We humans

Gift guide: Children’s books

Nov 20, 2019

For babies and toddlers

Quantum Entanglement for Babies by Chris Ferrie
This book is a wonderfully simple, visual explanation of one of the most complex and counterintuitive scientific ideas of our time. It’s fun for little ones but equally delightful for non-babies.
— Vikram Sharma (TED Talk: How quantum physics can make encryption stronger)

For ages 3 and up

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
This is a favorite read of mine — and of my two-year-old and and my four-year-old. It offers uplifting lessons in creative problem solving, perseverance with trial and error, and innovation, and I love how it ties into history — young Rosie’s namesake Aunt helped build airplanes during WWII and serves as inspiration and cheerleader for the next generation. It also has great whimsical illustrations.
— Daniel Kraft (TED talk: The pharmacy of the future? Personalized pills, 3D printed at home)

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
I credit this picture book for the work I do today. My parents used to read it to me as a kid, and it taught me the importance of doing something to contribute to your community and make the world more beautiful.
— Liz Kleinrock (TED Talk: How to teach kids about taboo topics)

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
Here We Are is a fascinating mix of planetary facts, stories and bits of advice, packed into a fantastic illustrated book that the author addresses to his infant son. These “notes” examine our planet and our humanity with hope, encouraging readers of all ages to reconsider how they look at our world and our future.
— Giorgia Lupi (TED Talk: How we can find ourselves in data)

You Are Special by Max Lucado
This is a beautiful children’s book. I’ve read it to my four boys, and I’ve cried more than a few tears while doing so! The story takes place in a village inhabited by small wooden people, known as the Wemicks. The central character, Punchinello, is constantly being judged by the other Wemicks. The very hopeful message here is the importance of not allowing ourselves to be held captive to the criticism or the praise handed out by the people around us. Instead, we can get to a place where neither the criticism nor the praise sticks to us, and we are free to be who we were created to be. The most hopeful piece of the message: we can all get there.
— Jim Hemerling (TED Talk: 5 ways to lead in an era of constant change)

Hondo and Fabian by Peter McCarty
This charming and award-winning children’s book details the adventures in the day of the life of cat-and-dog best friends Hondo and Fabian. The beautiful illustrations (also by McCarty) visually enhance the sweet story, making it perfect for bedtime.
— Susan Robinson (TED Talk: How I fail at being disabled)

Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
My husband and I read this illustrated children’s book to my daughter many times, but I think he and I learned more from it than she did! It imparts important life lessons like: “good” and “bad” life events don’t exist — what seems like a good life circumstance can have bad consequences, and what seems like a bad situation can lead to something positive. I practice what I learned from these inspiring stories daily.
— Mara Mintzer (TED Talk: How kids can help design cities)

It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
Parr delivers an impactful message in an impactful way. This children’s book empowers kids to be who they are, accept who others are, and do so without judgment. I read this with my toddler son at least once a week.
— Vinay Shandal (TED Talk: How conscious investors can turn up the heat and make companies change)

The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford Smith
This picture book is about a fox in a dense forest whose only friend is a star named Star. One day when Star disappears, Fox is left to face the darkness alone. A gorgeously illustrated story of self-discovery after feeling utterly and completely lost, it will comfort the eyes and the soul.
— Safwat Saleem (TED Talk: Why I keep speaking up, even when people mock my accent)

I’m a Frog! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems

My children adore Willems’ funny and charming books about a pig and an elephant who are best friends. They are early reader books with a very simple vocabulary, but they still manage to come across as sophisticated and witty (in a six-year-old kind of way). This one is my favorite. It ends with a funny punchline but also with one elephant’s realization that he really is the teller of his own story, as are we all.
— Emma Marris (TED Talk: Nature is everywhere; we just need to learn to see it)

For ages 8 and up

The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1,001 Nights
As a child, this book of short stories opened up my eyes to a different world, a world of epics and resolution and of friendship and loyalty. Some of the views involving sexuality, gender and social class certainly have limitations set in its historical context, but even those are part of the insights into a rich culture. My favorite story was that of Sinbad. May we all be blessed with heart-stopping adventures and a restless soul.
— Shunan Teng (TED-Ed Lessons: The history of tea, The Chinese myth of the immortal white snake, part I, and The Chinese myth of the immortal white snake, part II)

Does It Fart? The Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabiotti
When I showed this book’s cover page to my seven-year-old daughter, she covered her mouth and giggled — and then she called her sister over to flip through the book. The text is fun and full of facts for anyone of all ages. It covers animal farters (actual and alleged) from herrings to humans, even unicorns. (The authors say that these creatures would fart if they were real, basing their contention on an Arabian oryx or the extinct Elasmotherium, the so-called “Siberian unicorn”). If you’re looking for a new way to get natural history knowledge that you didn’t know you needed, this book is for you.
— Prosanta Chakrabarty (TED Talk: Four billion years of evolution in six minutes)

Sophie’s Misfortunes by La Comtesse de Ségur
I re-read this children’s book once every two or three years because it is such a great piece of French literature! It is both very accessible and still very deep, and this 19th-century classic has a special place in the history of children’s books.
— Rebecca Kleinberger (TED Talk: Why you don’t like the sound of your own voice)

Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
The saying goes that you can’t pick your family, but it’s wrong. Sure, you may not be able to swap out your blood relatives, but you can opt to expand your family circle and make your life crazier, funnier and more filled with love. When I was a kid, this strange and marvelous Finnish children’s book (part of a series) made me yearn for a busy house filled with friends, guests and extended family — a community of individuals who love each other for exactly who they are. I’m still making my own Moominfamily, full of people who give me the greatest hope.
— Emma Marris (TED Talk: Nature is everywhere; we just need to learn to see it)

Wonder by RJ Palacio
I wish this book had existed when I was a kid. It’s a wonderful middle-grade read, although I’ve read it aloud to my 3rd and 4th graders. It does an amazing job of building perspective taking and challenges us to consider the things that others might be going through that we don’t see on the surface.
— Liz Kleinrock (TED Talk: How to teach kids about taboo topics)

I read parts of Wonder with my daughter, and what I read was so compelling that I picked it up again one weekend and read the whole thing in one sitting. It’s a great reminder of the beauty in all people, the ability for good to prevail and the compassion that middle schoolers can exhibit for each other. It gives me hope for this next generation and this nation.
— Grace Kim (TED Talk: How cohousing can make us happier and live longer)

I really liked Wonder, which is a book for all ages, because it talks about the power of inclusion, resilience and family. It also deals with a topic that is not normally discussed: facial deformity.
— Judith Heumann (TED Talk: Our fight for disability rights — and why we’re not done yet)

Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
This book is part of a brilliant series for children (and parents) who love to be creeped out. It’s set in London when the city is experiencing an outbreak of ghosts who kill people if they come into contact with them. The catch: only children can see them. These stories features the kid-run ghosthunting agency, Lockwood & Co, which is led by talented 14-year-old heroine Lucy Carlyle and charismatic teen Anthony Lockwood. Their job is to destroy ghosts by finding the objects in the world of the living that spirits are attached to. The social implications of the ghost epidemic are almost as chilling as the cases the agency takes on — almost. It’s a gripping read and a great intro to dystopian literature and social dynamics. You’ll want to sleep with the lights on, even after you’ve exhausted yourself by reading guiltily ahead late into the night.
— Margaret Bourdeaux (TED Talk: Why civilians suffer more once a war is over)

On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I’ve been reading the Little House series aloud to my children, and this fourth installment, in particular, is full of fantastic landscape descriptions and harrowing tales: Pa getting lost in a blizzard, Laura leading Nellie Olsen into a leech-filled eddy on the creek, and locusts! These are the parts of the books that I remember most from when I was little and my father read the books to me; it’s been great to revisit them.
— Liz Hajek (TED Talk: What rivers can tell us about the earth’s history)

Wangari’s Trees of Peace by Jeanette Winter
This is one of my daughter’s favorite books. I like it too because it is never too early to teach children about protecting the environment, social activism and standing up for what is right.
— Benedetta Berti (TED Talk: The surprising way groups like Isis stay in power)

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
This is a book about a family stranded on a desert island. Not only is it entertaining, but one can also get practical advice on how to thrive on a desert island. What shines through the most in this book is how enthusiastic the characters are. Their uplifting attitude, a curious mind in the face of uncertainties, and an encyclopedia abundance of knowledge is exactly what one needs to survive.
— Shunan Teng (TED-Ed Lessons: The history of tea, The Chinese myth of the immortal white snake, part I, and The Chinese myth of the immortal white snake, part II)

For ages 12 and up

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
If you’re a fantasy fan, I can’t recommend this book enough! I read it in one day at the beach, and I couldn’t put it down. The first in a series, Children is a West African-inspired tale filled with magic and adventure.
— Liz Kleinrock (TED Talk: How to teach kids about taboo topics)

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Volume 2 by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli
Along with Volume 1, these are the best bedtime books you’ll ever read. It will help girls — young and old — to dream bigger, to be confident, and to be inspired.
— Giorgia Lupi (TED Talk: How we can find ourselves in data)

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
While ostensibly a children’s book, this gem has important lessons for adults. It’s about the importance of savoring the breadth, length, height and depth of life, rather than focusing on narrow goals. It encourages us to look at the world with childlike wonder rather than through the “rational” lens of a battle-weary grownup.
— Alex Edmans (TED Talk: What to trust in a “post-truth” world)

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This is a story of a lost child who lives in a cemetery and is raised by ghosts. This dark and twisted tale allows you to look past what’s on the surface and to realize there’s always more than meets the eye to everyone we meet.
— Mike Kinney (TED Talk: A pro wrestler’s guide to confidence)

Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer, audiobooks narrated by Katherine Kellgren
If you’re a fan of audiobooks, then I can’t recommend the Bloody Jack series enough. The books follow Jacky Faber, a girl from 19th-century England who dresses up as a boy and joins the British Navy. The books are so much fun that I love them on their own, but I absolutely adore the audiobooks. Katherine Kellgren is a goddess of a narrator who not only does hundreds of voices throughout the series but sings in many of the voices as well. It’s astounding and definitely worth a listen.
— Emily Quinn (TED Talk: The way we think about biological sex is wrong)

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
I’ve reread this book many times in my life, and I always get something new out of it. I first picked it up in 4th grade, and to this day it keeps me laughing and thinking critically about the way I see the world. It’s one of the smartest books I’ve ever read.
— Liz Kleinrock (TED Talk: How to teach kids about taboo topics)

Any Witch Way You Can by Amanda M. Lee
This book is the first installment in the 10-volume “Wicked Witches of the Midwest” series. It’s full of laugh-out-loud humor, mystery, fantasy and romance. It’s aimed at girls, but I think it’s just hilarious. If you like urban fantasy, detective stories and witty dialogue, Lee is an author you should give a chance to.
— Julio Gil (TED Talk: Future tech will give you the benefits of city life anywhere)

My Sweet Orange Tree by José Mauro de Vasconcelos
This book is the first part of a tetralogy, set in different life stages of the main character Zeze. A sweet little novel by a Brazilian writer, it’s a classic from the 1960s. The translated version was popular where I grew up, and I read it over and over again, like many other Iranians of my generation. I was shocked to learn that the novel is not that well known in English-speaking cultures as it is in the Middle East and Europe, so I am hoping to put it on the map and share the joy of this innocent book with others.
— Kiana Hayeri (TED Talk: How the Afghan youth are staging a quiet rebellion)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The voice of the narrator is clear as a bell and persuasive to the hilt. The events in this young-adult novel could have been stolen right from the headlines, but it’s told from a perspective that I’m unaccustomed to find in a novel: a young African-American high schooler. This book is just as good as all the reviewers have said — believe the hype.
— Eve Abrams (TED Talk: The human stories behind mass incarceration)

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (TED Talk: Sci-fi stories that imagine a future Africa)
I love fantasy and science fiction, but people of color are sorely underrepresented across the speculative fiction universe. This young adult coming-of-age story’s main character struggles with her bi-cultural identity, which resonates with me. (She also struggles with understanding her magical powers, which I can also relate to.) I read this book to my daughter, and we both couldn’t wait to get to it every night.
— Mia Birdsong (TED Talk: The story we tell about poverty isn’t true)

Go here to see the other book categories in the gift guide 

Do these recommendations look familiar? They’ve been curated from TED’s reading lists