I almost always give books as gifts to anyone younger than 12. Anyone older than 12 is still likely to get a book, if I can find something I think they will like, but it is not a guarantee they will get one. My little brother hates this concept. He's nearly 14 years younger than me, so I had more or less developed this philosophy by the time he was old enough to actually want gifts for Christmas/birthdays. One year he even told me that it would be "Ok" if I didn't always give him a book.
When I met my oldest nephew for the first time, he was around 4 months old. I brought him a touch and feel book about diggers (like tractors, etc), thinking that he would like it when he was older. I handed the book to his folks and his mom said "Oh, that's great. I've been meaning to buy him a book." This was his first book. Ever. I couldn't believe it. I realize at 4 months he wasn't really interested in books either listening or reading, but I still can't believe it. Now he always gets at least one book for Christmas (his birthday is Christmas Eve, so I tend to vary up the gifts between the two).
Here are some of my favorite books to give as gifts:
Moo, Baa, La La La, by Sandra Boynton
Blue Shirt, Green Shirt, by Sandra Boynton
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown
1-2 year olds
Pajama Time, by Sandra Boynton
Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs!, by Sandra Boynton
Gallop!, by Rufus Butler Seder
Kitten's First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes (how I wish this was a board book!)
3-4 year olds
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst
Fancy Nancy, by Jane O'Connor (I'm not really a fan of the sequels)
Corduroy, by Don Freeman
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
Curious George, by H.A. Rey
As more kids are added to the mix, and as my nephews (and someday niece) get older, I'm having a harder time coming up with new ideas. Any suggestions?
What are some of your favorite books to give?