I have been dating my boyfriend for nine months now, and I'm meeting many members of his family in a couple of weeks at his niece's third birthday party. I was thinking of getting his niece some children's books and maybe, if it's a character like Olivia, Corduroy, or Paddington, a stuffed animal to go along with the books. I would love suggestions for other appropriate gifts to give a three-year-old, but my main question is this: Should I get the six-month-old nephew a present, too? My mother taught me that younger siblings should also get presents even if it's not their celebration. Of course, at six months, the act won't have much impact on the nephew, but it certainly will on the parents. I don't want to overdo it and come across like I'm trying too hard, but I also want to make a good first impression. What do you think?
First-Time Gift Giver
Dear Gift Giver,
My nephews are about two and a half years apart, and I was just asking my sister the other day whether they get presents on each other's birthdays. Her answer was that they did until they were at an age where they understood the difference between one's birthday and the other's. They now share many of their toys, anyway. It's a lovely gesture for you to want to include both kids in the gift-giving, particularly because it's the first time you're meeting them. I would suggest a nice gift for the niece like you describe and a smaller gift for the nephew. Then, if you continue attending family gatherings, you can figure out whether bringing gifts for both of them should be the norm.
As for what to give, books are almost always my preference, both to give and to receive. I'm not a huge fan of stuffed animals, mostly because they all sort of blend together (at least for my toddler), and they take up more space than books. Any of the character books you list are good options, though Olivia is definitely my favorite of the bunch. In my house these days, we're also big fans of Curious George and Maisy. You could ask your boyfriend to find out if his niece has a favorite series, as three-year-olds are very good at expressing their preferences. If she really likes a certain character, you could look for a related sticker or coloring book and give that along with crayons or markers. Art materials are a hit with this age group, and markers don't last long in toddlers' hands.
For the little one, I'm sure the family would appreciate any board book, including ones with flaps to lift. He may not appreciate the flaps just yet, but he will soon. It's always nice to get gifts that are a little more advanced than the age of the kid because it means more use before the kid loses interest. Many of these books will appear unbelievably inane, to the point where you will not believe that someone got it published and that anyone, however young, has even the least bit of interest in it. Go ahead and look for one that you find charming, but if you're in a place with a small selection, don't worry about it too much. In the end, the baby will probably appreciate the book more as a chew toy than for its literary value. If you wrap it in a box or bag, the container will likely be more interesting than the book anyway.
Bringing any type of age-appropriate gift will make a good impression, and you don't have to go overboard in terms of size or cost to show that you're thoughtful and considerate. When you're at the party, make sure the presents go through the parents first, and don't be surprised (or offended!) if the kids don't show much interest in what you've brought. You'll have done the right thing and made the right impression.