Our 2020 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 are wonderful picks for babies – we recommend stacking a few together and tying them with ribbon for a thoughtful present. Animal-obsessed babies will delight in the touch and feel features of That’s not my wombat…, and the captivating animal noises in Dogs Say Bau and Cats Say Nau. If the baby in question has very busy hands or is a little foodie at heart, then the highly interactive Play with Your Plate! will keep them occupied for quite some time. For a straight-up great story, we recommend turning to the splishy-splashy Puddle Hunters. And, for a real keepsake, we love the exploration of Wurundjeri culture in Welcome to Country.
If none of those seem quite right, take a look through our full range of recommended board books for babies here.
If you’d prefer to to gift a nice hardcover picture book, prolific Australian creators Jane Godwin and Alison Lester make gorgeous books for the preschool crowd. Sing Me the Summer is a celebration of the seasons and family life with watercolour illustrations and simple text.
Another fabulous choice is the charming At the Dog Park by Moira Court. Reading this book truly is like paying a visit to the local park. The pages feature collage illustrations of frolicking pairs of dogs, and the text encourages exploration of opposites: young and old, hot and cold, smooth and shaggy.
Our final gift recommendation for wee ones is an evergreen suggestion that every parent will welcome: a collection of nursery rhymes. Lovely to sing, read and act out together – you can browse our curated collection of treasuries here.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 3-4
You can’t go wrong with a bright and captivating picture book for this age group, and there are some wonderful choices this Christmas.
Renowned artist and author Oliver Jeffers needs no introduction, and What We’ll Build is a gorgeously illustrated tale of a father and daughter building their life together. Using their own special tools, they get to work; building memories to cherish, a home to keep them safe and love to keep them warm. For an equally uplifting pick, Windows by Patrick Guest is a sensitive picture book inspired by Guest’s own experience of having to leave the family home during the coronavirus pandemic. This heartwarming read shows how a group of kids connect and draw strength from their communities from behind the safety of their own windows.
The Unwilling Twin by Freya Blackwood is an adorable pick for toddlers with siblings. ‘Identical’ twins Jules and George (Jules is a little girl and George is a pig!) do everything together, but after a long, hot day at the beach, they have to work harder than usual to get along. A funny and comforting depiction of sibling ups and downs.
If whimsy is your child’s thing try Nick Bland’s Wolfred. Aspiring writer Wolfred McFlea operates the lift in the exclusive and luxurious Fancy Pants Towers, endures his mean boss Mister Pig, and rushes home to write stories about the strange things he sees at work. Rhyming text and lush illustrations bring this unique tale to life, and when there’s an attempted kidnapping, Wolfred proves a humble hero.
Kids who love a happy ending will appreciate Anemone Is Not The Enemy, a quirky true science rockpool story about the lonely Anemone, who accidentally stings anyone that comes close to him. Anemone’s life changes when he meets Clownfish, who is not bothered at all by his sting. Told in dialogue with a sampling of facts at the end, this is a cute story of friendship and symbiotic relationships.
Award-winning author Bruce Pascoe’s Found also contains a hopeful ending to an allegorical story about the Stolen Generations. A lost calf wanders the outback, looking for his mother and encountering other animals, before finally hearing a familiar and welcome ‘moo’. The book’s beautiful artwork comes from Charmaine Ledden-Lewis, the winner of the Kestin Indigenous Illustrator Award, and depicts expressive animals against vivid outback colours. Another essential read about this shameful period of Australia’s history is Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter’s Took the Children Away. Released as a special 30th anniversary edition this year, this picture book stands as an enduring testament to love and resilience.
If you’re interested in looking for other picture and children’s books by First Nations writers and illustrations, you can find some more recommendations here.
For something more interactive – amazing paper-cut artist Chihiro Takeuchi impressed last year with her intricate search books Colours and Animals. Now there’s Whose Bones? – A clever guessing-game exploration of vertebrate animals.
And finally, it almost goes without saying, but you can’t go wrong with a dose of Bluey this year… Board books, picture books, activity books, games, DVDs – we’ve got all your Bluey needs covered right here.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 5-7
Junior and beginner readers are spoilt for choice this festive season.
For endearing odd couple hijinks, there’s Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen’s Skunk and Badger. Skunk is Badger’s new roommate, and there is nothing Badger, a rock scientist who prefers to be left alone to do Important Rock Work, can do about it. Skunk ploughs into Badger’s life, and Badger’s life is upended. This highly illustrated hardback has the feel of a modern classic.
The eccentric animal stories continue with the charming The Wolves of Greycoat Hall, which sees the peaceable and cultured Greycoat wolf family journey back to their ancestral home of Scotland to save the family castle. With maps and amusing illustrations, there’s plenty here to hold a young reader’s attention.
If you’d prefer tales of Australian animals, then look no further than Helen Milroy’s fabulous Willy-willy Wagtail (Tales from the Bush Mob). One day there is a terrible bush fire and Willy Wagtail, Gusto (the wind) and Crow get all the Bush Mob to work together to save the community. With themes of friendship and working together, these adventures are illustrated in a bold and appealing style.
Another choice for this age group is Little Lion, a picture book for slightly older readers. Saroo Brierley first told the story of looking for his biological family in his memoir Lion: A Long Way Home, which was also adapted into a movie. Here, he retells his moving and happy story for a younger audience, with highly respected Australian illustrator Bruce Whatley on board.
If you’re buying for a child that likes relatable, real-life stories, then we suggest Melina Marchetta’s first junior fiction book: What Zola Did on Monday is a story about gardening and community and a naughty dog. The Swedish My Happy Life series also comes highly recommended by our kids specialists, who adore the themes of friendship and overcoming life’s challenges in these stories. Or, if you know a young problem-solver or budding detective – Iggy Peck and the Mysterious Mansion is certain to scratch their sleuthing itch, while those with a kooky sense of humour will adore both the second Sherlock Bones book, Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature, as well as Marshmallow Pie the Cat Superstar, about a cat that might be a celebrity if he wasn’t so fond of relaxing.
For more funny reads, you should also check out our top picks of funny books for beginner readers.
Kids with curious, information-driven minds will relish Sami Bayly’s The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals. Not only is this book beautiful to look at and hold, but it’s also full of interesting facts about fascinating (and dangerous) species. Discover the strange wonder of the geography cone snail, the Irukandji jellyfish and the slow loris, as you pore over detailed scientific illustrations. And youngsters enthralled with space will gravitate towards The Mysteries of the Universe, which covers all the important things: constellations, the moon, the planets, meteorites, eclipses and more. While more hesitant readers might need a helping hand or two with some of the text, this stellar book is laid out clearly with small bites of information and compelling illustrations making it pitched perfectly for junior readers.
GIFT IDEAS FOR AGES 8-12
Fantasy and adventure lovers in this age group have plenty of options this year.
If you have a keen and confident reader to shop for – one of the biggest books this season is Hollowpox: The Hunt for Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor, Book 3). This final book in Jessica Townsend’s awesome Nevermoor trilogy sees underdog Morrigan Crow face up to a strange illness that has turned the city’s Wunimals into mindless and vicious beasts. We also very much recommend Jaclyn Moriarty’s big and boisterous The Stolen Prince of Cloudburst, a rollicking tale of a returning prince and an ordinary girl who must take on ogres, shadow mages and witches. Moriarty’s Kingdoms and Empires books are particularly perfect for kids who like funny, whimsical tales.
We’re also big fans of two historical fantasies that cleverly combine history and thrilling adventure for kids.
The Midnight Guardians follows Col and his (previously imaginary) guardians – a six-foot tiger, a badger in a waistcoat and a miniature knight – as he races towards Blitz-bombed London to save his sister and defeat the Midwinter King. Full of friendship, humour and brave deeds, this is perfect if you’re looking to gift a book with a classic ‘light vs dark’ struggle at its centre. And set in the aftermath of WWII, Glassheart is a rich and atmospheric story about grief, healing and love. Nona and master glazier Uncle Antoni travel around England, replacing the broken stained-glass windows in war-torn buildings. But when they encounter a troubling magic in a church in Dartmoor, Nona must somehow find a way to free her uncle from a mysterious enchantment. This sophisticated book is ideal for thoughtful readers.
For even more magical suggestions, check out our favourite worlds in middle grade fantasy.
If relatable, real life stories are what you’re looking for, you can’t go past Fiona Hardy’s How to Write the Soundtrack to Your Life. When shy, music-loving Murphy is accused by her classmates of musical plagiarism, she must join forces with two of her classmates to clear her name. This sweet and inclusive mystery is a wonderful choice for the young reader that likes funny and heartfelt stories.
For more uplifting suggestions, you might want to peruse our list of middle fiction books that will put a smile on your face.
If you’re shopping for an environmentally conscious young person, or an animal-lover, then we suggest Bindi – an engaging verse novel by award-winning poet Kirli Saunders, gorgeously packaged in hardback with illustrations by Dub Leffler. Eleven-year-old Bindi’s year starts off in its usual fashion, with school, family, hockey, dancing – but then a big art assignment, a drought, a broken wrist and a huge bushfire creates new challenges. This story uses English and Gundungurra languages, and gently emphasises the conservation practices of First Nations people.
Award-winning author Barry Jonsberg (H is for Happiness) is known for his empathetic and wry narratives. In Catch Me If I Fall, sheltered thirteen-year-old twins twins Ashleigh and Aiden promise to always look out for each other. But after Aiden suffers a terrible injury, he isn’t the same brother Ash always relied on. Something has changed, and it will lead to a discovery that will turn their whole world upside down.
If your gift recipient is fond of puzzles, solving mysteries and history, then Amelia Mellor’s The Grandest Bookshop in the World is guaranteed to entrance. Using the real life Melbourne history of entrepreneur Edward Cole, his large family and his groundbreaking business, Cole’s Book Arcade, Mellor has woven a story with a sinister baddy and a group of plucky, talented siblings racing against time to save their father. This chunky read is a lot of fun.
Australian author Katrina Nannestad won hearts in the past few years with her The Girl, the Dog and the Writer series. Her wonderful new book, We Are Wolves, delves into the real-life history of the wolfskinder, East Prussian children who had to fend for themselves in the aftermath of World War II. In this gripping and inspiring adventure tale, the Wolf children – Liesl, Otto and baby Mia – are separated from their family and are pushed to their limits to survive the icy winter.
And now let’s get a bit little factual…
After last year’s fascinating Explore Your World: Weird, Wild, Amazing! , we’re ecstatic that Professor Tim Flannery returns with an oceanic journey: Explore Your World: Deep Dive into Deep Sea. This colourful, story-packed, fact-filled guide is perfect for intrepid kids with an insatiable curiosity about the natural and animal worlds.
In my opinion every house should have at least one hefty illustrated tome about all things beastly and mythical. The Book of Mythical Beasts and Magical Creatures is a wonderful compendium that explores the history, stories and culture behind some favourite mythical animals from around the world, such as qilin, golem, Anansi, Cerberus, Itzpapalotl, and many more. Brightly illustrated with an index and glossary, this book opens up a world of mythical wonders.
Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed The World is the third book in the blockbuster Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls series and it’s a cracker. It contains 100 bedtime stories about the lives of 100 extraordinary immigrant women – women who leave their homelands to seek refuge, to realise dreams, and to contribute to the world. Readers will fight climate change with Xiye Bastida-Patrick, captain a cricket team with Lisa Sthalekar, strategize global affairs alongside Madeleine Albright, and more. Like the other volumes in this excellent series, the stories are accompanied by gorgeous, full-colour portraits, illustrated by female artists from all over the globe.