Posted by: angiefm | January 4, 2009

The Gift of Books

If you have been to our home, or talked to us, or seen our children in action (or more accurately inaction), you will come to one inevitable conclusion. We love books. No, let me say that again. We LOVE books.

Because of this, we receive lots of books as gifts and books are on the top of our list of gifts to give. We figure we’re getting pretty good at this now, so if you’re looking for some guidance about how to select books for children which are really worth giving, receiving and reading, read on!

Do’s and Don’ts

Do take time to think about your recipients: How old are they? What do they like or dislike? Can they read? Do they like to? If you want to give a thoughtful gift, you will need to really think about the children you are buying for.

Do think about their parents: If the parent of the child you are buying for will probably balk at the thought of having to read the book to their pestering child, look out for books which come with audio CD recordings so the child can listen and read on their own. For older children or reluctant readers whose parents do not have the time or inclination to read to them, try looking for good recordings of unabridged works on CD.

Do buy meaningful books that will last: Buy classic books, and by that I don’t mean everyone on your list should get a copy of Pride and Prejudice! What you should aim for when you select a book is for it to become part of the person’s prized collection. If you cannot find something that the child will enjoy today, don’t settle for second best. Buy something that he/she can grow to like. The second part of this article gives some suggested titles for you to look into.

Do not re-gift a book: Resist the temptation of recycling gifts which you do not like. If I do not like a gift, why would I want to give it to anyone else? So if we receive something we do not want to keep, we give it away immediately to a charity or to a domestic helper who can send it home. In the same way that I would like to receive thoughtful gifts, I want every gift we give to be a thoughtful one.

Do not be taken in by packaging: I have learnt that just because a book is big and heavy and has a hardcover and an illustrated jacket and colourful pictures inside, does not make it a good book. And no, you don’t have to buy the version of a book which comes packaged with a toy. The book is the one that will last. The toy will soon be forgotten.

Do not fall for current trends and faddish titles: The shelf life of these books is very short. If it is a movie tie-in, once the hype is over and the movie has ended, the book will lose its charm. Yes, I know that kids just love reading what’s “in”. And it is difficult for us to remember that it is not just whether they read that matters. It’s what they read.

Some Suggestions

If you’re now thinking that this is a tall order and sounds like it will burn a huge hole in your pocket, let me assure you. Good books aren’t necessarily expensive. To get you excited about the hunt, here are some titles for you to look up when you’re out browsing. With Christmas coming up, I have listed some season-appropriate titles to look into as well.

In addition, if you know that a child has a particular interest, a quick visit to http://www.amazon.com and a clever word search will turn up a good number of titles for you to look into.

From birth to 3 years – look for good board book titles like Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field, Eloise Wilkin’s Poems to Read to the Very Young, Orange Bear Apple Pear by Emily Gravett, and books by Jan Brett and Sandra Boynton, two of our favourite authors, both of whom have Christmas collections

Ages 3 to 6 years – My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, The Jolly Christmas Postman by Allan and Janet Ahlberg, The Llama Who Had No Pajama by Mary Ann Hoberman, The Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Ages 6 to 9 years – The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski (find the one with the Grammy-nominated recording by James Earl Jones), The Princess and the Kiss or The Squire and the Scroll by Jennie Bishop (both Christian books about purity), books by Bill Peet

Ages 9 to 12 years – award-winning chapter books like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O’Brien, The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, books by Marguerite Henry (she has won a number of Newberry Awards for her stories about horses)

For families with multiple children – Check out Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, You’re All My Favourites by Sam McBratney, Koala Lou by Mem Fox (this is a lovely book for a first born), Annie Rose is my Little Sister by Shirley Hughes (for an older brother and a younger sister), Big Sister and Little Sister by Charlotte Zolotow

Audio Books – I’m a Manatee book with CD by John Lithgow, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom book with CD by Bill Martin Jr., unabridged recordings of classics like Paddington Bear, Winnie-the-Pooh, I Love You This Much by Lynn Hodges, and all of Sandra Boynton’s hysterical book and CD collections (the best way to introduce children to the different music genres with child-safe lyrics!)

For all ages, including adults! – The Gift of the Magi the classic O’Henry tale (the one we have is beautifully illustrated), The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, one of the Christmas pop-up books by master paper engineer Robert Sabuda, Christmas Carols for a Kid’s Heart by Joni Eareckson Tada (this one comes with a fabulous audio CD recording), The Trellis and the Seed by Jan Karon, A Family of Poems compiled by Caroline Kennedy

Other gifts – The Klutz brand has an amazing range of art, craft and toy kits for all ages. We have worked through a few in our family and are always amazed by their attention to detail and their materials (all you need comes with the book!). Check them out at www.klutz.com

It is my hope that gift-giving will become for you the meaningful and thoughtful process it was meant to be. Happy giving!

Angie Maniam owns The Home Library, a book consultancy service for families with children. She can be contacted through her website, www.thehomelibraryonline.com

This article first appeared in Family Tone, an eNewsletter of the Family Enrichment Society. Check them out at http://www.familyes.org.sg/

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