My son is two, my daughter is four, and my husband and I are, you know, more than 30 years older than that. So we each have different ideas of what constitutes a good book.
My son likes them to be interactive. My daughter likes books to have dialogue so she can hear the different voices. My husband does not like them sad or sentimental (he has this thing about crying before bed). If we’re being honest, I like them short and indestructible.
Here are 10 children's books that my family members (all four of us) find universally appealing. Any of them would make a great holiday gift for a family with little ones. Books are gifts that keep on giving. As an added bonus, you’ll be thought of any time the family reads your book.
Ten Little Ladybugs by Melanie Gerth
Category: Educational/Interactive (or Eduactive, as I like to call it)/board book
Durability: Good (It lasted through two nieces and my daughter before my son ripped the spine.)
Story: Ten 3D ladybugs are visited by different friends, and one of those ladybugs disappears each time a page is turned.
Why we like it: My kids enjoys touching the 3D ladybugs while counting them on each page, and I like that it’s one sentence per page.
Price: $9.86 at Toys R Us
Pride and Prejudice by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver (illustrator)
Category: Educational/board book
Durability: Good (Of course it’s durable - it’s a classic.)
Story: I know what you’re thinking. Yes, Jane Austen did write Pride and Prejudice. No, I haven’t read that novel to my 4-year-old yet. This version of P&P; is part of the Little Miss Austen series of books. They also have Jane Eyre, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and another adorable series of Little Master Shakespeare books.
Why we like it: This is a counting book, and my kids like the pictures. Jane Austen is one of my favorite authors, so I like that my kids are reading Jane Austin.
Price: $8.49 at Barnes and Noble
If I were a Pony by Jellycat
Category: Touch and Feel/board book
Durability: Good (My 2-year-old carries it around by the tail.)
Story: There are many books in the "If I Were a …" series by Jellycat. Each book has a tail (yes, a long hairy thing that hangs off of it), and tells you what you would experience if you were a bunny, or a kitty, or a zebra. But the pony is our favorite.
Each page has something to touch, except (and this is my only complaint) there’s always one lame page in each book in the series. For example, the pony might have shiny hooves, but the hooves are the same texture as the rest of the page. Why?! But they’re still good books.
Why we like it: The tails are soft, and the stories are simple enough that my 4-year-old has them memorized and enjoys "reading" them to her little brother.
Price: $12.50 at Bloomingdale's
Noodle Loves to Cuddle by Nosy Crow
Category: Interactive board book
Durability: Very good – much better than classics my kids ripped up immediately, like Where’s Spot and Pat the Bunny (although these days Pat the Bunny has a great interactive app).
Story: Noodle is a panda bear, and he likes to do things like talk on the phone and, you know, cuddle. There are more books in the series, but we just own this one.
Why we like it: This is a great book for 1- and 2-year-olds because it doesn’t require the fine motor skills that some interactive books do. Again, it’s simple enough that my daughter likes to "read" it to my son.
Price: From 1 cent on Amazon
What to do with an Idea by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom (illustrator)
Durability: Not very durable for little ones. It’s printed on real paper.
Story: An idea follows around the main character (like a little egg) until the main character figures out how to make it fly.
Why we like it: The illustrations are gorgeous, and I love the concept of teaching our kids and ourselves to give our ideas a chance. Honestly, I bawl like a baby when I read it, and it’s not sad at all. It just is … true. It makes my husband cry too, but he still gives it a thumbs up.
Price: $11.03 on Amazon
The Monster at the End of this Book by Sesame Street
Category: Paperback/Emotional education
Durability: The pages can tear and the cover can fold, but it’s small, so it’s less of a problem.
Story: Grover tries to convince the reader to not turn the page, because there is a monster at the end of the book.
Why we like it: One of my favorite theater professors (who taught the study of avant-garde) recommended this book to me. It’s funny and it’s profound. Why do we keep turning the pages when someone warns us to stop? What if we are the monster in the end? How do we protect people from seeing who we really are? Did I mention my avant-garde professor recommended it? My kids like it because I used my best Grover voice when I read it - but I’m sure your kids will love it in whatever reading voice you choose to use.
Price: $2.60 on Amazon
Noisy Farm – My First Touch and Feel Sound Book
Category: Touch and feel board book – plus it makes noise!
Durability: Pretty good. I’m kind of shocked that it’s still making noise after a year of hard use by toddler hands.
Story: It’s simple - just a bunch of farm animals to touch and hear.
Why we like it: It’s a sound book and a touch-and-feel book all in one. It does take some fine motor skills and patience to trigger the sounds. It took my 2-year-old a little bit of time to figure out how to do it by himself, but now he’s a pro. Both kids really enjoy it equally.
Price: $11.69 at Toys R Us
Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton
Category: Board book/Poem
Durability: Good. It’s survived many a reading.
Story: It’s time for bed and the colorful characters are getting ready. Boynton has authored a lot of books with a similar style and they all have good ratings on Barnes & Noble. The Going to Bed Book is probably her most popular, but Pajama Time is our jam.
Why we like it: It rhymes, so my daughter memorized it quite easily. It’s silly and fun to read out loud together.
Price: $4.49 at Barnes & Noble
Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do you Hear? by Bill Martin and Eric Carle (illustrator)
Category: Board book that makes sounds (there is a version without sound buttons, but we like the sound book.)
Durability: Good. We’ve had it for at least four years, and the sounds are just now starting to die out.
Story: Cool pictures of animals are accompanied by sound buttons on the side, so kids can match animals and sounds. Martin and Carle have many books to choose from. We also like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?
Why we like it: Cool illustrations and rhythmic text make it fun to look at and to read out loud together. Plus, there are buttons to push!
Price: $10.67 on Amazon
Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and James Dean (illustrator)
Category: Introductory math book/Emotional education
Durability: Hard cover with paper pages
Story: Pete the Cat keeps popping buttons off his shirt. Readers have to figure out how many buttons are left in order to insert the correct number into the song that Pete sings about his buttons. There are other Pete the Cat books that look fun, but this is the one we like.
Why we like it: It makes subtraction fun. It’s very colorful and has a great sense of humor about it. You can download a version to play while you look at the pages. The final lesson is that Pete never gets upset or worried when he loses a button; he just keeps going about his business.
Price: $11.75 on Amazon
Hope your little ones enjoy these books as much as mine have.