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MRP Winter Gift Giving Guide

We love sharing the joy of reading with children across Dane County all year long, and especially each winter when we partner with organizations like Reach Dane, Boys & Girls Clubs of Dane County, and the Empty Stocking Club, to get more books into the hands of children. We truly believe that books are the best gifts.

We encourage you to use this guide to help purchase books for the young people in your life this winter, and also hope that you consider making a book donation so that we can distribute more books to deserving children. All of these recommendations can be purchased on our Bookshop page. You can also find out more about ways to participate in our Community Book Drive here.

Books by Local Madison Authors…

We are lucky to have several amazing Madison-based children’s book authors and illustrators. Kevin Henkes is the creator behind so many beloved books, and his newest book, A House, exudes the same dreamy and peaceful feeling as classics like Waiting and Kitten’s First Full Moon. It is perfect for story time and also for beginning readers who have some sight word knowledge. They will be thrilled they can read it independently!

Pat Zietlow Miller is also a well known author who has two new picture books this year. Be Strong is a feel-good story about the power of speaking up, and trusting yourself and others. Her latest release, What Can You Do with a Rock?, is the perfect book for any child who loves being creative and imaginative with things found in nature - especially rocks!

Lastly, for an ode to the pandemic, don’t miss, And the People Stayed Home, by Kitty O’Meara. O’Meara has been called the “poet laureate of the pandemic” after the words she posted about quarantining went viral. They make up this beautiful book about a more hopeful and community minded future.

Books for New Parents and Babies…

We believe it's hugely important for babies to be read with right away, and are thrilled to share some of our favorite recommendations that new parents and babies will both enjoy. Love You Head to Toe by Ashley Barron is the best book to gift! It is a sweet and inclusive book that compares babies to animal babies, showing how they both engage in similar behaviors, like filling their cheeks like chipmunks or stretching their limbs like sea stars, and will make every baby feel deeply loved and cherished.

I’ll Build You a Bookcase by Jean Ciborowski Fahey is a beautiful bilingual book that shows babies and caregivers working together to build at-home libraries that help them discover the joy of reading. You Are New by Lucy Knisley and Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers are two other favorite books we recommend for new parents. We also love A Girl Like You and A Boy Like You by Frank Murphy because they both poke holes in traditional gender constructs while being uplifting and hopeful about who a child can be.

Lastly, a few of our more recent board book favorites include, A Cub Story by Alison Farrell, Woodland Dance by Sandra Boynton, It’s You I Like by Fred Rogers, Love in the Wild by Katy Tanis, and Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer. We have a complete list of diverse board books you can find here as well as a blog post about starting a reading routine with your baby.

Books for Bedtime…

Sometimes we come across books and just know they are perfect for reading before bed. Yawn by Patricia Hegarty is such a fun book to read - it’s all about the contagiousness of a yawn, and includes fun, cut-out pages and an inclusive cast of characters that are all different places, like on a ship, or a farm, or in outer space!

Bedtime for Sweet Creatures by Nikki Grimes is a gift to every caregiver who has ever dealt with a child resisting bedtime. In this imaginative tale, a parent goes through the familiar motions of putting their “sweet creature” to bed - only to find them tossing their mane like a lion, clinging to them like a koala, and sneaking from their bed like a sly wolf.

Salsa Lullaby by Jen Arena is a fun, lively bilingual book that follows a family as they baila/dance, canta/sing, and salta/jump around their house getting ready to put the baby to bed. We also love Stay This Way Forever by Linsey Davis. It beautifully shows the love a caregiver has for a child, and the hopes and dreams they have for their future.

Little Witch Hazel by Phoebe Wahl is another book that is perfect for bedtime story reading. It is divided into four chapters based on the seasons and chronicles the whimsical forest adventures of one hardworking, loyal and kind little witch. Its delightful story and captivating and earthy illustrations will make you want to read it again and again.

Lastly, we love the book, Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey, to encourage mindfulness and calm before bed (and anytime!). It includes simple, relatable and fun exercises to do with your child like “hot chocolate” and “snake breathe,” that also encourage visualization, reflection and calm - just in time for bed!

Books to Make Kids Laugh…

These recommendations are sure to make the children in your life smile and giggle. Lobstah Gahden by Alli Brydon is a rare gem that will make your kids laugh and learn. You will have to do your best Boston accent to really get the whole effect of this hilarious book, and by the end, will feel inspired to better protect and care for the ocean.

Animals Brag About Their Bottoms by Maki Sato is a body-positive book that will delight little readers who think talking about bottoms is funny. Every animal in the book is proud of their bottom, no matter if it’s big, small, striped, or patterned because all bottoms are wonderful!

Sneezy the Snowman by Maureen Wright was published in 2014, but it’s hard to find another story that is quite as silly, especially in winter. Sneezy is cold so he keeps trying things to make him warm, but then he melts! The kids who keep building him help him figure out the just-right solution he needs.

Mo Willems is the master of funny! Any Elephant and Piggie or Pigeon book is sure to make young readers laugh. For this time of year, we especially love the Biggie collections that give readers the joy of several books in one!

Books to Treasure…

This collection of books includes ones that are meant to be treasured, and revisited over and over again. They can transcend ages, and have important messages for kids and adults. Ways to Say I Love You by Marilyn Singer is a gorgeously illustrated book with an important message - there are many ways to show love, and the creatures in the book all do it in unique ways. It also includes ways to say “I love you” in different languages in the back.

Crocodiles Need Kisses Too by Rebecca Colby has fun, rhyming text that makes it a great story to read to children. It features some not so cuddly main characters, like snakes, porcupines, and tigers, and shows how even though they may not be cuddly, they are still lovable. It also reminds us that all children are deserving of love, even if a behavior or action feels a bit prickly.

What Will You Be? by Yamile Saied Mendez is a quintessential book about the age-old question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In this story, a young girl allows herself to consider what is possible for her future, and luckily, has her abuela to help. What Would You Do in a Book About You? by Jean Reidy is another wonderful book that helps children imagine their own life’s story. It is an imaginative and uplifting book that kids will love.

Books to Encourage Healthy Mindsets…

Many of our favorite books build children up, and help them develop a healthy sense of self and others. The Magical Yet by Angela DiTerlizzi will help any child who struggles with not being able to do something yet. It is a whimsical book that helps children see the importance of the journey and value of effort and persistence. What the Road Said by Cleo Wade is another beautiful book that is both comforting and uplifting - reminding us that sometimes the most important thing we can do in life is just keep going.

Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand is without a doubt one of our favorite books of 2021. It is a relatable and approachable story about a little girl who is curious about her body hair, and why she has more of it than some of her friends. It is a celebration of body hair and all the different ways it grows. We love the book, Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder, for its similar body positive celebration of the human body and its many different forms. The pictures are bright, bold, and inclusive - you will find yourself returning to them again and again, and always noticing something new that is thoughtfully included. Fred Gets Dressed by Peter Brown is another favorite that challenges traditional gender roles and champions self expression and free will.

Books for Beginning Readers…

Children who are just starting to read chapter books will love these recommendations. Our Friend Hedgehog: the Story of Us by Lauren Castillo is a great stand-alone book for new chapter book readers. It feels reminiscent of the magic of Winnie the Pooh with its cozy illustrations and tale of friendship and adventure.

Ballet Bunnies is a sweet new series about a magical ballet studio that has talking and dancing bunnies! These books are full of a little mischief and a lot of heart. Astrid and Apollo is another great series featuring a pair of Hmong-American twins that enjoy exploring and adventuring together. We also love the Zapato Power series that tells the story of Freddie Ramos, just an ordinary neighborhood kid who discovers new powers and finds ways to use them for good. We also enjoy series like Yasmin, Zoey and Sassafrass, Ana and Andrew, Sadiq, Jasmine Toguchi, Pedro, Sofia Martinez and Mindy Kim.

Books for Middle Grade Readers…

We believe that books provide a great gateway into our world for kids to see both themselves and others that are different from them. The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez is a great read for the rebels in your life. A story of a Mexican-American girl embracing her identity through the lens of punk music is sure to be a hit. I’m OK by Patti Kim is a heavy story of a Korean American boy struggling with the death of his father and economic stressors at home, while also navigating middle school. This title is a great book that acknowledges the very real struggles that many adolescents face.

Sports are another highly sought after book topic and hobby of many kids. The Track Series, a New York Times best-seller by one of our favorite authors Jason Reynolds, will be an instant favorite with your sports obsessed young adults. The series navigates life lessons and personal hardship over the backdrop of a competitive middle school track team. Follow along with some of our other favorite young athletes in Zayd Saleem Chasing The Dream by Hena Khan and Fast Pitch by Nic Stone.

This holiday season get your kids the sequels to their favorite books. We recommend Sal & Gabi Fix The Universe by Carlos Hernandez, the sequel to Sal & Gabi Break The Universe; a fun sci-fi adventure which will surely be a winner. Another great addition to your child’s book collection is the Stella Diaz series, written by Angela Dominguez, whose 4th title in the series is set to release in March 2022.

Books for Young Adults…

These recommendations are for the teen in your life. These books are full of friendship, growth, magic, happiness, and much more for the book lovers and reluctant readers you know.

Fantasy novels are a great way for readers to escape to another world. Tristan Strong Destroys The World by Kwame Mbalia, the second novel in the series, bridges the real world and the mystical one as Tristan leaves his life in Chicago for Alke, the land of African American folk heroes and African gods for another adventure. We also love Namina Forna’s debut novel, The Gilded Ones, full of magic, fantasy, and never ending twists.

Have a romance lover in your life? A Pho Love Story by Loan Le is a heartwarming novel about Bao and Lihn, two high school students struggling to figure out who they are, while also learning who they could be together, while trapped in the middle of their families’ feud and battling neighborhood pho restaurants. If you like this book, also check out Now That I’ve Found You by Kristina Forest and One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo is a beautiful novel written in verse about a young girl who discovers slam poetry as a way to cope with and understand the world around her. Some of our other favorite YA novels written in verse include The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh, and Chlorine Sky by Mahogany L. Browne.


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