Our 2018 Christmas Gift Guide: What to buy your children
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be compiling a host of gift guides to help you with your Christmas shopping.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 0-2
For very little babies, you can’t go wrong with a soft, squishy cloth book. The Wee Gallery cloth books are among some of the classiest, and Friendly Faces in the Forest and Friendly Faces at the Farm are adorable.
Flashcards with high-contrast illustrations are also a great choice for babies, and the Baby Zoo and Baby Art cards aren’t guaranteed to turn your baby into a zoologist or art critic, but we can’t rule out the possibility either…
One of Readings favourite picture books is now available as a board book, and we are ecstatic. Gift I Just Ate My Friend – the funny story of a monster with poor impulse control – and you will amuse both babies and adults.
Alison Lester is one of Australia’s favourite storytellers, and her picture book Tricky’s Bad Day is perfect for babies and toddlers, with simple rounded illustrations and rhyming text. Tricky the tiger is having a bad day at home, but things turn around when he goes out for a walk and gets absorbed in nature. Equally delightful choices are Lester’s The Very Noisy Baby and a new Noni the Pony story: Noni the Pony Rescues A Joey.
All the Ways to be Smart is a beautiful gift for a young child. This rhyming picture book reminds kids that there are a number of different ways to be smart – and kind, and playful and creative. Bright, detailed depictions of kids making slime, riding dragons, floating through space and daydreaming make this a great book for nurturing a child’s confidence, and their imagination too. For ages 2 and up.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 3-4
Differences and friendship are celebrated in Maxine Beneba Clarke’s second picture book Wide Big World. Kindergarteners Izzy and Belle talk to their teacher, Mr Jay, about the different shapes, sizes and colours that humans can be, then move onto variety in the natural world in this simply and expressively worded picture book. The gorgeous layered tissue paper collage illustrations by Isobel Knowles are a riot of colour, showing people and parrots and trees and flamingoes and the sun and more. This warm and inclusive picture book is the perfect gift. For ages 2 and up.
Another Book About Bears is another charming picture book by co-creators Philip and Laura Bunting. The bears are grumpy, overworked and sick of being included in every single story. They make their case to the reader indignantly, they go on strike, but really, they can’t have the day off until another suitable storybook animal is found. Elephants? Echidnas? Star-nosed moles? Nope, nope and nope! Readers aged 3 and up will love the bold illustrations and silly banter of this fantastic read-out-loud book.
Renowned artist and designer Linda Jackson has created a fabulous burst of colour with Linda Jackson’s Rainbow Menagerie. Engage with a range of animals, like the lyrebird or diamond python or Hercules moth, through simple text, questions and fantastic illustrations combining silhouettes and psychedelic rainbow colours. For ages 3 and up.
Pre-schoolers who love the kitchen, but who perhaps shouldn’t be in charge of actual utensils and hot pans yet, will adore Lotta Nieminens' interactive cooking books that combine simple recipes and actions involving tabs, wheels and flaps. The latest allows kids to act out making Cookies, and you can find the others here.
A piece of Australian history is given a delightful picture book spin in Mamie, which recreates the early life of beloved children’s author and illustrator May Gibbs. Little Mamie lives in her imagination, spending her days singing and dancing with magical woodland friends in her lush home country of England. When her family moves to Australia, she struggles to find new fairy friends in the dry, unfamiliar landscape, until her eventual discovery of bush fairies. Gibbs’s extraordinary early creativity is celebrated in this wonderful depiction of a fantastic role model for little budding artists and dreamers, complete with McCartney’s vibrant watercolour illustrations. For ages 3 and up.
Big eyes and little hands will love the bright colours and busyness of Alphabet Street. Young readers will get exposed to the alphabet on the sly while exploring the many shops on the concertina-style street. Doors and windows open out on the bakery, the joke shop, the launderette, the vacuum shop and more, and there is one big long streetscape on the flip side. For ages 3 and up.
An equally hands-on book is Maisy’s House which features the perennially popular mouse as a pop-out character, along with Tallulah, Little Black Cat and Panda. Kids can listen to the story about Maisy’s day at home, then make up their own stories using the pop-up play scene. For ages 3 and up.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 5-7
In the delightful Dragon Post, a concerned Alex finds a dragon in this basement and writes letters to the fire department, the butcher and a wide variety of others seeking advice about the care and maintenance of said dragon. With envelope pouches containing proper letters, this is a sweet and gently humorous story about the enduring friendship and care between a child and their dragon, and the quirky advice given by strangers. Kids will adore pulling out and reading the realistic-looking letters. For ages 5 and up.
A crack team of crime-investigating pigeons have short and fun illustrated adventures in Real Pigeons Fight Crime and the follow-up Real Pigeons Eat Danger. Each pigeon in the Real Pigeons squad has a special Pigeon Power, and kids will love these exuberant mysteries. Text and pictures work together seamlessly, with comic sequences, graphic dialogue, funny captions, exuberant visual humour and word play. For ages 6 and up.
The ebullient and curious Lemonade Jones stars in her very own chapter book containing two stories. Her first day at a new school and sixth birthday party are each brought to life with relatable comic touches and very cute illustrations by Karen Blair in this giftable hardcover. Lemonade is a hilarious new character in Australian books, and I think kids will love her honest battles to contain her impulses and stick to the rules. For ages 7 and up.
Budding young engineer Rosie has a difficult task: to design and construct an extraordinary painting machine in just two days, to help her Aunt Rose and her friends win the town’s mural competition. Despite suffering numerous setbacks, Rosie brainstorms and bounces back again and again with the loyal support of her friends Iggy and Ada, to create an engineering triumph. Rosie Revere and the Raucous Riveters is the first book in a new junior fiction series that creates great stories around STEM themes. Boldly illustrated and with short, easy-to-read chapters, this is a fun and whimsical read that champions persistence and teamwork. For ages 7 and up.
Alex T. Smith of Claude fame is back with a new character – the most excellent ‘Professional Adventurer’ Mr Penguin. In Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure, Mr Penguin and his spider sidekick, kung fu expert Colin, are engaged by museum owner Boudicca Bones to find a lost treasure. Mr Penguin and Colin discover a wild subterranean jungle and battle bank robbers, alligators and the elements in this madcap adventure. Utilising Alex T. Smith’s trademark combination of clear, funny and engaging text with wonderful character illustrations, young readers will love the clues, silliness, and a satisfying twist at the end. For ages 6 and up.
Blow a junior reader’s mind with one of the funniest, most fascinating and best-looking accounts of how the universe and humans came to evolve over millennia in Philip Bunting’s How Did I Get Here. Bunting uses humour and bold illustrations, science and philosophy and wonder, to bring science and biology to life for kids. For ages 5 and up.
The Little People, Big Dreams series of simple and brightly illustrated picture book biographies has gone from strength to strength, adding more and more notable people to its ranks. Kids love hearing about the lives of famous women such as Jane Goodall, L.M. Montgomery, Simone de Beauvoir, Mother Teresa, Josephine Baker and Anne Frank. There’s also the Women in Science and Women in Art box-sets, as well as the Marie Curie Paper Doll and Emmeline Pankhurst Paper Doll. For ages 5 and up.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 8-12
You won’t find a more gorgeous and heartwarming present for a young reader (especially if they’re an animal lover) than The Tales of Mr Walker, an illustrated hardcover story about the real-life Guide Dog ambassador that lives at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Melbourne. Mr Walker narrates his arrival at the hotel, the various staff and guests he meets, and the numerous funny scrapes, mishaps and adventures that occur due to his enthusiastic canine nature (said enthusiasm is vividly illustrated by Sara Acton). For ages 8 and up, but this could also be read as a family, with younger children.
Primary school prankster and poet Elizabella is truly one out of the box, as detailed in Elizabella Meets Her Match, in which Elizabella accidentally makes a teacher and the tuckshop lady fall in love, and gets jealous of new girl Minnie’s pranking abilities. Written by comedian Zoe Norton Lodge, this is one of the most charming Aussie books of the year. Elizabella is irrepressible, imaginative and amusingly irritating. For ages 8 and up.
Jack Scratch is a pirate cat, and he’s hitting the high seas with Cap'n Catnip and Uncle Silver in The Adventures of Jack Scratch: The Quest for the Hiss-Paniola, the first full-length graphic novel from talented Kiwi illustrator Craig Phillips (Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts). Scratch and his crew are searching for the fabled treasure of the shipwreck Hiss-Paniola, all the while being pursued by the nefarious Billy Fishbones and his crew. There’s maps, sea shanties, desert islands, cannibals, taverns and temples, all lavishly and boldly illustrated in this rollicking, funny and action-packed adventure. Tintin fans will love Jack Scratch, as will readers who like puns and action. For ages 8 and up.
Enter well-known storybook worlds in the magical fantasy adventure, Pages & Co: Tilly and the Bookwanderers (Book 1). Tilly lives in the Pages & Co bookshop with her grandparents, her guardians since the long-ago disappearance of her mother, Beatrice. When Tilly discovers a special box of books and an ability to travel into literary lands, she embarks on an exciting adventure with her new friend Oskar that sees them meet famous characters such as Anne of Green Gables and Alice in Wonderland. For ages 8 and up.
We think the prehistoric Tarin of the Mammoths trilogy is a great choice for Christmas and summer reading. The first book, Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile, won this year’s Readings Children’s Book Prize. Tarin longs to be a hunter, but his twisted leg means he is feared and bullied. After a disastrous mishap, Tarin is forced to leave his family and travel across wild, unknown land to save the Mammoth Clan. Tarin teams up with two other outcast young people, and together they must dig into the depths of their bravery. If this sounds perfect for a young reader, aged 8 and up, that you know, you can also buy the trilogy as a bundle.
A more serious and mature choice is Samantha Wheeler’s Everything I’ve Never Said. We’re already big fans of Wheeler’s eco-adventures Mister Cassowary, Wombat Warriors and Turtle Trackers, and in Everything I’ve Never Said she explores a family tragedy and living with a disability. Eleven-year-old Ava has Rett syndrome – a rare neurological disorder that means she is unable to walk, move without help, or speak. Ava is funny, smart and observant, but she can’t physically articulate her thoughts, feelings and opinions. When tragedy strikes her family, Ava is motivated more than ever to find her individual voice, with the help of a new friend and new occupational therapist. If you know an empathetic reader aged 10 and up who likes to read about kids facing challenges, this is a great choice.
The beauty and difficulty of sibling relationships comes to life in the heartbreaking Lenny’s Book of Everything. Lenny and Davey Spinks are raised by their single mother Cynthia, who juggles working at a retirement home and a fruit shop. Davey is seven, won’t stop growing, and Cynthia is too scared and overwhelmed to find out why. Lenny and Davey’s days are dominated by the gradual arrival of instalments of Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia, which help fuel dreams of running away to Great Bear Lake and imaginary pet eagles. This warm and nostalgic novel is a joy – championing the power of community and resilience in difficult times. For ages 10 and up.
There’s hours of fun and intrigue in the gorgeously designed and comprehensive Myth Atlas. Learn about the gods, monsters, heroes, villains and stories of a broad range of world mythologies, from Greek, Egyptian, Native American, Japanese, Polynesian, Amazonian and more. Huge double-page illustrated colour spreads do justice to the bigness of the mythical worlds involved, like the intricate map of the different levels of the Norse world, or the cosmic display of the gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. For ages 9 and up.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 13 AND UP
Teen fans of complex fantasy sagas and exciting worldbuilding will love A Winter’s Promise the first in The Mirror Visitor quartet, and a prize winner translated from the original French. Following a cataclysmic event known as The Rupture, the world has broken into fragments of floating islands or Arks orbiting what used to be Earth. Ophelia lives quietly on the Anima ark, an awkward and unassuming person despite her powers of reading the history of objects and travelling through mirrors. Ophelia’s quiet life is interrupted when she is ordered by the governing matriarchs to marry the forbidding Thorn, and forced to travel to the equally unwelcoming ark, Pole. Treacherous inter-Ark politics and family secrets threaten Ophelia, and she becomes the most unlikely of heroines. For ages 14 and up.
A mysterious fire in a small town is investigated by detective Michael Teller, and the ghost of his teenage daughter, Beth in Ezekiel and Ambelin Kwaymullina’s Catching Teller Crow . Beth, recently killed in a car accident, follows her father on the case, encouraging him and trying to keep his grief and loneliness at bay. When the two visit the hospital to interview a possible witness, Isobel Catching, they are baffled by the wild and surreal story she tells in verse. This genre-breaking novel is a great crime mystery, as well as touching on crucial issues in Australian society: the legacy of the Stolen Generations, generational trauma and the generational resilience of women, and racial prejudice in police investigations. For ages 13 and up.
Also set in small-town Australia, After the Lights Go Out is an entertaining thriller that also stimulates a lively exploration of values and practical ethics. Pru Palmer and her twin sisters Grace and Blythe have been raised by their doomsday prepper father to bunker down (literally) and take care of the family when a range of apocalyptic possibilities occurs. When a significant electrical event takes place while their father is away from home, Pru and the twins are perfectly positioned to put their survival training and preparation into practice. But as fear settles into the isolated town of Jubilee and resources dwindle, Pru finds herself at the centre of dangers and decisions that will require her to think carefully about those closest to her and the greater community. For ages 13 and up.
The fourth book in the enormously popular Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, A Map of Days is finally here, Jacob Portman is back in Florida, together with Miss Peregrine, Emma and his new friends. Their idyll is interrupted when Jacob discovers his grandfathers secret bunker and learns more about Abe’s double life as a peculiar operative. Jacob embarks on an American road trip featuring new characters with entrancing abilities, and an underworld of communities, gangs and councils. Illustrated once more with wonderful vintage photos, A Map of Days can be enjoyed by existing fans or new readers as the beginning of a new adventure trilogy. For ages 13 and up.
Frey is the leader of a band of Boneless Mercies, a group of four travelling young woman (and one young man, a healer) who live on the margins of society and are hired to enact mercy killings. Craving legend-level glory, Frey convinces her team to hunt the formidable Blue Vee beast that has been terrorising distant villages and claim the reward, allowing them to leave the death trade and change their lives. Set in the alternative Scandinavia of Vorseland, The Boneless Mercies is a loose and gender-flipped interpretation of Beowulf, full of evocative language, bloodshed, epic deeds and sisterhood. For ages 14 and up.
Bestselling author Neil Shusterman has co-written a book with his son Jarrod, Dry – a harrowing near-future look at severe drought in southern California. When the water supplies run dry (the ‘Tap-Out’) and their parents disappear, sixteen-year-old Alyssa and her little brother Garrett, must look for their parents and find a water supply for themselves in increasingly dangerous and desperate conditions.They band together with three other teens in their quest – survivalist Kelton, independent Jacqui and shady Henry – and the multiple perspectives of these core characters, plus small snapshots of other citizens lives, build a true sense of doom. For ages 13 and up.
Two superstar authors, Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda which was made into the film Love, Simon) and Adam Silvera (They Both Die At The End) come together for the charming dual-perspective romance, What If It’s Us.
Arthur and Ben meet by chance in a New York post office, and then regret their ‘missed connection’ in this light and lovely summer story that will especially please teens who dream of going to NYC, as well as fans of Hamilton. When Ben and Arthur eventually do meet up again in a series of awkward dates, it seems at first that they might be too different from each other. Arthur is doing an internship at a high-pressure law firm and Ben is having to attend summer school with his ex. But, as it should do in every self-respecting romance, love finds a way in this funny and sweet book with oodles of witty banter, pop culture references and an entertaining cast of supportive friends. For ages 13 and up.