Did your friends all decide to have kids without you? Are you a new parent suddenly finding yourself going to several first birthday parties in a row? (Until I had a son of my own, I admit I dreaded these parties, and spent them talking to the other childless adults in the room about something other than diapers.) And then there’s this question: What do you buy a 1-year-old? As an obsessive reader, I’ve always tried to give books to kids…but you can’t just buy any old picture book for a kid that age. Here are some book-buying tips we toddler parents are probably too polite to tell you directly:
1. Ask Before Buying The Classics
I have personally exchanged two copies of Goodnight Moon, and I still have three sitting on my kid’s shelf. Next to three copies of Brown Bear. Don’t get me wrong—these are fantastic books, and I’m super happy someone gave them to us. But a simple text or call to ask, “Do you guys have The Very Hungry Caterpillar yet?” would not be unwelcome. We don’t care if you ruin the surprise. If you’re shy, maybe consider another book by those same authors.
2. Go With Your Favorite Book
Chances are, your personal favorite growing up isn’t necessarily the most obvious choice, but if it was good, it is probably still a big hit with kids. I have great memories of my mother reading my sister Sandra Boynton’s The Going to Bed Book, so I’ve given it more than once.
3. Board Books And Peekaboo Games Are King
At 1, these babies-becoming-toddlers are all about touching, grabbing and trying to do everything themselves. They want to turn the pages back and forth over and over, and they can’t do that with regular books. My son also loves to “read” to himself, and he often goes for plotless books devoted to categories of things, like Roger Priddy’s First 100 Animals or DK Publishing’s My First… board books. They’re no literary masterpieces, but all those photos never get old. Also, any books that involve flaps, fur, sliding doors, etc., will keep a kid entertained for minutes. And believe me when I tell you that “minutes” is a long time for toddlers. Just don’t be surprised if the next time you visit your gift recipient, the book is torn up and not in resalable condition. That just means it was well-loved.
4. Save The Beautiful, Prize-Winning Picture Books for Later
I was thrilled to receive the likes of Make Way for Ducklings at my baby shower, and I had a lot of fun reading my son witty books like Oliver Jeffers’ Stuck when he was very young…and not yet able to tear things. For now, I’ve stored the book jackets on a high shelf, and the books themselves just serve as part of the game “pull everything off the shelf right before bed.” The pages, as I’ve mentioned, don’t lend themselves to toddler hands, and my 1-year-old will sit through exactly two pages of imaginative storytelling before wandering off or grabbing the book and slamming it shut on me. (Everyone’s a critic!) So sure, you can buy these for your friends’ kids to have something to look forward to, but I’d throw in a small, simple board book for immediate enjoyment.
5. Make Sure It’s Good
Please, please, take a moment to imagine whether your friend will like to read this book to their child 5,000 times. Even in the category of short board books, there are not-so-great (and, ugh, SO sappy) writers out there. Inevitably, the book your friend can’t stand will turn into their kid’s favorite—they have an innate sense of how to torture us, you know—and they will have an opportunity to resent you every night for the next two years.
I don’t want to seem ungrateful. We parents love getting books as presents. Just remember that you have the power to be the friend we think of fondly after Junior’s tucked into bed and we’re finally pouring ourselves a glass of wine, with maybe a few minutes to pick up a book with no pictures at all. Our hero.