Just For Fun

10 Times When a Book Is a Better Gift Than a Toy

by Iva-Marie Palmer

Photo credit: deux, Corbis/Getty Images

Face it: When you have kids, that whole notion that you’ve put away childish things goes out the window. Suddenly, your home is overrun with their toys, and after several years of accumulating the holiday season’s hot new plaything, legions of action figures and dolls, LEGOs that seem to multiply each time you step on one, the constant tidying up of your kids’ trinkets can feel never-ending.

Do you know what’s considerably easier to put away and makes a great substitute for toys in almost any gift-giving situation? Books! There are so many fantastic children’s books out there that serve as perfect presents for kids, for any occasion — and they can have a significantly longer lifespan than (yet another) hunk of brightly hued plastic.

Here are ten times when buying a book instead of a toy is the better option:

When you’re choosing a vacation souvenir. Of course, kitschy souvenirs appeal to kids and sometimes you can’t resist picking up a snow globe or a stuffed animal donning a tiny t-shirt of the place you’ve visited. But in almost every city my family visits, we make it a point to hit up a local independent bookstore to have the kids each choose a picture book to take home. Later, I write the date, location, and store name inside the book to preserve the memory. Bonus: I figure these libraries will be theirs one day if they have families of their own.

When you’re attending a baby shower. Whenever a friend is having or has a new baby, I like to gift a few picture books. Because I have kids who love books, I like to include a favorite from their babyhood shelves, which brings them in on the act of giving too.

When you’re purchasing a birthday gift. I usually pick a book for each of our kids each year and inscribe it to them. I try for something that feels thematically on-point with where they are in their lives. (Mr. Tiger Goes Wild made perfect sense for my toddler last year.) You can also do this so that each year you give a book with a character the same age as your child. If you need some ideas of where to start, check out this list of The Perfect Birthday Books for Ages 1 – 6.

When you’re giving out party favors. Birthday parties often come with the expectation that each kid leaves with a goodie bag, and while that little tote of plastic surprises is understandably delightful to children, if we’re honest, we all know it’s forgotten before they even get it home. I’ve been to a few parties now where the favors are inexpensive picture books (think $4 to $5 — about what each goodie bag probably costs, all told). Little Golden Books, for example, are up to the task!

When you’re shopping for the holidays. This is pretty obvious, especially if your kid’s gift list includes titles from their favorite series or they request books on their favorite subjects. Each Christmas, we like to add a picture book chosen by us to the mix. These also get an inscription personalized to the child, so they have something to look back on long after the must-have toy has stopped being alluring. And, though we don’t do sizeable Halloween or Valentine’s Day gifts in our house, I know people who do and there are a wealth of books perfect for those holidays too.

When you’re celebrating the first day of school. If your child is nervous about that first day, I can think of no better way to ease the anxiety than with a book; it’s fairly easy to find picture books about preschool or kindergarten, and, as they get older, the age-appropriate reads often tackle the subject of heading to a new school, middle school, and even high school.

When you’re celebrating the last day of school — or a graduation! At the end of the school year, it doesn’t hurt to gift another book as a subtle reminder that reading over the break is important. (I recommend picking something really fun and enticing, and nothing that feels too school-y.) If the end of the year brings a graduation, even better! From the classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss to something lesser-known, a graduation gift should focus on a kid’s life and how it’s changing. When our niece graduated from middle school, we gave her some of our favorite reads from high school with inscriptions on the wisdom she might gain.

When your child is moving to a new town. This is a hard time in a kids’ life, but books often serve as supportive friends. Find something that hits the right note for your kid; if they tend to like funny tales, don’t buy a heavy or dramatic story and vice versa. (This list of Picture Books for Children Moving to a New Home is a great place to start!)

When you’re celebrating a child’s new accomplishment. My six-year-old contributed this idea of gifting a book when your child does something they’ve never done, and I like it. Of course, you can’t do it every time your child hits a milestone, but if a child finally overcomes his antipathy toward broccoli after years of hating it, it might be kind of fun to give a veggie-friendly book like Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

When you’re going somewhere you’ve never gone. Another suggestion from my son, who has a list of travel dreams as long as his list of favorite books. If your family is planning a big trip, why not find a kid-friendly guide to the place, or even a fictional story set in the area you’re going, ahead of time? It can only amp up the excitement.