I’m sure no one will be surprised to know my favorite gift to give is books. I love thinking about which book will be just the right fit for each of my friends and family members. I take some time and think about them, their personalities and their interests, then try to find a book that will be just right for each one. For children, I sometimes go about this process backward. When I find a book I love, I think: Who would this be perfect for? Which child likes funny things? Which child likes interesting facts? Which child loves to talk about imaginary worlds? The books below are on my list for gift-giving, as soon as I find the perfect child for each one.
Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson and Sharon King-Chai
This may be my favorite book for young children published this year. It combines three things that preschoolers love - ABCs, animals, and lift-the-flap - with exceptional creativity in all three of those areas. The text draws children in by asking a question on each page. On the “A” page with an ant, the reader is asked, “Who is fancier than an ant?” The answer starts with a “B” and is on the next page. The animals used for each letter are familiar but not always the usual animals you see in this type of book: iguana for “I,” jellyfish for “J,” ladybug for “L.” The lift-the-flap interactions in the book go beyond simply unveiling the animal for each letter. Each reveal is accomplished in a different way, with a different style of flap. Some unfold the whole page; some unfold in layers. Some have cut-outs that reveal part of the animal. Some flaps are in the shape of animals or plants. Accentuating all of these delightful elements are the illustrations, which are gorgeous - beautifully imaginative, using combinations of bold and soft colors to create brilliant and arresting visuals. This is my go-to gift for preschoolers this year.
The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco
This guide to our weird and curious world is perfect for young adventurers who are interested in unique places and natural wonders. Each two-page spread focuses on either a country in the world or a state in the U.S.A. with a few quick tidbits of information, and then two areas of interest are featured for each country or state. These are not the usual highlights covered in books of this type but are obscure and fascinating. For example, in Scotland’s entry, we learn about the dinosaurs who once lived there and the celebration of the Burning of the Clavie, an ancient festival. China’s entry features the Hanging Temple of Hengshan and the underground cities built under the rule of Mao Tse-tung. Perfect for children in elementary school who are fascinated by the wonders of the world.
Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin
This book was recommended to me several times this year before I actually picked it up, and then I was sorry I had waited so long to read this funny book. At first glance, this looks like a chapter book meant for older kids. It is a chapter book, but written especially for beginning readers. Though it is almost 200 pages, there are only a few words per page, and the font size is huge, allowing newly independent readers to quickly move from page to page and experience an enormous sense of accomplishment at reading such a big book. The plot of the book is straightforward but funny: Baby Monkey is a baby; he’s a monkey; he’s a private investigator who solves a mystery in each chapter. Baby Monkey’s way of solving the crimes follows a pattern: look for clues, take notes, eat a snack, put on his pants (this takes much longer than you’d think), solve the case (the clue is usually right outside his office door). The repetition is perfect for children beginning to read, and award-winning artist Brian Selznick’s detailed illustrations add depth to the stories by showing us the character’s personalities and emotions, thus alleviating the loss of interest that could come with so much repetition. Perfect for children in preschool and kindergarten who are learning to read or will be soon.
Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan
As Finn remembers his beloved grandfather, he dreams of sailing his self-made boat to a place his grandfather described, where the ocean meets the sky. To get there, he goes through magical places: an island made of books, another made of giant shells, and a sea of dancing jellyfish. When he reaches a place where it feels like his boat is leaving the water, he knows he is in the place his grandfather spoke of and is amazed by what he finds there. Though Finn is on a type of adventure, this is really a story of imagination, and the fanciful quality of the Fans’ illustrations easily transports the reader into Finn’s dreamworld. Perfect for young children with big imaginations who love thinking about fairytale worlds.
Darcie Caswell is Youth Services Coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library.
This column was first published in The Free Lance-Star newspaper and is reprinted here with their permission.