Monday, December 3, 2007

How to buy a book for a baby

What do you get for the baby who has everything?
A book.

I think books make the perfect present for any occasion... but I love finding just the right book for a new baby. And I have a perfect track record. Not one baby has ever complained.

How do I choose a book for a baby who I haven't even met yet? I have a number of methods. Here are some things I think about:

Is this a first baby? A twin? The third in a family?
This is a very important consideration. For a first baby, I make the assumption that the family probably doesn't already have a lot of children's books and I'm helping them to build their library. I'm more likely to get classic books in this situation. For a second or third baby, I tend to get newer books that have been published since the first or second baby was born. For twins, I would get two different books, because they are two different babies.

What books do I love?
I think about books I loved when I was growing up. Not all of them are still in print, but those that are make wonderful gifts. Those books mean so much to me and when I give one of them as a gift, I feel like I'm giving something magical to a new baby.

I think about the books that my son loves. The ones he's asked to read over and over and over. The ones that work every time. I give those books because I know they work and I want to share that special secret with another parent.

What books are other people likely to give as gifts?
It's usually a pretty good idea to stay away from Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, Pat the Bunny and Where the Wild Things Are. These books are almost always given at baby showers. The exception to this is if the baby has already been born, and you know for a fact that no one else has given these books.

Is the family likely to own classic children's books?
If the family doesn't have an existing library of children's books, then I'll get books such as Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel or Harry the Dirty Dog. These are classics, but are less likely to be given by other people than Goodnight Moon. If you have friends who are extremely prolific readers and whose houses are filled with books, I'd recommend giving them recently published books that they are less likely to already own.

Is there a profession or location that is special to the family?
If one of the parents is an architect, then Andrea Beaty's Iggy Peck, Architect would make a perfect gift. Know someone from Brooklyn, New York? Give them Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny which is full of wonderful pictures of Brooklyn. But don't go overboard with this. It's better to get a good book for a child than to hunt for a mediocre one that fits their exact situation. A child who has a dog will still enjoy Kitten's First Full Moon.

If the baby has already been born, is there a book that features their name?
I've met children named Eloise, Olivia, Angelina and Max. Clearly there are obvious book choices for those kids (although I'd ask the parents if they have the book or the series already- someone else may have had the same idea.) But lots of other great book feature children's names, such as Doctor Ted, A Bad Case of the Stripes (Camilla), or Matthew A.B.C.

What age is the book appropriate for?
If the intention is to get a book for the baby, then I'll go with a board book. It's durable and can withstand a baby's tough love. Touch and feel books are also a great idea. On the other hand, if I want to help develop their library, there's nothing wrong with getting a hardcover book they won't be ready for until they're older. I can never decide and I think there's value to both kinds of books. I'll frequently give a mixture of board books, longer picture books and chapter books.

What's your price range?
Hardcover picture books are typically about $17. Board books are typically about $7. Paperbacks are typically about $6. (These prices vary from book to book... I'm just trying to give you a general idea).

$15: Get one paperback and one board book... or get one hardcover book that you absolutely love (and go over your limit a little).

$20: Get a combination of paperbacks and board books. That way you can give three books for the same amount you'd spend on one hardcover picture book.

$35: Get one hardcover book (because they do last longer and some fantastic books aren't available in paperback), a paperback and a board book.

$50: Get a hardcover gift book such as a beautifully illustrated Mother Goose collection, Winnie the Pooh, or Charlotte's Web. Those are in the $22 range (depending on the version, of course). Then I'd get a classic paperback novel such as Mr. Popper's Penguins or The Phantom Tollbooth, a paperback picture book and a board book.

Obviously, you can mix these combinations up. My main goal is to get as many wonderful books as possible for the amount of money I'm planning on spending. I also like to give a range and variety of books, so I think it's nice to have both board books and and early chapter books.

Keep a record of the books you give.
You don't have to keep a record of every book you've ever given. But if you're giving books to a child that you'll probably be giving lots of gifts to, it's a good idea to keep track so that you don't give them the same books you gave last year. For example, I have an Excel spreadsheet with a list of all the books I've ever given to my niece. It only takes a minute, and that way I'm not giving her Goodnight, Gorilla every year. As she gets older and her library gets bigger, the spreadsheet becomes more useful.

Do you have any recommendations for specific books?
Such a tough question! For me, so much is dependent on the considerations I mentioned above. Every baby gift I give is completely different. But that being said, here's a list of ten books that I love to give to new babies. All the books listed below could be given to either a boy or a girl.

My favorite books to give as gifts:
  • Animal Crackers: A Delectable Collection of Pictures, Poems and Lullabies for the Very Young by Jane Dyer. A superb collection of poems and nursery rhymes. The pictures are beautiful and the rhymes are short enough to keep children interested.
  • Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry. A classic transportation book featuring every conceivable type of vehicle and the never ending search for Goldbug. This book can be used at every age.
  • Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy by Sandra Boynton. A perfect book for babies. It's a touch and feel board book with irresistible pictures. See my review here.
  • Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes. A new picture book that already feels like a classic.
  • Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems. A funny and fantastic read aloud. See my review here.
  • The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein. My favorite picture book and a wonderful book for children to grow into. See my review here.
  • The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin. Hysterical and memorable and one of the best read aloud books I know.
  • Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater. A classic early chapter book. This book was read to my mom when she was in first grade and I remember when she read it to me. It's a wonderful and timeless story about a man with a troupe of performing penguins.
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann. Just what a picture book should be. A wonderful story with terrific pictures and characters.
  • Shhhhh! Everybody's Sleeping by Julie Markes, illustrated by David Parkins. The perfect last story before bed, with lush and punny illustrations. See my review here.
Need more book recommendations? See these posts about great books to re-read, my favorite picture books when I was a kid, and 100 books your child should listen to before starting school. I also have more of my favorite books listed on the sidebar of this blog.

And, be sure to check out Becky's wonderful and informative post at Young Readers about how to give the gift of books.

Above all, pick books you love. It doesn't matter whether you've loved them for a long time, or if you just fell in love with them in the bookstore. The child you give them to will love them for years to come.


  1. Wow, great guide, and quite timely (don't we all know those babies :) ). I agree that you can't go wrong with The Phantom Tollbooth or Mr. Popper's Penguins, and I enjoyed reading the rest of your suggestions too, particularly your "My favorite books to give as gifts" (it made me want to go right out and get Fuzzy, Fuzzy, Fuzzy)!

  2. Laura- Thanks so much for the compliments! Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Phantom Tollbooth are just fabulous, aren't they? I have my friend Danielle to thank for introducing me to Fuzzy Fuzzy Fuzzy... it works with every baby I've met.

  3. I love this - my favorite baby gifts are all either hand-made (knitted sweaters or quilts) or books. I have listed some of my favorite board books on my blog too under the label baby toddler.

  4. What a great post! My cousin had a baby in August and I've been coaching my mom on what books to get... One of the books she was most excited to give was Great Books for Babies and Toddlers by Kathleen Odean. It looks like it's actually out of print, but something like that will help mom & dad pick out books to fill in the gaps between what they get from everyone else.

    Love your recommendations!

  5. Cloudscome- thanks for the great list! I'm always looking for new and interesting board books to give as gifts.

    Abby- thanks so much! I love Kathleen Odean's book- I referenced it extensively in a paper I wrote for library school about board books. Another great book for recommendations (although they're not all exclusively for babies) is 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey.

  6. Going back in time... to say thanks for this post. I'm planning to buy books for a couple friends' babies/toddlers for Christmas, and you gave me some great ideas!

  7. Great suggestions, and you're right, babies never complain.

    My favorite to give is Boyton's Snoozers, because it's a board book, but longer than most with seven stories (each on two pages), so it grows with the baby. I think that my eight year old just recently let me give it away. ;^)

  8. Lisa- Thanks so much! I'm glad this post was helpful.

    motherreader- Thank you! And I LOVE Sandra's Boynton's Snoozers. My son asks for it just about every night.

  9. This is great suggestion and i like your post.Thanks for sharing.

  10. I'm so glad you love IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT and recommend it as a gift for architects. You might be interested in know that one of Iggy's classmates will have her own adventures in ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER which will be published in Fall 2013!
    Best wishes,
    Andrea Beaty