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Best Children's Books to Give as Gifts to Toddlers and Their Parents

Updated on February 11, 2015
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Choosing a Gift for Both Child and Parent

Let's be honest, when you're buying a book for a child who doesn't yet read on his or her own, you're also buying that book for the parent(s). If you are good friends with the parent(s), it's a great opportunity to give your friends something that they will enjoy reading as much as their child does. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards books that were really meaningful to me as a child, but I have also come across some more recent books that are really fun to read for both parent and child, and make great gifts. Keeping that in mind, I've listed books in three different categories, according to what your friends' interests are.

For Social Activist Parents

  • Mrs. Rumphis by Barbara Cooney is one of my favorite books from my childhood. The general theme, that you must do something to make the world more beautiful, is moving and inspiring. The pictures are also very beautiful, and include lots of familiar objects that young children will enjoy pointing out.
  • The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is also a classic. It's pretty wordy, so if you're reading it with a toddler, you probably will want to summarize, but it's also nice to have something to read to yourself while your toddler is enjoying the colorful pictures. The theme of environmental activism might be more appreciated by your friend at this point than their child, but they also may enjoy this way to share their values at such an early age ("unless someone like you... cares a whole awful lot...nothing is going to get better... it's not").

For Travel and Food Lovers

Many of us probably have friends who traveled the world and ate at all the finest restaurants before they had a child. Now that your friends are probably spending more time traveling the children's section at Target and dining on the finest mac and cheese, these books can help them remember their earlier days, and relive those experiences with their child.

  • The Good Night Our World series. With 33 different options, from Good Night Arizona, to Good Night Martha's Vineyard (why not dream big!), to Good Night Zoo, you can honor places your friends have lived or visited in the past, or hope to visit with their child in the future. These are also board books which are nice for small hands.
  • Foodie Babies Wear Bibs and Jet Set Babies Wear Wings are both from the same series of 8 Urban Babies Wear Black books - perfect for your friends who don't intend to give up their previous lifestyle and are bringing their toddlers along for the ride! These are also board books which are nice for small hands.

For Goof Balls

I probably fall most easily into this category myself, and I just love reading children's books that are really imaginative, fun, and silly.

  • In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak - Where the Wild Things Are is certainly Sendak's most famous book, but I actually find In the Night Kitchen to be even more fun - and here's a link to the Wikipedia page which also describes some of the controversy around this book. On its face, it's a bizarre story of a little boy falling out of his bed (and - heads up - out of his clothes) and into the 'night kitchen' where bakers try to bake him in a cake, but he gets out, makes a plane out of bread dough, and gets milk to pour in the cake instead, and ends up cake free and dried in his bed. Have I lost you yet? But honestly, the pictures are so much fun, and your toddler will be able to pick out lots of familiar objects like trains and planes, and the rhythmic quality of the book is very fun. My son already loves saying "Make it, Bake it!". And the look on the little boy's face in the book is seriously enough to put you in a good mood all day. Have I revealed this is my favorite children's book?
  • Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing is also just a ton of fun. The pictures are so well done and hilarious. I'm honestly not sure at what age children will begin finding it funny to see animals in clothes, but it will be hilarious to his/her parents at any age.

Clearly, no parent can be defined in one category, and there are countless other categories I could have come up with, but I thought this would provide a nice start for thinking about books to buy for your friends who have young children or toddlers. This way you can buy a thoughtful gift for both parent and child, and hopefully this will become one of the books that they buy for their friends' kids when they grow up!

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