Gift Ideas for Young Readers of All Ages

It’s important to encourage children to read – reading fiction helps to build vocabulary and inculcate the skills that will help students understand and make the most of class readings throughout high school and college.

If you’re stumped on what to get for any children or teens on your holiday shopping list, it’s hard to go wrong with a book. For your Cyber Monday shopping convenience, we’ve compiled a list of great books to give to every K-12 age group. These carefully selected recommendations come from the lists of featured books by grade level on GreatSchools.org (grades PreK-5) and the most popular books by grade level on Goodreads (grades 6-12), as well as from my own fond memories of reading as a child.

Books for Early Childhood – Kindergarten

1. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, by Doreen Cronin. This board book recounts the story of Farmer Brown and his curiously literate cows, who cause him all manner of trouble (and noise!) when they learn to type.

2. Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney. In this board book, a little bunny and his father talk about how much they love one another. Heartwarming and sweet, it makes a perfect gift for your own little ones as well as children of close relatives.

3. You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You, by Mary Ann Hoberman. This book is designed to be read by an adult and a child, taking turns line-by-line. It features colorful illustrations, colorful text, and colorful writing – the author makes heavy use of devices like alliteration and rhyme to make the book as interesting as possible for young children. It is an ideal gift for kindergarteners.

4. Please, Baby, Please, by Spike Lee (yes, that Spike Lee). This picture book puts a smiling face on the frustrations of raising a toddler. It is meant to be read aloud to children, but it should also be popular with parents due to its content and tone.

Featured Author: Sandra Boynton. Her best-known work is probably The Going to Bed Book, one of her many board books. However, she also writes picture books suitable for kindergarteners and first graders, many of them featuring poems that are put to song on accompanying CDs. Her board books are lighthearted and fun, and her picture books can best be described as unapologetically, delightfully silly.

Books for Grades 1-3

1. Frog and Toad (series), by Arnold Lobel. These classic picture books recount the many adventures of Frog and Toad, two best friends who wear waistcoats and ride bicycles and are generally just cute.

2. Ivy and Bean (series), by Annie Barrows. These more recent books address the same friendship themes found in Frog and Toad, but the protagonists are human girls rather than male reptiles.

3. Junie B. Jones, First Grader (series), by Barbara Park. Junie B. is a sassy, opinionated, peculiar, and downright amusing child whom first graders of both genders are likely to love. (Another series chronicles Junie B.’s kindergarten years; kindergarteners who are reading chapter books are likely to enjoy these.)

4. That’s What Friends are For, by Florence Parry Heide. In this picture book, an elephant with a problem receives advice but no help from a number of friends until someone points out that friendship means actually helping out. (Also, the illustrations are lovely.) A perfect gift for kindergarteners and first graders.

Featured Author: Ursula Vernon. This author and artist, who illustrates all of her own books, is a relatively recent star in the children’s book genre. She writes primarily about small animals having grand adventures, but her true charm lies in her wit. Her writing is suffused with humor that adults can appreciate as well as children, making her books ideal for reading together. (Shoppers should note that not everything on her Amazon page is a children’s book, however, as she has also written several books and graphic novels for grown-ups.)

Books for Grades 4-6

1. Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. This book tells the story of Brian, a young man who is stranded on an island with limited supplies and a hatchet, who fights for survival using the resources he has.

2. My Side of the Mountain, by Jean Craighead George. The protagonist of this book, Sam, survives months in the wilderness on his own after willingly leaving civilization to live off the land in the Catskills. Children who have already read and enjoyed Hatchet will probably like My Side of the Mountain as well, and vice versa.

3. Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman. This work of historical fiction deals with the adventures and misadventures of 12-year-old Catherine, the daughter of a knight in 13th-century England, as she grows and matures into medieval womanhood. Cushman has written several novels in this vein, but this one was always my favorite – Catherine’s cleverness and mischief make her a delight to read about.

4. Ragweed, by Avi. In this first book of the Tales from Dimwood Forest series, the title character is a young country mouse determined to see the world. He finds his way into the city and makes many new friends while working to thwart Snowball, a white cat who terrorizes the local rodent population.

Featured Author: E.L. Konigsburg. Her best-known works are The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, featuring children who run away to live in a museum, and The View From Saturday, which tells the strangely complex story of an Academic Bowl team and how its members came to be involved in the activity. Konigsburg is a prolific author of children’s books, and because her topics are so varied, a suitable gift for almost any child in this age group can be found among her works.

Books for Grades 7-9

[Note: Several books in this category, and books for teens in general, include discussion of sexuality. We advise you to check detailed summaries for possible sensitive content and, if buying books for children who are not your own, be conscious of how the recipients’ parents may feel about such content.]

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. This book claims enduring popularity among teens because it so perfectly captures the emotional tableau of adolescence. The protagonist, Charlie, deals with many situations commonly faced by teenagers.

2. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Bod, the protagonist, has an unusual existence as the only living inhabitant of a graveyard. He has been raised by ghosts and other spooky creatures, who have taught him their ways and some of their magic, but as he grows up, he must learn to navigate the world of the living as well.

3. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. This is a book about the Holocaust, but it’s more than that, too – it’s about a girl growing up and coming to understand that there is evil in the world and that she, in her own small way, can help to fight it. Both the characters and the writing are compelling.

4. Georgia Nicholson (series), by Louise Rennison. These are girly books about a girly girl doing girly things. But unlike many books in that genre, there’s more to them than that – they’re uproariously funny and more than a little smart, which makes them (in my personal opinion) by far the best of all the YA books and series in which lipstick is a major theme.

Featured Author: Suzanne Collins. If you’re wondering why that name sounds familiar, she’s the author of The Hunger Games Trilogy, one of the most popular YA book (and movie!) franchises on the market right now. The trilogy would make an excellent gift for any kids on your list who have seen the movies but have yet to read the original source material. And though many people don’t realize it, they aren’t Collins’s only books – she is also the author of The Underland Chronicles, five novels on the seventh-grade reading level. The Underland Chronicles recount the story of Gregor the Overlander, a boy who discovers a world of giant bugs and rats – and plenty of adventure – when he goes through a grate in his family’s NYC apartment.

Books for Grades 10-12

[Note: Several books in this category, and books for teens in general, include discussion of sexuality. We advise you to check detailed summaries for possible sensitive content and, if buying books for children who are not your own, be conscious of how the recipients’ parents may feel about such content.]

1. Cinder, by Marissa Meyer. In this retelling of the Cinderella story, the protagonist is a cyborg. Really, need I say more?

2. Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. The protagonist of this book, Charlie Nancy, learns that his late father was actually the African trickster god Anansi, and his life soon gets very tricky indeed. This is one of Gaiman’s more lighthearted books, and in between the Caribbean car chases and wacky hijinks involving limes, it manages to convey important life lessons about knowing oneself and one’s value.

3. The Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy (and sequels), by Douglas Adams. Teens who enjoy sci-fi will love Adams’ classic novels about the increasingly absurd adventures of Arthur Dent and his motley crew of alien and android friends.

4. Discworld (series), by Terry Pratchett. These books are technically fantasy, but at heart, they are mostly humor and satire. Pratchett addresses current social issues through the lens of the increasingly-less-medieval Discworld, and his writing is peppered with jokes and pop culture references. The series does not have a fixed reading order, and because it has a wide variety of protagonists and themes, it should be easy to find a Discworld book matching the interests of most teens.

Featured Author: John Green. You may have heard of him due to his Internet celebrity, or perhaps you’ve heard of The Fault In Our Stars, his popular YA novel that was recently adapted into a feature film. Green has written several novels, and teens who enjoyed The Fault In Our Stars are likely to enjoy his other works as well.

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