In one of the most wholesome corners of Instagram, you’ll find the Garden District Book Club, a scrollable feed of favorite children’s books rounded up by husband-wife duo Andrew and Meghan Lawson. Back in 2021, the avid readers with two young children realized that they had accumulated hundreds of books throughout the years, and often found themselves summoned as sources of knowledge when family and friends came looking for recommendations.
“Picking out children’s books can be really overwhelming for people, especially new parents or people without children,” says Meghan. “Books are personal. There is a lot of pressure to pick the right one. I started going through all our children’s books and realized we actually had quite a collection—one I was excited to share with others. So I made the Garden District Family Book Club Instagram account and started doing just that.”
In her recommendations below, Meghan combed through her collection for some bound-to-impress books for gifting this holiday season, noting the importance of reading with children of all ages.
“Reading with your children is a very humbling experience. It’s not like in the movies where everyone is snuggled up in bed, all cozy and settled in. A lot of the time it’s a battle,” she says. “But then there are moments when you get through. Everything clicks. Your child will hear, see or read something and interpret it in a way that never occurred to you. It’s amazing to watch as the world changes in front of their eyes. They notice things that go right over my head. It’s incredible and rewarding and worth all the battles.”
First 100 Christmas Words, by Roger Priddy
“This used to be my go-to gift for Secret Santa at my boys’ daycare,” Meghan says. “Children love it, especially toddlers. The book encourages toddlers to recognize and identify the Christmas objects they are sure to encounter throughout the holiday season. As each year passes, they get older and their motor skills develop, they start to point out what stands out to them, and eventually begin to communicate the items on the pages. Watching children point out the items on each page with such a sense of pride when they can articulate a new item will always bring a smile to my face. The book is small, so it also makes for a great stocking stuffer for Christmas morning.”
The Story Orchestra: The Nutcracker, adapted by Katy Flint and illustrated by Jessica Courtney- Tickle
“The Story Orchestra series has stolen my heart over the last couple of years,” notes Meghan. “My favorite is their adaptation of The Nutcracker. The book is so charmingly illustrated, but what makes it stand out is the music. Each page allows you to listen to a short clip of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker ballet with every scene. The story itself is very much abridged, but it perfectly highlights the most brilliant compositions of the ballet. The book is less about the story and more about introducing children to music and thinking about how music can bring emotions to life without using any words.”
For readers new to longer books (6-8 years):
Christmas Trolls, by Jan Brett
“When I think of Christmas books, one of the first to come to mind will always be Jan Brett’s Christmas Trolls,” Meghan explains. “While her stunning and intricate Scandinavian-inspired illustrations will captivate a person of any age, Brett’s story is a steadfast reminder that the spirit of the season is simple: giving. Her equally stunning The Wild Christmas Reindeer is a great companion book to pair together for Christmas gift giving.”
The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame and illustrated by Robert Ingpen
“We are big fans of the classics,” says Meghan. “Most classic children’s literature seems to have been forgotten with time, with books that were once written for children now overlooked by many for more contemporary stories. Thankfully, many of the classics are being published again as illustrated editions in an effort to make them more approachable. If you are wanting to share the classics with your children, I recommend starting with Robert Ingpen and his Illustrated Classics series. All of them are beautifully illustrated and unabridged. They are the perfect introduction to the books that have captivated children for over a century. Our favorite is The Wind in the Willows. The prose is timeless and will downright take your breath away.”
For new parents:
My Quiet Book, by deMoca
“These interactive Montessori books for toddlers are life savers, great for stashing in a car or stroller when parents are on the go with their children,” Meghan explains. “They are designed to help develop fine motor skills, so children will be kept busy with the snapping, zipping and buttons. I typically gift these on the first birthday or Christmas, whichever is closer, because I know that’s when the youngsters start to get handsy. The deMoca quiet book is amazing because all the pieces are tethered to the book—no lost pieces while strolling around or digging in the back seat trying to grab a missing part.”
12 Days of Mardi Gras, by Melissa Thibault and illustrated by Nichole Dupre
“If gifting a Christmas book on Christmas Day seems a bit late, I get it. In southern Louisiana we are in holiday mode from October until March most years, but I love gifting this book on Christmas Day because it plays off the popular Christmas song,” Meghan says. “It’s fitting because the Epiphany marks the official end of the Christmas season and kick starts Mardi Gras season in southern Louisiana. This is a great book to help transition children from one holiday to the next.”
For making a tradition:
Charles Dickens’ Christmas Stories: A Classic Collection for Yuletide, by Charles Dickens
“After our first son was born, my husband took to reading A Christmas Carol aloud every evening after Thanksgiving to help him fall asleep,” Meghan recalls. “Soon after, our second son arrived and it got a little harder, but he stood by reading them A Christmas Carol each year. Our boys are older now, but my husband still sets aside the time each night after Thanksgiving to read aloud to them from Dickens’ classic. Mutiny occurs about three minutes in. It certainly isn’t as peaceful as it once was, but it is a tradition we will stand by. I recommend finding a story that speaks to you and your family and reading it together each year. It might not seem worth it at times, but in the long run I think it’s the little traditions like these that keep us close. And boy, does my husband look forward to the day that they’ll be reading to us.”
For more book recommendations for children, follow along @gardendistrictfamilybookclub.