Choosing a gift book for a child

Books make wonderful gifts, but selecting the right book can be difficult. As publishers of children’s books, we are often asked for advice on selecting a book for a birthday or holiday gift. Here are suggestions on how to select the perfect book to give to your niece, nephew, friend’s child, or grandchild.

1. Knowing the age and gender helps. Now we know that you may not remember exactly how old the kid was on their last birthday, but being at the ballpark is helpful. If the child is of preschool age, he will choose a different material than if he is in high school. Also, if you don’t see the child often enough to learn about her interests, knowing whether you’re choosing a book for a boy or a girl can help define what kind of book will be welcome.

2. Talk to the child’s parents. Ask about the child’s current interests, activities, or hobbies. Books related to what a child does make excellent gifts. You can find books specifically on the topic or books that incorporate the topic as part of a story. For example, if your child is fascinated by snakes, you might choose a science-oriented book with pictures and information about snakes, or you might choose a storybook with a snake.

3. Be sensitive to family values. Make your gift a happy addition to the family rather than a moderation bone. The most common problem is the religious content. Most of the parents we talked to don’t want books for their kids that push any particular religious viewpoint. We have heard this from people of all religious backgrounds. Other content that you would like to understand where parents stand on, or simply avoid, includes level of violence, sexual content, and sexual orientation. These all tend to be areas that require a certain level of maturity to handle and parents will know best if their child is ready to deal with content like this.

4. If you have no idea, there are some themed areas that most kids enjoy. Humour, fairy tales and animal stories have wide appeal. Our experience indicates that the Japanese sleeve (comics) are very popular in urban areas of the US right now, but not as welcome in rural areas. The manga varies widely in content, from “great for kids” to “strictly for adults.” Pay attention to what you select.

5. Ask for help. Bookstores often have a bookseller who manages the collection of children’s books. This person is a valuable resource on the most popular books. Often they will also know what options might work for your situation. After following the tips above, you should be able to provide the bookseller with enough information to come up with several recommendations. Librarians are another good resource.

6. The “tweeners” are a challenge. There are plenty of books for young children and plenty of books for adults, but the middle years 10-15 can present a challenge. Young children’s books are too childish for these budding adults, but adult books tend to have strong thematic elements that are not appropriate for this age. Our best advice to this group is to buy classics. Authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen or Mark Twain, the Nancy Drew series or Hardy Boy are good possibilities. Writers of earlier times presented the material differently.

Using these suggestions, you’ll find great books to give to the kids on your gift list.