What Children’s Books Do You Give?

What gift do you give to the outgoing president of a university? Recently, the seven chairs of Duke’s Academic Council decided to give retiring President Richard Brodhead children’s books, knowing he’s looking forward to spending more time with his young grandchild. Unsurprisingly, the selected books are very old, except for one (see DukeToday to find out which faculty member gave which one and why):

  • Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (1941)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do you See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle  (1967)
  • Frederick by Leo Lionni (1967)
  • Freight Train by Donald Crews (1978)
  • The Complete Book of Flower Fairies by Cicely Mary Barker(1920)
  • Jessica’s X-Ray by Pat Zonta (2002)

As is often the case with classics, none of the books noticeably features characters from diverse backgrounds, though at least one is authored/illustrated by a person of color.

In general, I like these books–I’ve read all of them except The Complete Book of Flower Fairies—but none of them are among the books I’ve given to the young children in my life over the years (or their parents and grandparents).

My go-to list of children’s books for gifts includes (among other books):

  • Tea Leaves by Frederick Lipp (2003), a beautifully illustrated story about a girl named Shanti, who lives on the island of Sri Lanka, but has never seen the sea.
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr (2003), which misguided proponents of book banning have challenged in the past for its depiction of families with two moms and two dads;
  • Art & Max by David Wiesner (2010), a beautifully illustrated book that contains enough words to add structure to the story without stifling young imaginations;


What books do you give to the children in your life?


*I learned about Brodhead’s gifts from Alex @randomlyreading. Thanks, Alex!


  1. A friend gave me “Yay, You!” as a birthday gift in my early 30s. (The struggle! Lol!). I think it’s a great story, and a great gift for anyone going through a major life transition.

    I’d need to re-read them now to see if they’re problematic, but I used to really like these too:
    The Velveteen Rabbit
    The Giving Tree
    Alexander & The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
    Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

    I used to enjoy If You Give a Moose a Muffin and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, until I reread it as an adult. I wrote a little about them recently:

    I’ve been meaning to read A is for Activist, but haven’t bought it yet.

  2. Ooh, I love your list! I haven’t thought too much about books for little’uns yet, because my nephew’s still too tiny for anything but board books. Once he gets a little older and starts reading more substantive things, I’m probably going to be badgering you for recs all the time. :p

  3. I have not read any children’s books in years and the only one I can remember off hand would be Charlotte’s web which is a good book. A guy at my job wanted to teach his nephew how to read so I got him this book named Jabberwocky I think. As far as diversity goes in kid books more minorities need to write,advertise and support these kids books and we will get more of them. I have written two books myself,but to be honest they are not any thing you would want a child reading and in fact might be to much for sensitive adults.

  4. I’ve enjoyed Fisherton Press’s books – I was involved in a Kickstarter for their first, The Election, and have bought Pop for various children. I love the way that different races, abilities, etc. are used in the illustrations in a very natural and unforced way.

    For laughs, “The Day the Crayons Quit” is hilarious, although I note that skin tone is described as pink, which isn’t ideal (but works in the context of the book). A little more care there and it would have been a total winner.

  5. Todd Parr is awesome!

    I second the recommendation of The Book With No Pictures. Also Ferdinand.

    I also love Dragons Love Tacos!

    A cute recent book I’ve seen with a character of color is Ada Twist Scientist.
    I’ve noticed recently that there are more picture books with colors of characters coming through the library. Not always *authors* of color, but at least the representation is changing on the page – slowly!

  6. My kids used to love Todd Parr’s books. We didn’t own any, but we always took them home from the library (over and over).
    One of my favourite children’s books is The Story of Ferdinand. I also love Miss Rumphius. And there are so many great new ones out – I’m always tempted by them, even though my kids are too old for them now. I don’t think I am, though. 🙂

  7. A.M.B., I liked this post so much that I decided to ask my FB friends what books they would recommend. I got an impressive list of books back, all from extremely passionate readers, from parents of small children, parents of not as small children. grandparents of small and not as small children, and among those some profs who specialize in children’s lit. I hadn’t shared your lists, but the only intersection was with Brown Bear, Brown Bear. I hope you don’t mind me reporting on their favorites in this comment. 🙂

    The Very Hungry Caterpillar (multiple)
    Giraffes Can’t Dance
    Dr. Seuss
    Sheree Fitch (Toes in My Nose and There are Monkeys in my Kitchen)
    Love You Forever (Robert Munsch)
    Frog and Toad
    Big Red Barn (multiple)
    Tumble Bumble
    Monkey Puzzle
    My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes
    Grandma and the Pirates
    Bear by Himself
    Llama, Llama, Red Pajama
    Mabel Murple
    I Love You, Stinky Face
    Ferocious Fluffity
    Goodnight Moon (multiple) and Runaway Bunny

    Of course, I always have to give the ones I wrote for my grandchildren when they were smaller, my Robby Robin “series”. People can find them online for free reading at https://robbyrobinsjourney.wordpress.com/robby-stories/. If anyone is keen, I can send pdf files for printout. Just send me an email at robbysjourney@gmail.com. (If someone is really keen, they are available through Blurb.)

    Sorry for the length of this; you compelled me to share! 🙂

    1. This list is great! I’m familiar with several of these books, but not all of them.Thank you for sharing this list here and for linking to your own stories. I remember when you wrote about Robby Robin on your blog.

  8. Great list! I’d add The True Story of the Three Little Pigs or The Stinky Cheese Man, Miss Spider’s Tea Party, and a multicultural book of fairy tales.

    1. Thank you for the recommendations! I’m familiar with The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, but not the other ones you’ve mentioned.

  9. Great list, some of which I’ve given and some of which are new to me. I would add Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin. A wonderful tale about the power of collective action.

  10. There’s plenty to be said for the classics, like Robert McCloskey or Dr. Seuss. But they’re not exactly diverse! I do like to gift classic children’s books (we have The Complete Book of Flower Fairies, actually) but I like to mix in modern books too. BJ Novak’s THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES is a recent favorite (so funny! And I love how it introduces kids to what words actually do), as are Kate Messner’s beautiful picture books (i.e. UP IN THE GARDEN AND DOWN IN THE DIRT) and Jennifer Adams’ BabyLit series. I don’t know that I have gifted any diverse books recently (haven’t had many gifting occasions for kiddos other than my own) but I buy them for my children. Our favorite has to be HEATHER HAS TWO MOMMIES, and we also love GRACE FOR PRESIDENT and WAITING FOR THE BIBLIOBURRO.

    1. Great books! I’m curious about the The Complete Book of Flower Fairies. I’d never heard of it until I read the article on Brodhead’s gifts. My daughters are getting a little old for picture books–if there is such a thing as being “too old” for such books!–but the list of children in my life is always growing through my friends and family. So, I’ll always have a reason to be up-to-date on picture books.

  11. There are no young children in my life, so I’ve never thought about it. When I was young, though, I always got books for Christmas and birthdays; I asked for them. 🙂

  12. I’ve given The Gift of Nothing, too, already. It’s a great message told in a sweet way. I don’t think you can go wrong with giving any of Lionni’s books as a gift, and my favorite to give is Cornelius. Like most of his books, Cornelius shows how being different is a good thing, and it is one of the few books I don’t mind reading over and over again.

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