(Our guest post this week is from Minh Le, who in addition to writing for Book Riot and the Huffington Post is also a children’s book author, as well as an all-around awesome guy. You know how much fun it is to give books as gifts—almost as much fun as getting them! Minh shares some great NEW “first book” ideas for all the new parents, new babies, and pretty much every book-lover in your life. —Jenni)
It took a while, but the long winter of our discontent is now safely in the rearview mirror and we can start looking forward to sunnier days. Birds are singing, flowers are blooming, the pollen count is rising, and of course… the babies are on their way. With calendars quickly filling up with birth announcements and baby showers, it’s helpful to remember that—in addition to bringing hope and joy to the world—new babies also represent something else very important: an excuse to buy books.
Chances are (as someone who is currently visiting the Reading Rainbow blog), you agree with me that picture books make the best presents. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with giving a time-honored classic as a gift (no one’s ever going to stop me from giving out copies of Harold and the Purple Crayon), you probably want to avoid being the fifth person to give a copy of Goodnight Moon at a baby shower.
So, for those of you looking for a good first picture book gift, here are 15 newer titles to consider. Some are modern classics, while others are lesser-known gems… but all would make great gifts for a family that’s welcoming a special little someone into their lives.
- The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Dan Santat): This story of an imaginary being in search of a friend is an easy one to fall in love with. When you read about how Santat was inspired in part by meeting his first son, you’ll see why it’s a perfect gift for anyone looking forward to a new addition to the family.
- Alphablock (Christopher Franceschelli with Peskimo): Fair warning, this is not just an alphabet book, it is an object of graphic design beauty. And while some alphabet books try to get too clever with their word choice, Alphablock keeps it simple, letting the illustrations and playful design work their magic.
- Black and White (Tana Hoban): This is our go-to book for little ones. Its basic but brilliant concept makes it an ideal first book. It folds out accordion-style so it can be laid out in front of your little stationary bundle of joy… and from a developmental perspective, the simple black and white silhouettes are appropriate for what a newborn’s eyes can process.
- Breathe (Scott Magoon): Every parent, no matter how composed they are, can use the occasional reminder to stop and just breathe. This refreshing book does just that and as an added bonus, it will come in handy later on down the road. I’ve personally seen it diffuse a full-on toddler meltdown. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
- Dream Boats (Dan Bar-El, illustrated by Kirsti Anne Wakelin): A gorgeous if unconventional book, Dream Boats is not so much a story as it is a loose tapestry of mythologies woven together with stunning illustrations. It’s the kind of book that you could immerse yourself in for days.
- First the Egg (Laura Vaccaro Seeger): One of my personal favorites, Seeger uses the age-old question “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” as the jumping off point for a light-hearted look at how everything has to start somewhere.
- Goodnight Songs (Margaret Wise Brown): There’s a reason everyone gives Goodnight Moon as a gift and it’s because Margaret Wise Brown is awesome. So if you really want to give something from the master, you’ll excited to know about this never-before-seen collection of poems/songs brought to life by some of today’s best illustrators. (As a bonus, it comes with a charming CD of acoustic guitar-based music).
- If You Want to See a Whale (Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead): A modern classic about the value of sitting still and paying attention, I pull this one out whenever I catch myself sinking into the distracting depths of my iPhone.
- I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean! (Kevin Sherry): Starring an exuberantly confident Giant Squid, this book (in addition to being a really fun read-aloud), has something valuable to teach us: Sometimes you just have to make the best of a difficult situation, and just because you’ve been swallowed whole by a whale doesn’t mean you should get down on yourself. There’s a useful metaphor for parenting to be found in that, but I’ll let you read book for yourself before going into it further.
- Life Doesn’t Frighten Me (Maya Angelou, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat): This is a bit of a darker choice, but it’s not often you get to gift a powerhouse pairing like Angelou and Basquiat. Angelou says she wrote this “for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they’re frightened out of their wits”. Indeed, Basquiat’s artwork sometimes has a frightening edge to it, but it’s always beautiful.
- Max and the Tag-along Moon (Floyd Cooper): A book about the enduring love of a grandfather, the gentle rolling narrative of Cooper’s book is a warm embrace that’s also a great bedtime read.
- Once Upon a Memory (Nina Laden, illustrated by Renata Liwska): Imagining your little baby all grown up is both joyous and bittersweet. This book conveys that particular blend of heartwarming melancholy in a way that is so sweet, forget new parents, it could squeeze a tear out of a stone.
- Rock-a-bye Room (Susan Meyers, illustrated by Amy Bates): Another great bedtime read that (like Goodnight Moon) takes you around the house saying goodnight to everyday objects. Bates’ loving illustrations include visual cues about the mother’s musical background, hinting at that sometimes elusive world that existed before baby.
- Star Child (Claire A. Nivola): Imagine The Little Prince as illustrated by Henri Matisse and you’ll start to get a sense of the charms of Star Child. Inspired by the birth of her own child and the passing of her father, Nivola’s book dips a toe into the strange mystery that is life.
- Wait! Wait! (Hatsue Nakawai, illustrated by Komako Sakai): One of the great things about parenting is being able to see the world through the eyes of your child. Suddenly everything is exciting and worthy of your curiosity. Wait! Wait!‘s simple text and lively illustrations effectively capture one of the fine balances of new parenthood: knowing when to give your child space to explore… and when to swoop in and join the discovery of this new world.
Choosing just the right book to give can be tricky, but very rewarding. Personally, even though our house is already an avalanche of books, we (me, my wife, and our two year old son) still love getting picture books as gifts. From the ones we read first thing in the morning (usually bleary-eyed and still half asleep) to our nightly bedtime ritual/marathon, each book we read brings us that much closer together. I’m already bracing for the day when my son won’t want to sit in our laps and snuggle in for a story, but until that day comes, I’m going to enjoy every last page.
Which is just to say that picture books make great gifts because if you choose the right one, you’re not just adding another book to someone’s library, you’re giving a precious heirloom filled with treasured moments that can become part of a family’s own story.
No pressure or anything.
Minh Le is the author of Let Me Finish! a debut picture book (illustrated by Isabel Roxas) that will be published by Disney-Hyperion in 2016. In addition to his own blog (Bottom Shelf Books), he also writes about children’s literature at Book Riot and for the Huffington Post. Outside of spending time with his beautiful wife and son, his favorite place to be is in the middle of a good book.