After Books for Guys and Books for Girls, I give you Books for Kids! I buy books for all my nieces and young cousins every year. I think boys and girls should be encouraged to read books with male and female protagonists, so hopefully there’s something for everyone, but obviously these are going to be influenced by what I’ve read and what the girls have read and told me they liked. I don’t have kids, so if some of my suggestions seem really obvious to those of you reading who are parents, I’m sorry.
An oldie but a goodie to start for the upper end of this age group – Janet and Alan Ahlberg‘s The Jolly Christmas Postman. They need to be past the ripping things apart stage and be able to cope with the little letters without losing them. Mog is everywhere this Christmas, and it’s totally deserved – Judith Kerr writes wonderful children’s books. My favourites are obvious ones like The Tiger Who Came to Tea and all the Mog books, but also The Great Granny Gang. Jon Klassen‘s books have gone down well with the little people I buy for – I’m still getting fish drawings based on This Is Not My Hat. I also like Chris Naughton‘s books like Oh No! George – but Little Sis-the-teacher reckons she prefers her picture books with more detail so you can get the kids to describe them. And finally, if you haven’t already seen them, Oliver Jeffers‘ books are gorgeous – I love Lost and Found.
Five to Eight year olds
The Nieces are in love with Jenny Colgan‘s Polly and the Puffin – we got a postcard with a puffin on it from their latest holiday and a note saying it was because of the book. If you want to give something educational, but also absolutely beautiful and engrossing, go and find a copy of Maps in your local bookshop. I think this is gorgeous and it teaches stuff subtly as well, a bit like Richard Scarry did for younger kids. Their Welcome to Mamoko is equally beautiful. I’m also debating buying My Sewing Machine book for the nieces – as they have a Grandma who is big into sewing and patchwork – but I’m not sure it’s fair to let her in for the extra work!
Eight to Twelve year olds
School Ship Tobermory by Alexander McCall Smith went down well with Eldest Niece (just under this age bracket, but a keen reader) – who wouldn’t love a story about a boarding school that’s on a tall ship? I read it and thought it was fun and clever and modern. In Waterstones last week I saw some lovely new editions of Noel Streatfeild‘s Shoe Books. I haven’t read them all, but Ballet Shoes is amazing – although I was a little annoyed there wasn’t a similarly pretty version of White Boots (which I still have on my shelf upstairs) which is sometimes called Skating Shoes to make it fit the series. If you want to give some classics, my local branch of The Works had a variety of Enid Blyton Boxsets – including Famous Five, Secret Seven and The Faraway Tree – although I can’t find all of them on the website.
Also mentioned here before are Robin Stevens‘ Wells and Wong mysteries – I can’t wait for Eldest Niece to hit the right age (I think murders are a bit scary for her yet), Murder is Unladylike is the first one, but First Class Murder is the latest and is all you’d hope for from a book that is boarding school story meets Murder on the Orient Express. For the top end of this age bracket, I’d also suggest Simon Mayo‘s Itch (which I’ve read) and its sequels Itch Rocks and Itchcraft (which I haven’t) which are sciencey thriller chase stories.
No surprise that I’m going to recommend Gail Carriger‘s Finishing School series. Her books are one of my obsessions – I’m currently working my way through her audiobooks on my walks too and from work. Etiquette and Espionage is the first one, and would be a great gift for someone who has read St Clares/Malory Towers or similar when they were younger. I really enjoyed the Geek Girl series earlier this year, which would make a great choice for a girl who is into her clothes and fashion, but which isn’t afraid to show the less glamourous side of modelling as well as the difficulties of not fitting in at school.
I read Jenny Valentine‘s Fire Colour One back in the summer and it would make a good choice for someone who’s read The Fault in Our Stars (they’ll almost certainly already have TFIOS, but I’ve put the link in anyway), but doesn’t quite want to cry as much again. One which will make you cry (especially if you’ve read other Pratchetts) is the final Tiffany Aching book The Shepherd’s Crown. I spoke about it at length earlier this year, but I really think that this book is the culmination of a brilliant series. If you’ve got someone who’s read Harry Potter and/or The Hobbit and is looking for the next move, start them on The Wee Free Men and you may be the originator of a Discworld love affair. If you’re buying for someone who’s not as much of a reader, may I suggest the first Lumberjanes book. I loved this graphic novel, and even The Boy pronounced it “quite good, but it ended just as it got interesting”, which presumably bodes well for Part Two.
Finally, if in doubt, there’s always a book token. But lots of your old favourites from when you were that age may still be in print, but out of fashion, so the kids may not have them. my mum’s getting My Naughty Little Sister for one of the little girls she buys for this year. I bought Eldest Niece The Worst Witch for her birthday in the summer (and I’ve heard a passage from The Worst Witch being used in a school entry reading comprehension test!) and I think she’s since asked for more of them. Meg and Mog, Hairy McLairy, The Enormous Crocodile and Peace at Last are all still out there too.