gift books

How to Make Sure That Your Baby Shower Book Won’t Get Returned

Don’t follow the leader! Find a way to make your baby shower book stand out from the pack…

There was recently a post on Brightly (a site I’ve been writing for) that I really liked – “8 Baby Shower Books That Won’t Get Returned” by Janssen Bradshaw. Not only did it offer some great gift book suggestions, but it also got me thinking about the subtle politics that go into buying a friend a really great gift book for their baby shower. Because, let’s be frank, you WANT your book to be the favorite. You want your book to be the hit of the shower. And, more than anything, you don’t want your book to suffer that fate worse than death for a gift book – to be returned, with a stack of similar books, for (shudder) store credit.

So, how do you make sure that your baby shower book stands out from the pack? For starters, don’t buy anyone Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You, or any other standard shower staple. Yes, they’re fantastic books, but they’re PREDICTABLE. Any bookish parent worth a damn is going to get ten copies of those titles from ten different people. They’re the baby shower equivalent of the letters Pat Sajak gives you as freebies during the final puzzle of Wheel of Fortune.

What other advice can I give you? After reading Bradshaw’s article, I took to Twitter the other day to list off some of my favorite tips for buying baby shower books. Some are no brainers, some are super-passive aggressive, and a few are borderline evil. But they should give you a decent idea of how to plan out your baby shower book purchase and ensure that your book finds a place of honor on their child’s bookshelf for years to come.


If you want any specific ideas for other superior shower books, here are a few suggestions I’ve had in the past:

Five Great Board Books That Aren’t Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny
Building a Library for Friends: Great Starter Books for Your Best Friends’ Baby


[read the rest of the post…]


Every year, my wife and I have the same problem around Christmastime – “How many books are too many books?”  We’re lucky enough to have a kid that actually, honestly appreciates books as a gift (provided that there are other gifts as well), so she’s come to both expect and love the books she receives on Christmas morning. (Don’t believe me? Check this video out.)

Our only issue is making sure that we’re not overloading her with SO many books that she gets overwhelmed and the really good ones get lost in the crowd. So, this year, we tried to restrain ourselves, but… we still got her some very, very cool books. These are the ones we landed on and, if you somehow run into my daughter between now and the 25th (which would be super-weird), just play along and don’t spoil the surprise, OK? Here’s what we got her:

The Search for WondLa and A Hero for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

These were my daughter’s most requested books for the year. She’s a HUGE fan of Tony DiTerlizzi, a fantastic author and illustrator who (along with Holly Black) is responsible for The Spiderwick Chronicles, which are among my daughter’s favorite books of all time. AND we checked out The Search for WondLa from the library a few months ago and she LOVED IT. It’s a really cool, very engaging science fiction story about a resourceful girl named Eva Nine, who is raised in an underground sanctuary by a robot and eventually ventures out into the strange outside world. Eva is a great character and it’s a fun, classic quest with beautiful illustrations and, I realized later, it is one of the first sci-fi stories that my kid ever read all the way through. (They make a lot of fantasy for younger readers, but not a lot of science fiction.) She loved the first WondLa book and wanted to know where the story went, so now she’ll have her own copy of the first book along with the second chapter, A Hero for WondLa. I think she’ll adore them.


The Animal Book by Steve Jenkinsanimal

I’m excited about this one. We discovered The Animal Book at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor and my wife and I knew we were going to buy it immediately. Steve Jenkins makes some of the coolest nonfiction books I’ve ever seen. He’s a remarkable scientist and artist and his book Never Smile at a Monkey: And 17 Other Important Things to Remember is one of the most read titles in our home library. This encyclopedic look at the “fastest, fiercest, toughest, cleverest, shyest, and most surprising animals on Earth” is BEAUTIFUL and I know my daughter will spent hours combing over every page.


Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine by Gloria Whelan, illustrated by Nancy Carpenterqueen

I will be 100% honest with you – I have not read this book. But I can tell you why I bought it. First, my daughter LOVES weird true stories from history. She loves knowing about how President Taft got stuck in the bath, she loves hearing about Annie Taylor, the woman who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and, as such, I think she’ll love this true story about Queen Victoria’s real-life bathing machine, which allowed her to swim in sea water in private. The second reason I think she’ll love the book (and the main reason why this title caught my eye) is the fact that it was Nancy Carpenter who illustrated it – Carpenter illustrated two of my daughter’s most beloved picture books, 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore and 11 Experiments That Failed. [read the rest of the post…]


Santa reading his holiday mail

Dear Santa – Please bring me these kid’s books that don’t exist yet. Signed, A Blog You Probably Don’t Read…

Have you ever gone looking for a particular book for your child only to realize, after a few days of furious Googling and bookstore calling, that the book in question simply does not exist? I have. Once you realize it, you just sort of sit there and go, “Wait a minute, you mean there aren’t ANY kid’s books about the first time you chip your tooth at the zoo… or the fictional outer space adventures of Neville Chamberlain… or the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota? How is that possible?” (If those books do, in fact, actually exist, the world is an even cooler place than I thought it was.)

Sometimes, the non-existent book in question is just a random idea that pops out of my head. And, trust me, they’re not always solid concepts. (“Wouldn’t it be cool to have a book about the history of macaroni that was made out of macaroni and you could then boil it and eat it when you’re done?”) Other times, I am legitimately surprised to find a topic that doesn’t have an accompanying kid’s book to help my daughter better understand it. I am just so used to having libraries upon libraries of age-appropriate children’s books at my disposal to help my kid contextualize anything and everything that, when I find a gap in that coverage, it can be a jarring experience. (Last month, I spent a solid week trying to explain the Large Hadron Collider to my very curious six year old. I really could’ve used a Caldecott-nominee to back me up on that one…)

So, since the holiday season is a time for wishing to omniscient bearded deities, I decided to collect this list of Seven Children’s Books That I Really, Really Wish Existed. These are all the kinds of books that, as a book fan and as a parent, I would love to read with my daughter and that I hope someone, somewhere decides to write and publish one day.

(And, if these books already exist, TELL ME. I did cursory research on all of these ideas before posting this article, but I will gladly admit my mistake – and probably buy the book – if I missed any major titles.)

1. Kaiju for Kids

Kaiju from Gumby's Winter Fun Special

Kaiju monsters go wild in a panel from one of the greatest comic books ever – “Gumby’s Winter Fun Special”

What does “kaiju” mean? Here’s a link to the Wikipedia definition, but the shortest, most direct answer I can give you is “Kaiju = Godzilla.” Fans of the kaiju genre might debate that over-simplification, but, when you hear nerds talking about kaiju, they’re normally talking about the giant monster movie genre, most typically identified with Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra, and their ilk. Big monsters (a.k.a. men in suits), breathing fire and firing lasers, having battle royales in the middle of a cardboard city as the miniature locals run away screaming. Sometimes the giant beasts are good, sometimes they’re bad, sometimes they’re just an unstoppable force of nature. But they’re always big, tough, and looking for a brawl.

I think kaiju is just a PERFECT genre for kids. I mean, for a young child, what could be cooler than a 50-foot-robot and an impossibly big dinosaur throwing buildings at each other? (Seriously, what Fancy Nancy book could ever compete with that?) Plus, visually, the kaiju-style battles nicely parallel how kids play with their own toys. Give a kid some action figures and toy cars and, eventually, those giant toy men and women are going to roar and step on those cars. It’s imprinted in our DNA. And, even though there’s fighting in kaiju, I wouldn’t say that the genre is particularly violent. There are a lot of men-in-suits being thrown around balsa-wood cities, but there’s not a lot of bleeding, death, or pain. There’s mostly just stomping, roaring, and shoving things out of the way… which kind of sounds like a kindergartener to me. The definitive visual style of kaiju movies is based on contrasts – huge monsters transposed on top of relatively small cities. I think that contrast of images can be very fun and very powerful for kids, particularly for younger children who are still working on their motor skill development. If you’re a kid who’s still learning how to tie your shoes or properly hold a pencil, I think it would be incredibly satisfying to watch these lumbering beasts, bigger than anyone else around, stumble and fall and wreck things with impunity.

Godzilla Pooped on My Honda

Final image from the poem “Godzilla Pooped on My Honda” from Adam Rex’s brilliant “Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich”

A quick Amazon search turned up a few out-of-print Godzilla picture books from the 1990s – copies of the best-looking title, Godzilla Likes to Roar, is now selling for more than $180 – but I can’t believe there aren’t more kaiju kid’s books. And they don’t need to be Godzilla books per se. I think a talented author or illustrator would have no problem coming up with new original kaiju monsters, replete with zippers down their backs, to populate a fictional metropolis, and I would love to see a children’s book creator really nail those parallels between the oddly-sized awkwardness of both fifty-foot dragons and five year olds. It just sounds like way too much fun.

2. First Trip to the Movies

First Trip to the Movies

She promptly shushed me soon after taking this picture…

This one really surprises me. As a parent, you are very aware of historically “big” landmarks in your child’s life. Their first step, their first haircut, their first day of school, and so on. And most of those landmarks have some sort of picture book or Berenstain Bear book to acknowledge and/or commemorate those momentous rites of passage. However, I couldn’t find any picture books about one of my daughter’s biggest “big” moments – her first trip to the movies. [read the rest of the post…]


Baby Reading a Book

Question: What's cuter than a baby reading a book? Answer: Almost nothing.

The upside to having your own kid lit blog is that now, when friends’ kids have birthdays or when a new baby is born, the expectation is that I should be the one who gets to go out and buy new books for the kids. This fact delights me, since I really enjoy buying books, and vaguely annoys my wife (which also kind of delights me). Granted, the existence of the blog also adds some added pressure to my book picks as people now expect that I’m only going to select profoundly great titles for their children, which is a hard expectation to live up to. So, it was with this mixture of joy and anxiety that I headed out to the bookstore last night to buy some new books for friends who just had a new baby. (A girl named Scout – how cool is that?)

I decided to stick to board books because there are years and years to make sure that your kid has a great library of paperback and hardcover classics at their fingertips, and I love actually giving babies books that they can start abusing right away. Board books are solid, sturdy, and, if your baby HAS to chew on something, I’d rather have them chomping on some high quality kid lit as opposed to just some old binky or blanket. Plus I think one of the best things you can do to encourage your children to read is to just have lots of books around and available for them to experience. Books need to be a part of their daily environment, and board books are very safe, very accessible reading material for developing kids.

I did a feature a while back on “Five Great Board Books That Aren’t Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny and, while those are all great board book titles that I recommend HIGHLY – don’t get me wrong, Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny are still must-own canon classics – I decided to pursue a few different options this time, picking out a mixture of classic and newer titles. If you’re in the market for some new board books or if you’re about to buy a gift for a friend with a young baby or toddler at home, here are the five board books I bought last night, all of which I’d definitely recommend.

Board Books

Note the gift receipt as I hedge my bets....

1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin

OK, after yesterday’s post, I kinda had to buy this one, didn’t I? But it’s still one of the best board books ever.

2. Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime

Always bet on bedtime...

We actually don’t own any Bob Shea books ourselves, but he’s been on our radar for a long while – my daughter read I’m a Shark at a friend’s house and loved it – so I decided to pick up Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and give it a read at the store. I’m glad I did. Shea’s illustrations are fun and bombastic, and the whole book just has this wonderful anarchic energy that I think kids will really respond to. (Also, Dinosaur reminded me of the six-year-old older brother of the new baby I was buying for, so that was an added bonus.)  In the book, Dinosaur throws him up against obstacle after obstacle – a pile of leaves, spaghetti, his parents, etc. – and, after tackling his opponents, he throws his hands up and declares “Dinosaur WINS!” However, at the end of the book, Dinosaur discovers the one opponent he can’t defeat – bedtime. [read the rest of the post…]