Our 2019 Christmas Gift Guide: The kids edition
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
Board books make wonderful gifts for little people with chubby little hands and curious eyes, and there are some beautiful options available this year. Artist-designer Beci Orpin’s Dressing Your Family and Moving Your Body have simple text that encourages babies to interact with themselves and their environment, both illustrated in appealing bold blocks of colour. There’s more homegrown aesthetically-pleasing goodness in Kindness Makes Us Strong and Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer, two fantastic larger board books with busy, bright kids being kind and loving in all sorts of families and communities.
Other recent board book favourites include It’s Mine!, Baby Loves, Farmblock and Where’s Mr Narwhal?. If you need more board book inspiration, you can find a great collection of recent releases here, or browse our suggestions of board books with female characters.
Soft fabric cloth books and Indestructibles books are other smart choices for the newest humans, as they’re made from tactile materials and won’t object to being chewed on. I particularly like Eric Carle’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar which is great in the cloth book version, and this soft, chewy, crinkly Wee Gallery buggy book that will clip onto a pram or stroller.
If you’d like to gift a picture book, Australian picture book legend Margaret Wild has crafted an instant baby-appropriate classic with Boo!, which celebrates the timeless game of peekaboo with a whimsical twist. Going to the Footy is another fantastic read-to-babies book by Debbie Coombes. It has striking illustrations in the Tiwi style, showing all the ways a person can travel to the footy: by tinny, by canoe, by trail bike.
And finally, a treasury or collection of nursery rhymes can make a beautiful keepsake for a baby and the rest of their family. You can find everything from hardcover and illustrated, to noisy and interactive.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 3-4
Picture books with captivating words and entertaining stories make the perfect present for this age group, and we’re spoilt for choice this Christmas. The rhyming All of the Factors of Why I Love Tractors is heaven for all vehicle-obsessed preschoolers, featuring calm and resolute Frankie, who will only borrow tractor-themed books from the library.
After receiving lots of adoring fan letters and invitations from kids all over the country, Mr Chicken makes a big trip down under in Mr Chicken All Over Australia. Young readers will love travelling to far-flung and well-trodden places with this loveable giant. Along the way, they will see landmarks like the Big Pineapple, Big Prawn and Sydney Harbour Bridge, meet the Royal Flying Doctors, and visit many of the teeny-tiny towns that author Leigh Hobbs actually visited during his reign as Australian Children’s Laureate.
Celebrate the power of children to make a difference with Sofia Valdez, Future Prez by blockbuster duo Andrea Beaty and David Roberts (of Iggy Peck, Architect, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Rosie Revere, Engineer fame). After her Abuelo injures his ankle at the local tip, Sofia misses him walking her to school and wonders what she can do about the dangerous Mount Trashmore. Sofia brainstorms an idea to turn the tip into a park, and has to work hard to convince the adults in power that she’s onto a winning idea for her community.
The outstanding Cooee Mittigar: A Story on Darug Songlines takes readers on a tour of Darug country, in the greater Sydney area, with Mulgo (Black Swan) as a very able guide. Meet brolgas, echidnas, dingoes, and turtles, find out about the many different seasons and what happens in them, and learn Darug words for everything you see. This is a particularly great book for kids who like nature, animals and learning new words.
A new Julia Donaldson picture book is always reason to celebrate, especially when she introduces new characters and Axel Scheffler illustrates. The Smeds and the Smoos is about two groups of alien beings, the red Smeds and the blue Smoos, who live on a planet far away and do not like each other. Trouble arises when a Smed and a Smoo fall in love, and there’s a great drama involving a rocket elopement, and a happy ending in the form of a purple baby. The rhyming is impeccable, with delicious made-up words like humpety and lobular, and the illustrations cute and colourful. This story is perfectly pitched for the age group.
Japanese artist Chihiro Takeuchi uses intricate paperwork to create absorbing search-and-finds in the interactive board book, Animals. With sturdy peek-through pages, spreads for each continent, and oodles of animals to find and count, including sloths, koalas and polar bears, this book can cover a few age groups, from littlies who just want a visual spectacle, to bigger kids who want to practice counting and build their animal knowledge.
If whizz-bang book design and interactivity is your thing, two other excellent books are I See, I See, a playful right-way-up and upside-down kind of read, and Outback: The Amazing Animals of Australia, featuring animals that actually move on the page and plenty of quirky facts.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 5-7
For the sweetest gift ever, Wild Honey from the Moon is a gorgeous illustrated hardcover chapter book, with a story perfect for junior readers. Mother Shrew is very worried about her son, who is sick and won’t stop sleeping. A medical book advises ‘wild honey from the moon’ for his symptoms and so a determined Mother Shrew steps out into the night to search for this cure and in the process, meet some strange creatures.
Youngsters who love mysteries, jokes, cartoons and teamwork will adore the Real Pigeons Power Pack. This box set contains all four books in the massively popular Real Pigeons series, which details the heartwarming adventures of a posse of crime-fighting pigeons: Rock, Frillback, Tumbler, Homey and Grandpouter. If they’ve already read every Real Pigeons book, give them Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery, which is also presented in a graphic novel/chapter book format, and which introduces the hilarious Sherlock Bones, a memorable and talkative bird skeleton.
Irrepressible nine-year-old Magnolia Moon likes to ask questions, loves Greek mythology, has a unique outlook on life and can be relied on to keep a secret. Each chapter in The Secrets of Magnolia Moon reveals a secret that Magnolia is keeping, and captures important moments and changes in Magnolia’s year of being nine. In this year Magnolia finds out her mother is having a baby and that her best friend, Imogen May, is moving away; life is changing at 84 Crocus Cottage.
For kids who are more fact-oriented, there are some great imaginative non-fiction books this year. Budding astronomers will love the humour and busy layout of Pluto Gets The Call. When Pluto gets a phone call from Earth informing him that he’s not actually a planet, he has an identity crisis about his new status of ice dwarf. What follows is a very chatty and fact-packed journey through the solar system as a down-in-the-dumps Pluto introduces the other ‘real’ planets, from gassy ones to cute ones.
How Trains Work takes the business of railways very seriously, with detailed double-page spreads chock-full of information. Illustrated with charm by James Gulliver Hancock and utilising lift-the-flaps and foldouts, this is a comprehensive and fascinating look at trains through history (from horse-drawn to steam to modern passenger trains), train stations and how they work, famous long-distance journeys, sleeper trains, super-fast trains, trains under the sea, and more.
Astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith has achieved the seemingly possible and combined astrophysics and bedtime stories into the one unique delightful book. Under the Stars: Astrophysics for Bedtime contains 45 short stories about Earth, space, our solar system and the universe. Equal parts science and wonder, each story introduces key concepts and information (pulsars! gravity! space junk!) in a relaxed way, and encourages kids to dream about our incredible universe.
Curious kids who want to know more about their world will find hours of pleasure in This Is My World. 84 kids from 6 continents and 60 countries share stories and photos about their everyday lives, what interests them, their hopes for the future, what it’s like in their part of the globe, and all sorts of opinions and preferences regarding school, food, games, family and more. With lots of photos, a colourful design and small portions of text, this is a horizon-expanding and fun book to pore over.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 8-12
There are some cracking reads for this age group at the moment.
If the young reader you know loves fantasy, gift them Emily Rodda’s The Glimme. Finn’s life in the fishing village of Wichant is ordinary and dull, but he finds joy in spending every spare moment sketching dragons and monsters. When his nasty grandparents happily sell Finn off to a severe housekeeper for a handful of gold, Finn is taken to a clifftop mansion and placed in front of seven extraordinary and fantastical paintings. Finn doesn’t know it yet, but he’s soon to leave the world he knows and discover the wonders and perils of The Glimme.
Another brand new fantasy title is Chris Colfer’s A Tale of Magic, which takes place in the same universe as his bestselling The Land of Stories series. Brystal Evergreen loves books and learning but unfortunately lives in a chauvinistic kingdom where girls should aspire only to be wives and mothers. After accidentally discovering her (very illegal) magical powers, Brystal ends up at Madame Weatherberry’s Academy of Magic, where magic, danger and adventure bloom. Kids with a strong sense of fairness and justice will love the themes of standing up to repressive power and prejudice in this book.
If the kids you know like relatable and funny real-life stories, or harbor a secret desire to be Steven Spielberg when they grow up, then How to Make a Movie in 12 Days is for them. When Hayley Whelan sets out to achieve her dream of filming her debut feature film, the horror masterpiece Rosebud, on her school holidays, it’s fair to say nothing goes smoothly. Reluctant actors, difficult little sisters, friendship troubles, budget blowouts and potential sabotage all add up to an exciting, challenging and hilarious 12 days.
Eoin Colfer expands the Artemis Fowl world in The Fowl Twins, which follows Artemis’s younger twin brothers Myles and Beckett. After being left alone in the care of house security, Myles and Beckett encounter a burrowing troll on the run, and end up being pursued by a nefarious nobleman and an interrogating nun. Expect the Colfer trademarks of belly laughs, gadgets, explosions, witty one-liners and one breakneck plot.
This year also demands a special shout-out to graphic novels, a form that is expanding rapidly and excitingly in this age group.
Raina Telgemaier is often an entry point for new graphic novel readers who end up falling in love with her honest, funny and heartfelt stories. Guts is her latest autobiographical graphic novel. The story charts Raina’s experience of an upset stomach, and her worries about food, school, and changing friendships.
Another good slide into the graphic novel world is Pie in the Sky, a unique hybrid graphic/prose novel that’s funny, moving and will make you very, very hungry for cake. When Jingwen (along with his mother and adorably pesky little brother, Yanghao) move to Australia, it literally feels like landing on Mars. Jingwen has to navigate a new language, school, taking care of Yanghao and realising that they’re the ‘aliens’ in this scenario. The two brothers miss their dad, who had dreams of starting his own fancy cake shop in Australia, so they start to bake his cake recipes for comfort.
Other graphic novels that we’ve loved this year are This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews, Stargazing by Jen Wang and Akissi: More Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin. If you’re looking for a series, then some popular picks include Amulet, The Adventures of Dog Man, Wings of Fire and The Baby Sitter’s Club.
You can find plenty of other graphic novel suggestions here.
Kids who love non-fiction also have plenty to pick from this Christmas. Tim Flannery’s Explore Your World: Weird, Wild, Amazing! is a standout animal book, full of eyebrow-raising facts about animal biology, behaviour, habitat, history and evolution. Flannery’s infectious enthusiasm and his personal anecdotes about encountering rare or dangerous animals on field trips and expeditions make this a winner. Two other notable books for nature and animal lovers are Hidden Planet and The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Ugly Animals.
The biggest kids non-fiction title this year has undoubtedly been Bruce Pascoe’s seminal Young Dark Emu: A Truer History, which belongs on every Australian family’s bookshelf! This is a young reader’s edition of the adult book Dark Emu – a book that explains that Australian Aboriginals at the time of British colonisation were not only hunter-gatherers, but also people who made agricultural use of their land. Young Dark Emu: A Truer History uses diary entries from settlers, well-pitched text, fascinating illustrative material and a colourful graphic design to explore farming methods, aquaculture, food storage, housing, sustainability and the devastating effects of European colonisation. It’s sure to open up some rich and stimulating family conversations.
Looking further at what’s on our shelves this Christmas, there’s a book for almost every other topic: budding scientists will love Dr Karl’s Random Road Trip through Science; young activists and environmentalists can read We Are All Greta: Be Inspired to Save the World; Eddie Woo’s Magical Maths will please number lovers; and everyone can be inspired by the tales of courage, ingenuity and grit in Rise Up.
Find all our new kids non-fiction here.