The Best Books for Children? These 9 Hidden Gems Make Great Gifts.

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This is one dad’s opinion as to the best books for children.  They make great gifts for the kids in your life.

As a dad, I’ve had occasion to read a lot of kids books. Board books, slim paperbacks, long hardcovers, collections of stories — you name it. (I read grown-up books too: See this list of essential books on men’s style and fashion.)

While I love the very popular classics like Goodnight Moon, Guess How Much I Love You, and Sandra Boynton’s universe of hippos (especially when they go berserk), in my opinion, the best books for children are less well known.

For me, the best kids books are the ones that a friend told me about, or that a family member gifted, or that my girls, my wife or I discovered randomly at the library.

I’m constantly on the lookout for these kinds of under-the-radar gems because they make great gifts.  If you’re going to meet your friends with a newborn baby, a thoughtfully-chosen book makes a great gift, and chances are they already have Goodnight Moon.

Admittedly, this is a bit of a detour from from the primary purpose of this website, which is to get to know the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age.  But I have enjoyed writing this post, capturing what I consider to be the best books for kids that I have had the pleasure to read to my own girls as they have grown over the past 7 years.

Photo credit: Featured photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash.

The Best Books for Children. (They Make Great Gifts.)

I have slugged through a lot of middling books and a couple of really terrible stories. (I would rather sit my kids in front of the TV than read them another mind-numbing Pinkalicious book.)

These, though, are my favorites. They’re what I consider to be the best books for children from newborns up through about 3rd grade (depending on the book).

One note for anyone who doesn’t have kids and is perplexed by the wide variety of formats: Many of the selections below are available in board book, softcover, hardcover and likely electronic versions (e.g. Kindle).  Board books tend to be best for newborns through 3 years old. Babies love the feel of the books, which can stand up to much more abuse than a flimsy paperback. Hardcovers tend to last longer and don’t have the stigma of a “baby” board book when the kids get a little older.  Softcover books tend to be the cheapest, but they don’t stand up to wear.  If you’re choosing between editions, I would almost always recommend a hardcover version. (I’ve never even contemplated gifting a Kindle version of a book.)

I Know a Rhino and Sometimes I Like to Curl Up in a Ball by Charles Fuge

British author and illustrator Charles Fuge drafts beautiful illustrations that capture childhood in action using both human and animal characters.  I Know A Rhino is a cute book about a little girl’s pretend play. Sometimes I like to Curl Up in a Ball captures a universal desire to be safe and loved (feelings that don’t go away as you grow older. Sometimes I’d like to curl up in a ball too.) I’ve given both of these books as gifts for newborn babies multiple times.

My Monster Mama Loves Me So by Laura Leuck

I never, ever get tired of this book. Mark Buehner’s illustrations depict monsters as curious, sweet and scared of humans and provide a wonderful complement to Laura Leuck’s tender story about a mom and her young monster.  The book provides lots of opportunities to interact with your little one as you follow along ticking their pointy toes and laughing to the idea of drinking lizard juice with ice. I’m sure we received this book for Halloween, but I adore reading it all year long.

There’s a Giraffe in My Soup by Ross Burach

A mix-up with the zoo leads to hilarious results for one young boy and a hapless waiter.  We regularly read the snooty waiter’s dialogue in an over-the-top faux-French accent.  It’s silly and not exactly deep, but the illustrations and opportunity to act out an expressive dialogue make it a favorite at our house.

The Incredible Book-Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers

Jeffers may be best known for the Day the Crayons Quit and the sweet Lost and Found, but my favorite, The Incredible Book Eating Boy, tends to fly under the radar.  Readers meet Henry, who loves books, but who ingests them — literally. It is an unusual way to highlight the joys of reading, but it works and wears well.  This is one of my favorite books to read aloud. It’s also one of my favorite books to give as a gift, and works as well for a newborn as it does for a 7 year old.

The Detective Dog

Author Julia Donaldson is plenty popular, particularly in her native United Kingdom.  In the United States, she may be best known for the Gruffalo, as well as seasonally for the new Halloween classic Room on the Broom.  She has written a trove of other books though, and it’s worth diving into her collection.  My favorite deep cut is the Detective Dog, a rhyming story that follows Detective Dog Nell as she helps solve a mystery of books that disappeared from her child’s school.

Are You Sure Mother Bear? by Amy Hest

This is one of my all-time favorite bedtime stories to read to my girls. Little Miss won’t go to sleep. Are You Sure Mother Bear? takes readers through the many things that a young cub will miss when she’s asleep, and her mother’s calming reassurances that all of those wonderful things and people will be right there waiting when she wakes up. We borrowed it from the library so many times that I finally bought it.

Yertle the Turtle by Dr. Seuss

It’s hard to argue that anything by Dr. Seuss is hidden from view, but I would submit that Yertle the Turtle is not among the author’s most famous works.  I never read Yertle the Turtle growing up. The only point of reference I ever had was Lisa Simpson’s endorsement as “possibly the best book ever written on the subject of turtle-stacking.” It turns out the book, which is a compilation of three short stories, contains three terrific tales that I have read to my kids repeatedly from birth. In fact, in our house, Yertle the Turtle has been eclipsed in popularity by the second and third stories in the collection: Gertrude McFuzz and the Big Brag are a blast to read and contain great messages about the perils of greed and boastfulness.

Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet

Balloons over Broadway is a terrific nonfiction book that tells the story of Tony Sarg, who invented the balloons and floats behind Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  I keep this book in our stash of seasonal fall books and break it out every November.

Which books are missing from this list?

Take a look at the list below and let me know if you agree. What’s missing from the list?

About Jake

Jake is an expert on men’s style and fashion based in Washington, DC. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs and innovative clothing and lifestyle brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. He has published hundreds of articles on style and apparel, and regularly interviews small business CEOs and startup founders about industry trends. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine.

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