While there are so many graduation gift ideas that we could give to this year’s accomplished graduates, from preschool to high school, we love the idea of giving sweet, inspirational books for graduation gifts. Especially when they deliver messages about empowerment, adventure, living your values, and pursuing your dreams.
So we’ve put highlighted some of our favorite books for graduation, which we hope will remain on their bookshelves for life. And yes, we do think those 18-year-olds who are heading out into the big big world will appreciate these children’s stories too, the way so many of us appreciated Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
Just think of it as a upgraded greeting card — and maybe slip in the cash they’re really hoping for, too.
And one more tip: if you have younger children, buy one of these books now but hold onto it until your child’s high school graduation. Each year, ask their teachers to write a special message to your child on the inside or back cover of the book. The end result will be an inspiration to your kids to see just how far they’ve come…and how much farther they can go.
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This post has been updated for 2021.
At top: Maybe: A Story about the Endless Potential in All of Us by Kobi Yamada and Gabriella Barouch
As our kids head out of the house and off into the world on their own (gah!), Dare to Dream Big by Lorna Gutierrez and Polly Noakes will remind them that their biggest hopes and dreams for our world are still possible, and they can be the ones to help make that change. Our activist kids are so passionate about changing the world, and I love that this book recognizes that.
One of my favorite books for graduation gifts is Maybe: A Story about the Endless Potential in All of Us by Kobi Yamada and Gabriella Barouch, especially for older kids. It thoughtfully explores the idea that maybe, just maybe you are here in this world at this exact moment for a reason with absolutely gorgeous illustrations. After a long season of isolation for our kids, this is a beautiful reminder that they have so much to contribute to our world.
And Off You Go to Change the World by Ashten Evans and Sabdo Purnomo is an upbeat, inspiring book about all the ways they can change the world. I love that the illustrations hint at the things they can do (like becoming a doctor or building bridges) while the words inspire them about how they can do it—by being kind to friends, staying true to themselves, and looking for the good in things. Because the book ends with a young child heading into a big school building, it’s probably best for kids heading into elementary school after graduating from preschool.
Oof, the tenderness in I Wish for You by David Wax and Brett Blumenthal is nearly overwhelming, as I think about my kid heading off to college soon. Each page in this book features a beautifully illustrated animal parent-and-child pair, with a different wish for the child. The zebras wish for the child to be unique, the horses wish for freedom, the wolf wishes for them to find their voice.
And it just so happens that there are 12 animals featured, making this a lovely book for graduation gift if you buy it in Kindergarten, then have their teachers sign one page each year with a special note for your child.
We adore the perfectly sentimental but not-too-sappy I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. Each page tells your kid exactly what you hope for your grad: more ups than downs, more woo-hoo than whoa, and more pause than fast-forward. This book is modern in its prose, but has the potential to be a forever keepsake in your family.
I’m a huge fan of Emily Winfield Martin’s quirky, beautiful art, and her book The Wonderful Things You Will Be (also at very top) is filled with illustrations lovely enough to hang on your kids’ walls. But the beauty goes deeper than the art; this book challenges kids to think about what’s really important — standing up for good, finding beauty, and becoming life-givers as they go through this world. Preschoolers will love listening to it, and high schoolers will be inspired by it on a whole different level.
Sandra Magsamen’s whimsical illustration style has become iconic, and her 2015 release, You!, captures this spirit of hope and inspiration. It’s a rhyming book all about following your dreams, which makes it a great graduation gift for preschoolers or adults who finally earn that college degree later in life.
You may recognize the illustrator responsible for Whatever You Are Be a Good One, because Lisa Congdon graces our pages so often. And you’ll definitely recognize the diverse list authors of the 100 quotes she’s exquisitely hand-lettered: from Harriet Tubman to Anne Lamott. For high school students, I think this is a lovely gift to pass around to their different teachers and ask each one to write a note alongside the quote they love most. It’s one of those books for graduation gifts that grows with you well into adulthood, gathering more meaning with each passing year.
If your child is feeling overwhelmed by life right now, they’re not alone. But the lovely reminder in You’re Here for a Reason by Nancy Tillman might be exactly the lift they need. The message that everything they do means something and every person matters will still be an inspiration as they finish out their school years.
I’m completely mesmerized by Giovannia Manna’s gorgeous watercolors in her version of Rudyard Kipling’s classic poem If…. In case you don’t remember it from your own school days, this is the one in which a father he tells his son all the things he can do to be a person of good character in a world that seems to be going crazy around him (um, hello).
Sandra Boynton is awesome. Period. If your kids are (or were) as in love with her as ours are, then her book Yay, You! will be a perfect graduation gift book. In her classic, no-frills poetry, she reminds kids to just find the opportunities that makes sense for them in this great big world. A low-stress inspirational message — just as we like it. You do you.
Sometimes it’s really hard to find your path, and The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds is all about that struggle. It reminds us to look around, keep an eye on what’s going on, and sometimes get off the beaten path to make your own way in the world. Like the North Star itself, this book helps guide our children to find their way. And that’s advice we can all get behind.