan will appreciate this sophisticated and unique book.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963: 25th Anniversary Edition

By: Christopher Paul Curtis
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

The Watson family travels to Birmingham and gets caught up in the devastating events of 1963. For its 25th anniversary, this edition has a cover that resembles a Green Book, the guide for African Americans traveling in the South. The award-winning novel is as fresh today as when it was first published.

This Is Your Time

By: Ruby Bridges
Genre: Nonfiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

In a letter to young people, Ruby Bridges recounts her experience from 1960 when as a 6-year-old child, she integrated a grade school in New Orleans. Black and white photographs (historical and contemporary) reveal the hostility and hope that Ruby confronted then and now. This small book with an open format is sure to touch sophisticated readers.

Twins

By: Varian Johnson
Illustrated by: Shannon Wright
Genre: Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Though identical twins, Francine and Maureen Carter couldn’t be more different. And their close relationship is changing drastically as they start 6th grade. Siblings will see themselves in this realistic, engaging, and colorfully illustrated graphic novel as the twins compete for student council president.

When Stars Are Scattered

By: Victoria Jamieson
Illustrated by: Omar Mohamed
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age Level: 9-12
Reading Level: Independent Reader

Omar and his younger brother, Hassan, flee Somalia’s war to become refugees in a United Nations camp in Kenya. Based on Omar’s life, this riveting story is honestly told yet conveys a clear sense of hope. The graphic format provides an entry into the sights, sounds, and challenges of living in a sprawling camp. Back matter provides additional information and detail about Omar and his life story.

Proceeds from the sale of books purchased at Amazon.com help support the Reading Rockets project. Thank you!

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Rachael Walker
"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free." — Frederick Douglass