What to Read When: A Holiday Gift Guide for Kids


With Thanksgiving less than a week away, to be followed by Black Friday—keep an eye out for our own big sale next Friday—and Cyber Monday, the weeks of shopping leading up to Christmas have begun. We’ve asked our editors to recommend the best books to gift children, from the new releases they’re reading at home with their kids to the classics they cherished throughout their own childhoods.

And, if you have young readers in your life ages 6 through 12, consider a Letters for Kids gift subscription—this special program helps us keep The Rumpus running, so your children can correspond with their favorite writers and you’ll support the website in one fell swoop. Our 6-month gift subscriptions, available only through the holidays, will be in the store beginning next Friday, but monthly and annual subscriptions are always available. Give a gift that fosters an early love of reading and writing, and keeps on giving throughout the year, then package it up with one or two of the terrific selections below!


The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (age 2 and up)
No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snow Day, which shares the adventures of a little boy in the city on a very snowy day. Universal in its appeal, the story reveals a child’s wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.


Two Homes by Claire Masurel and Kady MacDonald Denton (age 3 and up)
Whether Alex is with mommy or with daddy, one thing always stays the same—Alex is loved. The gently reassuring text focuses on what is gained rather than what is lost when parents separate, while the illustrations, depicting two unique homes in all their small details, firmly establish Alex’s place in both. Two Homes will help children—and parents—embrace even the most difficult of changes with an open and optimistic heart.


Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean (age 3 and up)
Pete the Cat goes walking down the street wearing his brand-new white shoes. Along the way, his shoes change from white to red to blue to brown to wet as he steps in piles of strawberries, blueberries, and other big messes! But no matter what color his shoes are, Pete keeps movin’ and groovin’ and singing his song… because it’s all good.


Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights by Steven Lenton (age 3 and up)
When a truly terrifying sound wakes the inhabitants of a fairytale kingdom, clever Princess Daisy soon figures out the problem—but her father the King just won’t listen. After all, what can a princess do? When the knights who come to the rescue prove to be a big bunch of nincompoop scaredy-cats, things start to look rather bad. But what’s this? Riding a cow and armed with a book rather than a sword, a fourth mystery knight dares to entree the dragon’s den. Whoever can it be? Why it’s Plucky Princess Daisy, of course!


Everywhere, Wonder by Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr (age 3 and up)
In this heartfelt picture book, readers are taken on a stunning journey into the imagination of a young boy, who explores everything from the pyramids of Egypt to a dusty footprint on the moon, and then back out again to the wonderful world right in front of him. From a lost balloon to an endless road, there are stories to discover, to dream about, and to share.


Last Stop in Market Street by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson (age 3 and up)
Every Sunday after church, CJ and his grandma ride the bus across town. But CJ wonders why they don’t own a car like his friend Colby. Why doesn’t he have an iPod like the boys on the bus? How come they always have to get off in the dirty part of town? Each question is met with an encouraging answer from grandma, who helps him see the beauty and fun in their routine and the world around them.


They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel (age 3 and up)
The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws… In this glorious celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination, Brendan Wenzel shows us the many lives of one cat, and how perspective shapes what we see. When you see a cat, what do you see?


Breathe and Be: A Book Of Mindfulness Poems by Kate Coombs and Anna Emilia Laitinen (age 4 and up)
These simple poems help children learn mindfulness as they connect to the beauty of the natural world. Mindfulness teaches us how to stay calm, soothe our emotions, and appreciate the world around us. Whether we’re watching tiny colored fish darting in the water or exploring the leaves, branches, and roots of a towering tree, the thoughtful words and the lovely art in this book remind us how much joy we can find by living with awareness and peace.


Eloise at Christmastime by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight (age 4 and up)
Deck the halls of The Plaza Hotel with tinsel and holly, singing fa la la la lolly with the very special little girl who lives there—Eloise! Fans young and old will love love love this holiday classic, featuring the beloved six-year-old Eloise celebrating the holiday at her home in The Plaza Hotel, which now comes with a CD narrated by Bernadette Peters!


Small Walt by Elizabeth Verdick and Marc Rosenthal (age 4 and up)
Small Walt and his driver, Gus, take on a blizzard! All the bigger snowplows doubt that Walt has what it takes to plow the roads in the storm, but Walt is determined to prove them wrong. This sweet picture book shows that when it comes to strength, size doesn’t matter.


A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston (age 4 and up)
A little girl sails her raft across a sea of words, arriving at the house of a small boy and calling him away on an adventure. Through forests of fairy tales and across mountains of make-believe, the two travel together on a fantastical journey that unlocks the boy’s imagination. A stunning prose poem on the rewards of reading and sharing stories—an immersive and unforgettable reading experience that readers will want to pass on to others.


Chicken in Space by Adam Lehrhaupt and Shahar Kober (age 4 and up)
How will Zoey and Sam get from the barn to the stars? Will Zoey be the first chicken in space? Will Sam get a snack? One thing is certain: Zoey always finds a way! A bright, funny tale of imagination, friendship, determination—and one truly adventurous chicken.


The Thankful Book by Todd Parr (age 5 and up)
The Thankful Book celebrates all the little things children can give thanks for. From everyday activities like reading and bath time to big family meals together and special alone time between parent and child, Parr inspires readers to remember all of life’s special moments. The perfect book to treasure and share, around the holidays and throughout the year.


The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale, and LeUyen Pham (age 5 and up)
Princess Magnolia is having hot chocolate and scones with Duchess Wigtower when… brring! brring! The monster alarm! A big blue monster is threatening the goats! Stopping monsters is no job for dainty Princess Magnolia. But luckily Princess Magnolia has a secret—she’s also the Princess in Black, and stopping monsters is the perfect job for her! Can the princess sneak away, transform into her alter ego, and defeat the monster before the nosy duchess discovers her secret?


A Different Pond by Bao Phi (age 6 and up)
Acclaimed poet Bao Phi delivers a powerful glimpse into a relationship between father and son, and between cultures old and new, in this unforgettable story about a long-ago fishing trip. As a young boy, Bao Phi awoke early, hours before his father’s long workday began, to fish on the shores of a small pond in Minneapolis with his dad. Unlike many other anglers, Bao and his father fished for food, not recreation. A successful catch meant a fed family. Between hope-filled casts, Bao’s father told him about a different pond in their homeland of Vietnam.


Extraordinary People: A Semi-Comprehensive Guide to Some of the World’s Most Fascinating Individuals by Michael Hearst (age 8 and up)
Inside this book, you’ll find stories of fifty extraordinary people such as: Evel Knievel, who jumped his motorcycle over fourteen Greyhound buses; The Iceman, the most well-preserved human, found in the ice after 5,300 years; Sam Patch, who jumped Niagara Falls for $75; Helen Thayer, who walked to the North Pole alone; and Roy Sullivan, who was struck by lightning seven times. These intriguing facts and hundreds more await curious readers, amateur historians, and anyone who aspires to the altogether extraordinary! And, don’t miss Michael’s just-released accompanying album, Music for Extraordinary People.


If Found… Please Return to Elise Gravel by Elise Gravel (age 8 and up)
In the outrageously amusing If Found…Please Return to Elise Gravel, Elise Gravel offers readers a sneak peek into her sketchbook, where colorful monsters, imaginary friends, and grumpy things reign supreme. Filled to the brim with vibrant felt marker illustrations, If Found… is not just an exhibition of Gravel’s work, but a challenge to young artists to keep a daily sketchbook.


The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag (age 8 and up)
In thirteen-year-old Aster’s family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn’t shifted… and he’s still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be. When a mysterious danger threatens the other boys, Aster knows he can help—as a witch. It will take the encouragement of a new friend to convince Aster to try, and it will require even more courage to save his family and truly be himself.


The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (age 8 and up)
A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, on things for sure: Sam Westing may be dead, but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!


The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (age 8 and up)
Wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents leave Willoughby Chase for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their once happy home. The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold, and Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prison-like orphan school. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease. With the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they escape. But how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp?


The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs and Edward Gorey (age 8 and up)
When Lewis Barnavelt, an orphan, comes to stay with his uncle Jonathan, he expects to meet an ordinary person. But he is wrong. Uncle Jonathan and his next-door neighbor, Mrs. Zimmermann, are both witches! Lewis is thrilled. At first, watching magic is enough. Then Lewis experiments with magic himself and unknowingly resurrects the former owner of the house: a woman named Serenna Izard. It seems that Serenna and her husband built a timepiece into the walls—a clock that could obliterate humankind—and only the Barnavelts can stop it!


I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sánchez (age 14 and up)
Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role. When a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead, Julia is left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed. But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?


The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (age 14 and up)
A ghostly story of suspense told in two voices—one still living and one long dead. On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement. On the inside, within the walls of a girls’ juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom. Tying these two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries. We hear Amber’s story and Violet’s, and through them Orianna’s, first from one angle, then from another, until gradually we begin to get the whole picture—which is not necessarily the one that either Amber or Violet wants us to see.


The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (age 14 and up)
Colby and Bev have a long-standing pact: graduate, hit the road with Bev’s band, and then spend the year wandering around Europe. But moments after the tour kicks off, Bev makes a shocking announcement: she’s abandoning their plans—and Colby—to start college in the fall. But the show must go on and The Disenchantments weave through the Pacific Northwest, playing in small towns and dingy venues, while Colby struggles to deal with Bev’s already-growing distance and the most important question of all: what’s next?


Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (age 14 and up)
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits-smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love—and just how hard it pulled you under.


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (age 14 and up)
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? The only person alive who can answer that is Starr. What Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.


The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (age 14 and up)
On the Midwinter Day that is his eleventh birthday, Will Stanton discovers a special gift—that he is the last of the Old Ones, immortals dedicated to keeping the world from domination by the forces of evil, the Dark. At once, he is plunged into a quest for the six magical Signs that will one day aid the Old Ones in the final battle between the Dark and the Light. And for the twelve days of Christmas, while the Dark is rising, life for Will is full of wonder, terror, and delight.