I have reached an age where my friends are procreating at a breakneck speed. Every few weeks, I get an email announcing the birth of someone’s son or daughter — and every few weeks, I have another item on my to-do list: Send a baby gift. When my friends first started having children, I invested time into each gift. I found a Cape Cod artist on Etsy who knits stuffed teddy bears and could stitch in babies’ names. I swooned for adorably patterned baby socks and delighted in receiving photographs of the baby wearing them.
But now I can’t keep up. And more importantly, I have learned that new parents get so many similar, ultimately useless baby gifts from people like me.
Thanks to a very practical friend whom I asked about this problem, I think I have cracked the code for baby gifts (or any children’s gift for ages 0 to 7). It’s called The Picture Book Club, and it’s a subscription service that works like a “book of the month” for little ones. There are various options you can choose from (and you can choose a one-off book package instead of a recurring service), but the essence is that a woman named YiLing Chen-Josephson reads hundreds of picture books each month and handpicks the very best for her subscribers. While she doesn’t like to publicize the books she includes (“I spend a lot of time and energy picking the books to send out, so listing the titles can just be an invitation for people to buy them more cheaply on their own”), she will say this: “I’m not going to send out a book like Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are, most people will find their way to them without me.”
I have given the Six-Month Custom Subscription ($75) to five couples and received insanely positive feedback — several people telling me it’s the best baby gift they received, and one telling me she will now give it as her go-to baby gift. I’m also inspired by the Themed Subscriptions (including “Around the World in 12 Months,” the architecturally inspired “Houses and Homes” series, and the “New York, New York” bundle), but I haven’t bought those yet.
There are several reasons why the service is so brilliant. First, books are actually useful — especially the unexpected, fantastic ones beyond the classics. Second, the packaging is gorgeous and personal. From the illustrated logo to craft-paper wrapping to personalized book plates and handwritten note cards, the presentation is not just attractive but also thoughtful and warm. The books themselves can also be personalized: On the checkout page, you can tell YiLing a bit about the parents or child and she will pick books related to that information, if you want to emphasize a particular interest (they like trucks), or a location (San Francisco), for example. Third, despite feeling so personal, the gift is actually turnkey. The website feels a bit homespun (in an adorable way) — but you can make your selection and check out in under five minutes. Easy.
Lastly (and this is the part I just love), the monthly-subscription model ends up expanding the gift: Instead of receiving one gift from me at one time, my lucky friends are receiving six special packages six times over six months. It’s fun for them and makes me feel I’m getting six times the “credit” for spending the same amount of money.
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