Best Kids' Books to Give as Holiday Gifts (in our humble opinion)


I could go on and on about how much I love books — reading them, shelving them, smelling them, quoting them, remembering them, sharing them. I could wax nostalgic — who? me? — about the abandoned little board books at the bottom of our bookshelf, that have been taken over by Harry and Hermione and Tumtum and Nutmeg. I could do all that, but really, wouldn’t you rather hear about the loads of wonderful children’s books from 2011 that make perfect gifts? Those special tomes that send young minds off to another world of water horses, New Orleans Jazz and magical tollbooths? Indeed. Let’s do that.

This list owes much to the goodness that is New Jersey’s independent bookstores, with their impeccable taste and steadfast devotion.


Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

A grandfather tells the story of his many adventures through the topiaries and landscape of his lush garden. The illustrations are very charming, and this is a no-brainer for reading with Grandpa.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

An absurd story of all the stuff that gets stuck in the tree when Floyd tries to get his kit unstuck. A funny one!

I Want My Hat Back by John Klassen

This irreverent tale of a bear looking for his hat is told completely in dialogue, and will have parents wondering if they get the joke before or after their kids.

Every Day Dress Up by Selina Aiko

We all know that many little girls love to pile on the tutus and clackety shoes, but this book’s heroine decides to be real women like Julia Child and Sonia Sotomayor. An inspiring tale about real possibilities.

The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man By Michael Chabon, Jake Parker

Perfect for the member of your household that loves superheroes. Awesome Man can shoot positronic rays out of his eyeballs, amongst other talents, but he’s also hiding something… Dig in to find out the big secret.

Blackout by John Rocco

Remember the Blackout and all the media coverage about how ahhhhhhmazing it was that we didn’t kill one another? Well, here’s a happy tale about a similar event; the burdens that one family lets go of when the lights give out, and their discovery of board games and a thriving community.

I Had a Favorite Dress by Boni Ashburn, Julia Denos

This is a story about a red dress and all it’s transformations, with lessons for little ones about managing disappointments, and when to hold on, when to let go and being grateful for the memory. (I think I need this one for me.)

The Meadowlands by Tom Yezerski

This lovely book is a paean to the tireless souls that are revitalizing the wetlands and eco-system that was once the Meadowlands, and a look at 400-years of the area’s history. Margot Sage-EL from Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, says, “We can’t overlook this beautiful picture book. It’s chock full of information [with] incredible illustrations.”

The Scrawny Little Tree by Ed Mehler, Susie Pollard

If you happen to have any children who can’t think of anything to put on their Christmas list, because they have everything (ahem), than this charming re-issue may be just the ticket. A destitute little boy saves his pennies to buy his first Christmas tree. It’s scrawny, but they grow together and learn what happens when you truly love something well.

You Will Be My Friend by Peter Brown

This is a story about finding the right friend for you, quirks and all. Children's book expert, Susan Kusel, from Words bookstore in Maplewood, says, ‘exuberant illustrations and text make this book a delight to read aloud.’


Saint Louis Armstrong Beach by Brenda Woods

A little boy, along with his clarinet and his dog Shadow, survives Hurricane Katrina with heroism and a deeper feeling for the music he plays.

Darth Paper Strikes Back: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger

Kusel, from Words, says “Join Dwight and his green paper friend in this hysterical sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda.”

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

This story is a wacky take on a boy’s adventures writing obituaries in his strange town. Set in the early 60s, thoughtful and funny.

The Phantom Tollbooth, 50th Anniversary Edition

by Jules Feiffer, Norton Juster

A special edition of this famously pun-y story, beautifully re-packaged, with ‘celebrations’ from Michael Chabon and Mo Willems, among others, including the 35th anniversary essay by Maurice Sendak. This beloved book is also lovely as just the simple paperback.

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick

Wonderstruck was on everyone’s list. From Kusel at Words, ‘Two compelling intersecting stories of children fifty years apart as they both struggle to find their identity. The book is filled with hundreds of breathtaking illustrations that make turning each page a joy.’ Also, one of the stories takes place in Hoboken. Here’s to NJ and my adopted hometown!


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

A book about peculiar people, so, clearly perfect for any family. This story about a boy trying to connect with his grandfather uses old photographs to illustrate the various peculiars.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

This is a moving piece of historical fiction about a Lithuanian girl taken with her family to a concentration camp. Young Adult expert Kelsey Albertson from Words, says, ‘An amazing, fact based read, full of hope and determination.’

Jane by April Lindner

Not ready for Bronte? This modern retelling of Jane Eyre will do the trick in the meanwhile.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy and Ian Schoenherr

Both historical fiction and fantasy, this tale of McCarthyism, and elixirs that set you flying, could satisfy any number of genre geeks you might be living with. Illustrated.

Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book I by Colin Meloy, Carson Ellis

Colin Meloy is the lead singer and exuberant wordsmith for The Decemberists. This is his first novel, and its adventure takes place in his beloved Portland, in a dense and foreboding forest called the Impassable Wilderness. Illustrated.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Stiefvater, famous for her Shiver series about werewolves, this time takes on bloodthirsty water horses and the struggles of love and life, set against a moody Irish backdrop.

Legend by Marie Lu

It’s the future, there’s war, districts, misunderstandings and other exciting sci-fi action and suspense. Sage-EL recommends this for “the Hunger Games crowd.’

The Future of Us by Jay Asher, Carolyn Mackler

I bought this for my niece, so she would understand that there was once a time before everyone was on the Internet. Shocking. This twisty sci-fi/teen-angst novel has two kids discovering Facebook ten years before there was such a thing, and changing their choices based on who their profile says they are in the future. Its not quite going back in time to save Lincoln, but a ‘choices have consequences’ message is always a good idea.




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