Christmas morning is a time of chaos for most families. As soon as children open one thing, it’s discarded for another. If electronic games, building sets, frustrating directions and dolls that do everything but eat fattening foods have replaced train sets and cap guns, it might be time to introduce a quieter pastime. But will kids really appreciate getting books for Christmas? The answer is yes, later.
Let’s face it, kids don’t want to find books or clothes under the tree. They do, however, want plenty of things to unwrap. If you choose carefully, some of those stories stand a good chance of making a meaningful impression on young minds. So gear up for some helpful guidelines before you go shopping.
Consider All Age Groups in the Household
Age is important when deciding what books make good gifts. A third grader with toddlers in the house might have a hard time keeping pop-up books safe from little hands. A three-year-old with a younger infant sibling might be tempted to throw one of those brick-hard toddler tomes.
It’s also courteous to consider parental preferences when giving reading material to children. Do the parents read bedtime stories aloud? They will appreciate books that don’t have several long paragraphs on every page! Books that represent the parents’ occupations are bound to be a hit. Stay away from stories that lecture children about safety, nutrition, morals or religion or that try to make events like doctor visits or the birth of siblings less traumatic. These subjects tend to be dull, and they could be offensive. Parents who choose to homeschool, for example, might not appreciate a book about Sally’s first day at kindergarten.
Times Have Changed
Preteens will still love a good mystery, but these days suspense has to merge with spooky. If what you have in mind is classic fantasy, such as Alice in Wonderland or The Hobbit, pick an original version and be prepared to read them to the kids yourself. There’s nothing quite like a couple of chapters a night to get kids hooked on a novel, and to foster a sense of accomplishment when you turn the last page. Stay away from commercialized characters unless you know exactly who the favorites are. The beloved mouse, duck, dogs and chipmunks you remember are now on cable channels that not everyone has access to. Princesses might constitute an exception, thanks to several recent movies.
Everyone Loves a Good Rhyme, and a Good Joke
Here we should emphasize that choosing children’s books means reading them. If the rhyme is catchy, repetitive, not constrained or flat, kids will love it. The poem “The Night Before Christmas” is meaningful on many levels for all ages. Nonsense rhymes like those in Dr. Seuss classics that star bizarre cartoon characters are also a good choice. And boys will always love the simple adventures of Frog and Toad.
For the 5 to 10-year olds on your list, there truly is no better gift than riddles and knock-knock jokes. Kids love to get laughs, so they will memorize even the ones they don’t understand, entertain their friends and drive you crazy with them! Children also enjoy learning new words, so books that end every page with an adverb like “meanwhile,” or “fortunately,” will keep them interested. Another high-interest format is the “choose your own ending” type of book that offers options for changing the plot of the story.
When giving fiction to children for Christmas, take the time to read the story. If it bores you, no matter who the characters are, don’t put it under the tree. And don’t expect to be rewarded with gratitude on the spot; you aren’t likely to hear it’s just what they wanted. Reading is a more subtle pleasure; it comes along in its own time.