You’ve probably had one of those conversations.
“Hey, Anne, do you guys have The Chronicles of Narnia already? I was thinking of buying a set for Casey this Christmas but just wanted to make sure you didn’t already have a copy.”
“Errrrm…. Yeah, actually, we do have The Chronicles of Narnia already, sorry.”
“Oh. Okay. Guess I’ll think of another gift then.”
* Awkward laugh *
(Even more awkward if you’ve actually bought the books already and only belatedly thought of checking if their intended recipient already has a copy!)
Personally, I don’t mind receiving another copy of books we already have because I know lots of kids whose parents don’t, or can’t afford to, prioritize reading material in their household budget, and I would love to be able to share our books with them. I also know of people who have a “bookshelf” copy and a “reading” copy of their favorite books — you know, the former to be kept in pristine condition, the latter okay to peruse or thumb through countless times — so those people probably wouldn’t mind receiving extra sets of books either. But if I were the giver of books as presents, I would ideally want it to be the receiver’s first time to read it. I like the idea of being instrumental in introducing someone to a new world or a great idea or an amazing fact or a stirring story — which is why I like giving out books in the first place!
However, a lot of the books that I love, that I’m sure most people will love, and that are readily available for purchase online — an important factor these days because of COVID risks — are also books that a lot of other parents love and have already purchased for their kids, online or off! Books like Narnia, Harry Potter, Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, Percy Jackson, Geronimo Stilton — there’s a good chance people already have these crowd favorites in their bookshelves. (I’ve tried buying tons of books at a Big Bad Wolf sale with the intention of giving them to my friends’ kids on Christmas, only to realize my friends have already bought many of the same books for their kids!)
So: I’ve put together this list of books that are not yet very common or well-known but that I have either:
- Already read and can personally recommend, or
- Already put in my cart after carefully checking reviews
The best thing is that you can buy them all online and have them delivered straight to your home, so there’s no need to put yourself and your loved ones at risk by braving the mall crowds. Note: I am not affiliated with any of the sellers of these books, so rest assured these recommendations are 100% honest and sincere. At the end of each book section, I’ve put a link you can follow to make it easier for you to add that particular book to your cart, and where possible, I’ve linked to shops that I have actually bought from and have had a good experience with. However, those links are only for convenience and it’s perfectly fine if you just manually search for the book at your preferred online retailer.
Okay, let’s go!
9 Great Books to Buy for Kids Who Already Have Lots of Books at Home
1. National Geographic Books for Kids
National Geographic is a household name but these sets are relatively new…and infinitely interesting. There are four sets, each containing 20 to 25 pieces, which you can choose from based on age and reading level:
- Pre-reader: for kids who are learning to read
- Level 1: for kids who are beginning to read on their own
- Level 2: for kids who are ready for longer sentences and more complex vocabulary
- Level 3: for kids who are reading on their own with ease and are ready for varied sentence structures and more challenging vocabulary
Aside from the appealing topics — including dinosaurs, ponies, planets, and pyramids — there’s also the added bonus of related worksheets (preschool / elementary / middle school) that can be downloaded straight from the National Geographic website.
Where to buy: Shopee
2. Magic Tree House / Magic Tree House Merlin Missions
I know I keep recommending these books but I honestly love them, not to mention my son, who has read each of them probably more than 20 times!
The children’s historical fiction series features a young brother and sister named Jack and Annie, who discover a tree house near their home in Pennsylvania that can magically take them to different times and places. In the original Magic Tree House series, they work with Morgan le Fay, who (in this incarnation) is a friendly wizard librarian from the magical kingdom of Camelot. In the Merlin Missions, they hobnob with, you guessed it, Merlin himself.
What I love about this series is that it also features real people, real places, and real events in history, all in a way that is accessible and interesting for kids. In one book alone, for instance, Jack and Annie get to meet Gustav Eiffel, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, and Louis Pasteur.
You can watch our video summary of the first book, Dinosaurs Before Dark, below.
3. Sherlock Holmes Children’s Collection
The same beloved Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, but retold for children. I’ve seen two sets of these books so far and I’ve already given in and bought the first one. (And the second set is in my cart!)
The first set includes the following stories:
- A Study in Scarlet
- The Blue Carbuncle
- The Naval Treaty
- The Red-Headed League
- The Reigate Squires
- The Sign of Four
- The Speckled Band
- The Sussex Vampire
- The Three Students
- The Veiled Lodger
(Interesting choices, aren’t they?)
I love the Sherlock Holmes stories because Sherlock, particularly in the Arthur Conan Doyle versions, is smart, focused, and determined but he also displays, in his own way, chivalry, loyalty, and kindness, and his compassion is especially evident in the story of The Veiled Lodger.
Where to buy: Shopee
4. I Wonder Why Series
I think it’s very important to encourage healthy curiosity in kids and this set stimulates a child’s questioning mind.
The book titles in this series include the following (all beginning with “I Wonder Why…”):
- Camels Have Humps
- Castles Had Moats
- Caterpillars Eat So Much
- Columbus Crossed The Ocean
- Greeks Built Temples
- I Sleep
- Leaves Change Colour
- Penguins Can’t Fly
- Planes Have Wings
- Pyramids Were Built
- Romans Wore Togas
- Snakes Shed Their Skin
- Soap Makes Bubbles
- Spiders Spin Webs
- Stars Twinkle
- The Sea Is Salty
- The Sun Rises
- The Wind Blows
- Tunnels Are Round
- Zips Have Teeth
Take note that, for example, the I Wonder Why…I Sleep book is not just about sleeping but also tackles other interesting stuff involving the human body, so the series actually discusses a lot of topics, not just the ones explicitly stated in the titles.
5. Little People, Big Dreams
If you’re looking for children’s books on inspiring people, this is a good place to start. These mini-biographies are sometimes sold as individual titles but of course the set comes out much cheaper. The set that I’ve seen available online includes books on the following people:
- Anne Frank
- Bruce Lee
- David Bowie
- Harriet Tubman
- Jane Goodall
- Josephine Baker
- LM Montgomery
- Maria Montessori
- Mother Teresa
- Muhammad Ali
- Rudolf Nureyev
- Simone de Beauvoir
- Stephen Hawking
- Vivienne Westwood
There are loads more of these books and you can check out the full list here.
Mind you, as you can probably tell from the subjects of these biographies, the books are made for children and are focused on triumph over adversity, but their subjects aren’t necessarily saints or paragons of virtue. You will probably want to guide your kids as they read through many of these books and, if your child is inspired to find out more about them and start Googling them, it’s best to be ready to answer some questions. At any rate, some of these books should be a good springboard for a discussion on how people are complex, and their lives can be complicated, and that we can celebrate their achievements without idolizing them or expecting them to be perfect.
Where to buy: Shopee
6. Murderous Maths
Is this ever on my wishlist!
I’m one of those people who love Math and are unintimidated by it — well, up until high school algebra and geometry anyway, and then from calculus onwards, it all goes over my head. Anyway, my affinity for Math may partly be genetic — my father is an engineer and my mother grew up doing sums in her head while minding her aunt’s sari-sari store — but I also think it’s partly because it never occurred to me to be intimidated by Math. In our house, no one ever transmitted to me the belief that, “oh, Math is so difficult”.
Whether or not we have a natural affinity for numbers, I do think it’s important that we have a good attitude towards Math (just like everything else in life!) and that’s why I really want to get my hands on these books. Aside from that, I think my son will love the graphics that accompany the text and the stories are said to be delivered with dry British humor. What’s not to like?
These are the titles in the Murderous Maths sets that I’ve seen and you can head here to get the list of Math topics covered in each book:
- Guaranteed to Bend Your Brain
- Guaranteed to Mash Your Mind
- Awesome Arithmetic Tricks
- Desperate Measures
- Do You Feel Lucky
- Savage Shapes
- The Key to the Universe
- The Phantom X
- The Perfect Sausage
- Easy Questions, Evil Answers
7. Science Comics
This series of science-based graphic novels is another one that’s on my wishlist! It is kind of an investment to get the whole set but a fellow mom who has bought it says her seven-year-old son absolutely loves it. Plus, every one of the 14 books in the series has 4.5 to 5-star ratings on Amazon. Each book costs around $10 in Amazon but if you know where to look, you can get the whole series for much less than you would expect based on individual prices.
The Science Comics (Get To Know Your Universe) graphic novels are devoted to the following topics:
- Flying Machines
- Polar Bears
- Robots and Drones
- Solar System
- The Brain
Where to buy: Shopee
8. Grammar Tales
If there are books to get your kids hooked on science and math, there’s also one for grammar! The titles alone sound fun:
- A Verb for Herb
- Chicken in the City
- Francine Fribble, Proofreading Policewoman
- The Bug Book
- The Mega-Deluxe Capitalization Machine
- The Mystery of the Missing Socks
- The No-Good, Rotten, Run-On Sentence
- The Planet Without Pronouns
- Tillie’s Tuba
- When Comma Came to Town
They have great reviews on Amazon, with one reviewer saying she was actually forced by her kid to write the review so that others will know that the books are great. Another reviewer says, “My students have fallen in love with learning again with this series.” The stories are said to be “silly” but fun and helpful, so I think they would be a great buy, and they’re another one that’s hanging out in my cart, just waiting for a great discount.
Where to buy: Shopee
9. National Geographic Treasury of Mythology and Bible Stories
Another great set by National Geographic. There are at least five titles (that I’ve seen) in this series:
- Treasury of Bible Stories
- Treasury of Greek Mythology
- Treasury of Norse Mythology
- Treasury of Egyptian Mythology
- Tales from the Arabian Nights
The latter four are the ones that I’ve seen advertised together, although they can be bought individually or as a set. We actually have ebooks for the first four so the one that’s in my cart right now is the Tales from the Arabian Nights. Although…it might be worth getting the whole set because the illustrations are gorgeous! We’ve started on the Greek Mythology book and it’s quite well told so I’m confident the others (written by the same author) are as well.
Where to buy: Shopee
Other Great Books From the Same Shops
The shops that sell the books I listed above have tons more books that look interesting so do check out their whole shop. And of course they stock the usual favorites like Harry Potter and Narnia and the like. They also have a lot of board books for much younger kids, as well as sticker books, which my son was really into before and helped get him interested in things like the Vikings and medieval life and so on.
The elephant in the room when it comes to books is that they can be expensive — especially the beautifully illustrated books for toddlers and preschoolers! — and it’s all very well if budget isn’t an issue, but if it is, the prices can really put you off.
(I mean, if budget wasn’t an issue for me, I would have bought all the books in this list already! But obviously some of them are still languishing in my cart. So.)
If you’re reading this article because you’re thinking of buying books for your own child, let me just say that I think it’s perfectly okay to be practical and to weigh things and ask yourself — about, say, a book about germs, which is obviously very relevant today but a bit expensive — “Hmmmm, is this topic worth the price for me, or can I get the same information from elsewhere else and just explain it to my child myself?”
Having said that, I think books are absolutely worthwhile investments, and as a mom with a limited budget, when I do splurge, I splurge on great books like these.