Have a Baby, Win Some Books!

I’m not so good with remembering the everyday details of my life. I can’t tell you the name of my eighth grade math teacher, or my freshman year dorm room number, or my cholesterol reading from my last checkup, or even who I had lunch with last Thursday (without checking my calendar first). Just last week, I’m not proud to admit, I forgot my parents’ 48th wedding anniversary. Compared to Jenny, whose institutional memory for every moment and triumph and hiccup of her life is downright scary photographic, I’m like the amnesiac guy from Memento: I should probably start tattooing every inch of my body with the little stuff — i.e., the important stuff — before it fades away forever. You know what I do remember, though, with almost perfect clarity? Finishing The Trumpet of the Swan when I was a kid. (I was eight. Or maybe nine. I forget!) I remember turning that last page, and not wanting it to end, thinking this was the best book I’d ever read, and having this vague sense that something was going on here that I didn’t quite understand — at least, not enough to articulate it — except maybe to say that the words on the page, and the way way they made me feel, were a whole lot more powerful than what I was getting from Strange But True Sports Stories. The last paragraph still crushes me:

On the pond where the swans were, Louis put his trumpet away. The cygnets crept under their mother’s wings. Darkness settled on woods and field and marsh. A loon called its wild night cry. As Louis relaxed and prepared for sleep, all his thoughts were of how lucky he was to inhabit such a beautiful earth, how lucky he had been to solve his problems with music, and how pleasant it was to look forward to another night of sleep and another day tomorrow, and the fresh morning, and the light that returns with the day.

The cygnets crept under their mother’s wings! Such a beautiful earth! The light that returns with the day! Dear, dear god. I would never forget this one. The Trumpet of the Swan was the book I would always think about when I thought about books from my youth, the book I would use to forge an identity apart from the big brother I revered (he was a devoted Stuart Little guy), the book I always imagined reading aloud to kids of my own. Which, thirty years later, I did.

Not only that, but I now push this book on my friends, too. Whenever someone has a baby, I go immediately to amazon and order up a copy — in hardcover, to ensure its longevity — secretly hoping that their kids will love it one day, too. But I also order other books — books for infants and toddlers and four-year-olds and eight- year-olds. Over the past few years, this has become our standard baby present, seven or eight books we’ve come to think of as a starter kit for the library we’d want, a gift that will keep on giving for years to come; a collection of books that will inspire some meaningful dinner table conversation. The list is always a little different, as I tailor it to the friend in question, but I generally pull from a list of books that I loved as a child, or came to love as a parent. I thought I’d write this list down here in case you need some good baby gift ideas…and so I won’t forget them. — Andy

Bruno Munari’s ABC by Bruno Munari (above)
Ages: 1+
What You’ll Remember About It: The extremely beautiful, graphic watercolors on a stark white background from this legendary artist and designer, and the fly that appears on every page.

I am A Bunny by Ole Rison, illlustrations by Richard Scarry
Ages: 1+
What You’ll Remember About It: The gorgeous, very un-Busytown illustrations from the great Richard Scarry, and the simple, tender story chronicling a year in the life of a bunny named Nicholas, who sleeps in a hollow tree and dreams of spring.

The Important Book by Margaret Wise Brown (above)
Ages: 2+
What You’ll Remember About It: While everyone else is buying (the admittedly classic) Goodnight Moon, I firmly believe that if you’re going to own one Wise Brown book, this should be it. A range of everyday objects — rain, a spoon, grass, a daisy — are demystified for kids in the most poetic, heartbreaking ways.

One Red Dot by David A. Carter
Ages: 2+
What You’ll Remember About It: The joy your child takes in this book of insanely intricate, three-dimensional, geometric pop-ups…until he or she finally gets his grabby little hands on it and destroys it. Until that moment, though, worth every penny. (If you like this one, also check out Yellow Square.)

The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss
Ages: 3+
What You’ll Remember About it: The simple beauty of the message: You is me. I is you. The end.

Dahlia by Barbara McClintock
Ages: 3+
What You’ll Remember About It: The lush, finely detailed, almost Victorian illustrations, the kind of artwork you don’t see anymore. Much less girly than it appears, which is also part of the message.

Rainbow Goblins by Ul De Rico (above)
Ages: 3+
What You’ll Remember About It: The artwork. And I use the word artwork, as opposed to illustrations, because these aren’t illustrations. They’re jewel-like oil paintings on wood panels by a fine Italian artist, lending the whole thing the otherworldly feel of a children’s book as imagined by a Renaissance master. Storyline is so-so, but the landscapes alone are worth the price of admission.

That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell (above)
Ages: 4+
What You’ll Remember About It: The inspired story-telling. It’s not easy making something original, after all, but Cowell makes it look easy here. This was a huge hit whenever we would read it aloud for the kids on story day at kindergarten. Funny, unpredictable, creative, and whimsical (in the best possible, non-cloying way).

Amos and Boris by William Steig
Ages: 4+
What You’ll Remember About It: It’s never to early to question your existence. Or to realize the value of a good friendship.

The BFG by Roald Dahl
Ages: 5+
What You’ll Remember About It: All the classic Dahl-isms: Fleshlumpeaters and whizz-poppers and Bloodbottlers and whiffswhiddles and snozzcumbers and Gizzardgulpers and the odd, backassward, pig-Latinish syntax of the BFG himself. “‘I did not steal you very much,’ said the BFG, smiling gently. ‘After all, you is only a tiny little girl.'”

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders (above)
Ages: 5+
What You’ll Remember About It: Everything, really. The dreamscape illustrations by Lane Smith, the message about empathy and community and the importance thinking beyond yourself, the heroine’s name (Capable — how great is that?), but really: this one, for me, is all about the writing and the humor. “She soon found that it was not all that much fun being the sort of person who eats a big dinner in a warm house while others shiver on their roofs in the dark. That is, it was fun at first, but then got gradually less fun, until it was really no fun at all.” You want a book that gets talked about at the dinner table? This is the one. Deeply wise, generous in spirit. Hard to overstate how much I love it.

The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell (above)
Ages: 6+
What You’ll Remember About It: One of our finest poets doing the storytelling, and a young Maurice Sendak providing the woodcutty illustrations? Seriously, what could be better? A perfect little fable, starring a hunter and a mermaid, about the comforts of family. “Below them the white-on-green of the waves was lined along the white shore — out beyond, the green sea got bluer and bluer till at last it came to the far-off blue of the island. There were small seals on the seal rocks, and the little gray spot out above the waves was a big black-and-white osprey waiting for a fish. But no fish came, and it hung there motionless. Everything lay underneath them like something made for them; things got smaller and smaller in the distance but managed, somehow, to fill the whole world.” Now that’s writin’!

A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears by Jules Feiffer (above)
Ages: 6+
What You’ll Remember About It: You already know how we feel about Jules Feiffer in our house. In addition to being an iconic New Yorker cartoonist and the man who kicked off our daughter’s comic book obsession, he also happens to be the author of some really memorable chapter books. Chief among them: the exquisitely-titled Barrel of Laughs, the plot of which is too unconventional and playful to explain here. (The reader is part of the narrative, I’ll just say that much.) This one breaks open, for young readers, the endless possibilities of storytelling.

The Trumpet of the Swan
Ages: 6+
What You’ll Remember About It: See above.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Ages: 8+
What You’ll Remember About It: The kind of sad fact that, despite all the Newberry Awards and the covers touting “three million copies sold,” Lloyd Alexander probably did not get the respect he deserved for this richly imagined, thrilling series — the first series I ever remember tearing through, the first fictional world I remember not ever wanting to leave. If your kid likes Tolkien or Rowling, give this a shot.

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Love the list! I always give books as gifts, for all occasions. I remember reading The Animal Family as a child but had forgotten it- will have to get a copy for my daughter. I know it’s easy to order from Amazon, but I buy books at my local independent bookstore- they are lovely places to browse and I hope to keep them in business so my children can enjoy them for years to come as well.


the first time i saw my mother really cry was when she read the last page of Charlotte’s Web to us, so that’s my last paragraph. My favorite line from TotS is when he is wearing all those things around his neck and thinks, “I am beginning to look like a hippie.” And i can’t remember where I read it, but i think EBW wrote TotS because they needed money because Katharine was sick. (I think it’s also why he sold the rights to CW for that animated movie.) Heartbreaking!

and, re: I am a Bunny, i could look at the pic of him standing under the toadstool, with his butt kinda stuck out and his paws on his thighs all day long. (second favorite detail: his shirt and overalls hanging on the peg on the wall of the hollow tree, when he’s curled up and dreaming about spring…)

can i also recommend Pete’s a Pizza, by William Steig (and available in board book, which is the only kind of book we dare buy)


654carroll — You know what’s funny? I was just thinking about a close friend of mine this morning who I don’t see enough and the line that came into my head was “It’s not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” Except my version of it in this particular scenario would have been “…a true friend and a good cook.” Will have to check out Pete’s a Pizza! I don’t know that one.


What a lovely post!! I am always looking for new books to introduce to my children. Ones that are out of my scope, outside my box. I will definitely be hitting the store this week to grab a few!


I just added a few of these to our request list at the library. Thank you for this.

Our favorite book to give children is my childhood favorite, “The Giant Jam Sandwich” by John Vernon Lord. I love the groovy 60s-era illustrations and the tempo of the rhymes make reading it a breeze. Every kid that I read this to stops dead in their tracks listening to it. The story is about how the folks of Itching Down dealt with four million wasps that flew into their town.

Thanks for the recommendations! I hope others list their favorites too.


My child is just budding her interest in reading. I love revisiting my childhood favorites. Thank you for taking the time to introduce a few more.

Erin @ Letter Soup

I love this list! Thank you! You mentioned some of our favorites, and some new-to-me titles that I can’t wait to check out. I recently posted about The Important Book, here: http://lettersoupblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/important-thing-about.html

Special books are definitely the best gift for new babies, and I’ve also been giving new parents How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, by Esme Raji Codell. It’s full of the best thematic book lists, and tons of simple ideas to help parents create a literacy-rich home.


My Mom and I alway give books as baby prestents too!! Thanks for the list, we will have to check them out!


What a great list! I often gift new mommies a basket of our favorite books. I’ll add some of these to my list.

My favorite childhood book (that I distinctly remember reading on my own) was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. It is an amazing story — part fantasy and part sci-fi all tied together with a huge dose of family love. I recently read it to my kids and we all cried together at the end. I reminded me why I loved it so much as a youth.


Long time reader, first time poster.
Fantastic list. I always buy books for my new-parent friends, and tops on my list are Sandra Boynton board books. Great for really little ones.

And – linking in with this blog more generally – Russel Hoban’s “Bread and Jame for Frances,” might be useful for those with picky eaters.


jenny, in my “annotated charlotte’s web” (in fact, i think that’s where i found out the sad $ stuff) i read that that line, “a good friend and a good writer, Charlotte was both” he cribbed from a letter that Katharine had written in his defense.

Pete’s a Pizza is AWESOME and right on-mission with DALS. (Kid named Pete can’t go outside and play with friends because “it goes and decides to rain” so–spoiler alert–his dad cheers him up by making him into a pizza. Laid him out on the kitchen table and covered him with scraps of paper as cheese and red checkers as pepperoni, etc.)

and I’m glad that Amanda pointed out Giant Jam Sammy–we have the board book version, and it is well loved. (and features the problem-solving Bap the Baker–also so in DALS wheelhouse–since he figures out that baking a big loaf of bread will fix the town’s problems.)

Jan (Family Bites)

I just wrote about something similar last week. I always give books to a new mommy and often try to do themes so a foodie gets food related children’s books, an artist art-themed books etc. My very favorite book to give is The Seven Silly Eaters. It’s been read in our home from age 2 to 10, and is still incredibly popular.

Mary McKitrick

I think you would love this book: “Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom”. She was children’s book editor at Harper’s during the decades that some of your heros were at their most prolific, and she wrote the most wonderful, supportive letters to her authors. I remember her saying that two people who didn’t need editing were Laura Ingalls Wilder and E. B. White.


Adding to the 654Carroll thread about books with a DALS mission, what about Gregory the Terrible Eater? it’s a family fave around here, and not just for obvious (more than apt) reasons…


This is the best book list I have ever read. I’m buying every single one for my godson’s new twins. Today! Thanks so much.


One book that I (and my siblings) will never get over is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, as well as Ender’s Shadow, which takes place simultaneously with the events of Ender’s Game. Both written from the perspective of little boys – and still an amazing read for an adult. Love it.


Always looking for book suggestions for children since we check out a vast amount.

I love how you included the what we’ll remember about it. Makes me want to head to my library right now to check all of these out. Thanks!


I have the ABC book. I used to love it as a kid-I am 50 now but the pictures take me back especially the beautiful blue butterfly- time flew!


I was riding in my family’s giant brown station wagon, when I was about six or seven, listening to someone reading The Trumpet of the Swan on the radio, right at the part where Louis saves Applegate Skinner from drowning, and I found myself gasping for breath. I have loved that book ever since. I’m reading it to my five-year-old now. Thanks for a great list of recommendations.


I can’t tell you how wonderful these book recommendations are. My 7-yr-old is racing through Phoebe’s graphic novel recommendations, and we now have many of these on our request list at the library. Thanks so much for sharing.


What a great list! I ordered (almost) all of them as a gift for a friend’s baby, plus the Time for Dinner cookbook.
I absolutely love your blog and check it out daily.
Thanks for doing this!


thanks so much…we have many of the younger age bracket books you mention, but none of the ones recommended for the older kids. love your blog and this post made me submit my 1st comment…great stuff and a unique and much appreciated perspective…thank you!

Hong Kong Phooey

These are great suggestions. I will get the book of 3 for AJ. Tony still loves reading Stuart Little to the kids….he also has a strong TinTin fetish.


Thanks for this amazing list.

I must say even BETTER than the Trumpet of the Swan book is the AUDIO BOOK of Trumpet of the Swan ready by EB White himself with his rendition of the swans’ Koh Koh! and real trumpet music! Priceless. We have listened to it in the car countless times. Family favorite.


I just came across this post today but had to chime in. I loved Trumpet of the Swan so much I even named a little grey kitten that I got Louis. Even though my girls are just 3 and 1 I think I may need to make a Christmas purchase and read it again myself. Thanks for the reminder!


I know this is an old post, but I felt compelled to comment. I read “I Am a Bunny” to my daughter practically every evening before bed. She’ll be one this weekend, and this has been part of our routine for about the past 6 months. I love the simplicity of this book and the beauty of the words and illustrations. So nice to find a book that is lovely to read–for both of us. My favorite part is, “I chase the butterflies, and the butterflies chase me.” It reminds me of a recent family trip; we saw hundreds of butterflies while hiking one morning.


A quick note on Lloyd Alexander: he lived very close to the town where I grew up, and a very smart teacher got him to come read to/with her classes every single year, and the school would celebrate Lloyd Alexander Day with them, with kids dressing up as their favorite characters and basically loving on him and his books. So while on a macro level, he might be underappreciated, on a very local level, he was completely and totally beloved, and he knew it. Thank you for the happy memory of dressing up in homemade capes and shiny wrapping paper crowns, with swords of tinfoil over cardboard!


Oh, I just found your site via Laguna Dirt and I’ve been suuuuuucked in for hours. It started with food and now I’ve discovered that you do books too! I’m in love.


My son had the same reaction to the ending of The Trumpet of the Swan. I read it to him aloud over a series of nights and when it was over, for the first time ever, he insisted that we begin again. And we did — twice more before moving on to our next book!! We loved all the E.B. White classics but none was more loved than The Trumpet of the Swan.


This is a great list of books, some that I remember as a child, and others I’ve not heard of. I can’t wait to pick up a few new books to add into rotation. Thanks for putting this together & sharing!


I don’t think I said this before but thank you for this post! I use this as well as the downloadable list that you sent out for my son as well as baby shower and birthday gift suggestions!


This is a great list! We love I am A Bunny too. I’m thinking of trying out that ABC book you mentioned!
We were recently gifted Man Gave Names to All the Animals by Bob Dylan and it is awesome. It comes with a CD that has the book sung. The pictures of the animals are beautiful and my toddler loves to slowly look over each page.