Lit Gifts: Kids Books Great for Holiday Giving Ages 8-12

‘Tis the season when parents and everyone else with beloved children in their lives are casting about for holiday gift ideas that will be enjoyed and treasured throughout the year. Books make great gifts, but how to know what will be a hit with kids? Here are some ideas for new books that are great references and informational sources sure to be returned to again and again!

Kids Books Great for Holiday Giving Ages 8-12

Harry Potter: A Magical Year by J.K. Rowling

A unique and beautiful treasury of quotations from the beloved Harry Potter series — one for each day of the year — accompanied by lush, detailed, colorful illustrations by Jim Kay. If kids can resist the temptation to devour the whole thing in one sitting, they can open the book each day of the coming year to find a new special memory or moment highlighted from the series. Harry Potter fans might also enjoy an illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; The Official Harry Potter Baking Book; or J.K. Rowling’s newest book released October 2021, The Christmas Pig.

The Delish Kids Cookbook by Joanna Saltz

This is just the newest in a long line of fantastic cookbooks for kids that have come out in the past year or two. With sections for sweet and savory and all three meals (plus desserts!) accompanied by to-die-for photographs of the finished products, this cookbook is not too difficult but sure to inspire your budding chef in the kitchen to try new dishes and skills. My kids and I have made the sugar cookie bars and the Big Mac quesadillas, and both were indeed delish! How can you go wrong with gifting a cookbook, really? Other ideas are the Kid Chef Junior Every Day: My First Easy Kids Cookbook for the younger set; Milk Bar: Kids Only for recipes from the world-renowned bakery; and The Complete DIY Cookbook for Young Chefs for those who want to make everything from scratch (even sprinkles!).

Outdoor School: Rock, Fossil, and Shell Hunting by Jennifer Swanson

For the outdoorsy kid in your life, the Outdoor School series of books are a sure bet. Rugged paperbacks, with metal corners, mean they can be toted along on adventures anywhere, and are an indispensable guide and journal to the outdoors. In this volume, immersive activity and challenge ideas combine with write-in sections to record your experiences and log your finds. The illustrations are fantastic! Pick up a shell or rock and find identifying information and more details about it in the book. Other volumes in the series are Hiking and Camping and Animal WatchingFor other options related to the natural world, try the oversize, stunningly illustrated Fungarium: Welcome to the Museum. You’ve never seen a more beautifully-illustrated and exhaustively informative book about fungi! There are others in the series as well (Animalium and Botanicum).

Brick x Brick: How to Build Amazing Things with 100-ish Bricks or Fewer by Adam Ward

YouTube personality Adam Ward invites kids in an encouraging, accessible way to get creative with their existing Lego bricks and offers lots of new ideas for things to build with only 100 bricks. Low-stakes and nearly instant gratification! If you want to encourage STEM skills with your Lego lover, here are a couple more new titles that might also appeal: Brick Science: STEM Tips and Tricks for Experimenting With Your Lego Bricks for extending Lego play to learning about chemistry, engineering, biology, and more; and 100 Ways to Rebuild the World, with ideas for using Lego bricks to spread joy and kindness to others.

Math Art + Drawing Games for Kids by Karyn Tripp

Have you ever thought about how much math there is in art? This unique and special book offers more than 40 hands-on, immersive project ideas for kids that allow them to explore math concepts and create artwork at the same time. Geometric shapes, patterns, symmetry, pixels, and more are all here to play with in art. Learn math concepts and learn more about artistic styles and artists as you create using math in an authentic way. More ideas for math enthusiasts include Math Maker Lab: 27 Super Cool Projects; Bedtime Math: The Truth Comes Out (offers a fun, real-world math problem to work through with your kids each night at bedtime, just like you read them a story!); and Everything You Need to Ace Math in One Big Fat Notebook (a middle-school reference guide with easy explanations of concepts, mnemonic devices to help you remember rules, and quizzes for recap – from the people behind Brain Quest).

Biology for Kids: Science Experiments and Activities Inspired by Awesome Biologists Past and Present by Liz Lee Heinecke

Speaking of STEM, maybe you’re looking for a gift book focused on science experiments. I find that many science experiment books focus on chemistry and physics experiments, and give short shrift to biology. Not this unique book, which briefly profiles an important biologist and then introduces a hands-on experiment that relates to their work. Learn about Fannie Hess and then make your own agar plates for growing bacteria. Learn about Rae Wynn-Grant and then attract and observe the behavior of ants. Learn about Charles Darwin and then play a competitive advantage game. If it is more interdisciplinary or a wider variety of sciences you seek, also take a look at Maker Lab: 28 Super Cool Projects; Tech Lab: Brilliant Builds for Smart Makers; or Awesome Science Experiments for Kids.

365 Days of Kawaii by Mayumi Jezewski

Another title for the creative, artistic kid in your life, this approachable book offers a step-by-step drawing tutorial for every day of the year. Kawaii is a Japanese concept that refers to small, cute objects. With kawaii, any object can be brought to life and made adorable with the addition of eyes and a mouth: you can add expression and character to umbrellas, cupcakes, pencils, even toilet paper. The tutorials are completely visual, so there are no instructions to read. The drawings are small, simple, easy to follow, and delightfully cute! Other crafty titles to consider for your creative kid: Mason Jar Crafts for Kids to join in the craze for these multi-purpose, simple vessels with over 25 project ideas; Clay Lab for Kids (gift this colorful idea book with a tub of air-dry clay for hours of fun).

The Sea-Ringed World: Sacred Stories of the Americas by Maria Garcia Esperon

Perhaps you have a kid who is interested in mythology. There are lots of stories to explore beyond the Greek and Roman — this collection of traditional Native stories spans across the Americas, from Argentina up to Alaska, and explores themes such as the origin of the world, peoples’ relationship with the divine, explanations for natural events, and peoples’ place in the universe. For other titles that explore diverse cultural mythologies and folklore, check out Rick Riordan Presents, a publishing imprint that puts out fantasy fiction novels for kids focused on the folklore and mythology of historically underrepresented populations. The books are written by cultural insiders, and are full of humor and action—anyone who has enjoyed Rick Riordan’s books (like his hugely popular The Lightning Thief series) will enjoy the books by other authors that come out of this publishing imprint.

Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls: 100 Stories of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli

This book offers 100 short biographies of both well-known and little-known inspiring women of history. Settle in at bedtime each night with a short read-aloud from this collective biography to inspire the kids in your life. There are additional volumes in this series, including the newest book titled Good Night Stories For Rebel Girls: 100 Real-Life Tales of Black Girl Magic. Similar collective biographies that would also make great gifts include Rad American Women A-Z; Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History; Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History; and see also the Young Reader’s Edition of Wolfpack by Abby Wambach, a soccer star with empowering advice to help young people find their voice and be unafraid to lead.

Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras

Kids will pore over this gorgeously-illustrated guide to 100 of the world’s most exciting and unusual places on every continent on Earth. Sacred skeleton, ice caves, and red waterfalls await on this journey full of weird-but-true facts and wonders. For other travel inspo, try A Manga Lover’s Tokyo Travel Guide for fans of manga and anime; City Atlas, which allows you to explore 30 cities around the world with fun facts and fascinating details, including maps and a seek-and-find game on each page; and the National Geographic Kids U.S. Atlas (there is also a world version and “beginner” version for younger kids). Every kid should have a paper atlas to leaf through and enjoy the stunning photographs and get a feel for the scope of the country or world around them!

Do Something! A Handbook for Young Activists by Nancy Lublin

Concrete ideas around activism for kids, covering a variety of topics including hunger, poverty, and the environment. Inspire the kids in your life to give back also with PhilanthroParties, a book written by a teenager that also gives concrete ideas, this time in the form of unique ideas for planning and hosting fundraising events for social justice causes that are accessible to kids — a Guerrilla Gardening Party to reintroduce native plants to your neighborhood, a lemonade war to raise funds for drought relief, and a movie night that collects DVDs for troops overseas are just a few of the ideas inside.

Ultimate Weird But True: 1,000 Wild and Wacky Facts and Photos by National Geographic Kids

So many kids love zany facts and trivia. The Weird But True series has a dozen volumes, plus ones focused solely on animals, the ocean, Christmas, stupid criminals, gross stuff, the human body, candy, sports, and more.

5-Minute Really True Stories for Bedtime by Britannica Group

Try something new at bedtime with this fascinating compendium of totally true but satisfyingly short bedtime stories. Packed with facts about how hibernating turtles breathe through their butts, how astronauts get ready for bed, and the world’s largest record-setting sleepover ever, all these stories have something to do with sleep but span the globe and will leave you amazed.

More Holiday Fun in the Iowa City Area

Ultimate Guide to the Holidays in Iowa City | 2021

Anne is a kinda crunchy, kinda unapologetically corner-cutting mom who has lived in Iowa City since 2004. She is a graduate student in Library and Information Science at the University of Iowa and works in the Children's Services department at the Iowa City Public Library. Before going back to school, she was a stay-at-home mom to her two daughters for several years, and took her children to the library multiple times a week. Basically, she has lived at the library for about a decade. Which is fine, because her biggest passion in life is books. When not reading, Anne also enjoys hiking, low-budget road-tripping, and drinking craft beer on a patio.


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