Bookworm or geek! We're building a geek here. I don't imagine you need toy recommendations--my son found a toy catalog in the mail and meticulously circled 95% of the items in it. Toy ideas are easy.
But books! The problem is that to find good books, you have to have read the books, and who has time to go around reading kids' books ahead of reading them to the kid? So here are some ideas for books your kid might enjoy if they're anything at all like mine--which is to say, 5 or 6 years old and loving a big adventure story.
Adam's way into all things superhero. Marvel, DC, you name it. It's not always easy to stay age appropriate in this realm, but there is some good stuff out there.
Tiny Titans, by Art Baltazar and Franco. Volume 1 is called Welcome to the Treehouse, but they are all wonderful. All the sidekicks of the DC universe--Robin, Kid Flash, Beast Boy, Supergirl, Speedy, Raven--all hang out in a treehouse and go to a school where benign supervillains are the teachers. There's nothing scary here--it's all about adventures of being a kid.
Calling All Super Friends, by Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela, and Stewart McKenny. This is the first in another series--the grown up DC heroes face some kid-appropriate baddies, like Kanjar Ro and his gong that turns all people into animals! (Spoiler: the Super Pets save the day in that one.)
Power Pack, by Marc Sumerak and Gurihiru. Volume 1, The Kids Are All Right. Adam loves this stuff, tells me all the jokes right after. The four pre-teen superheroes team up with Marvel favorites for kid-friendly adventures. This one you might want to look at if you're worried about scariness levels--they have real adventures. But it's definitely going to be the best Wolverine comic for a six year old, I'll tell you that.
Superheroes are Mike's domain; other comics are more my thing. These are my absolute favorites; Amulet I actually started reading by myself, and Adam ended up looking over my shoulder till we were reading it together.
Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi. If you don't have a kid, put this one on your own wish list. Emily discovers she's a Stonekeeper, which gives her special powers but also demands great sacrifices. She faces adventures with her brother Navin by her side, along with an amazing cast of robots, anthropomorphic animals, and sometimes their mom. It's grand and epic and gorgeous. So far there are six volumes in what I've heard will be a nine-volume series.
Zita the Space Girl, by Bet Hatke. An absolute freaking delight. Zita is friendly and impulsive and so, so brave, and when her friend Joseph is in trouble, she dives into a wormhole to rescue him and finds herself on a strange world of creatures and robots. She gains allies and has adventures! There are some scary bits, but mostly it's girl power and robots.
Missile Mouse, by Jake Parker. The only drawback here is that there are only two volumes--this is some rip-roaring adventure, with a galactic superspy named Missile Mouse who gets himself into all kinds of trouble, and out again. This one, unlike the others mentioned above, is very much a shoot-em-up, and there are laser blasters everywhere--but, of course, only in the best possible way.
This is the category that's easiest to give if you don't know kids, or don't know the particular kids you're giving to very well. These choices are guaranteed winners--gorgeous, adorable, fun books that I promise the kid will love.
Julia's House for Lost Creatures, by Ben Hatke. By the author of Zita the Spacegirl, this is an adorable book about a girl who, when she's lonely, puts out a sign to invite lost creatures into her house. The creatures are adorable, their problems are charming, and I just want it to have a dozen more pages of illustrations.
Max's Castle, by Kate Banks. This was a recent library find, and a lucky one. Max and his brothers build a castle out of their alphabet blocks, and everything that happens in the castle is made up of letters, from the DRAGONS to (with a few blocks rearranged) the DUNGEON. They get in trouble and out of it with their alphabet blocks (they turn a dangerous SPEAR into some delicious PEARS), and my beginning reader had a great time seeing the connections of the sounds. Definitely one for kids who are sounding things out.
Elephant and Piggie, by Mo Willems. There are a dozen of these books, and they're all hilarious. They're easy to read and the drawings are so simple, but there is SO MUCH emotional complexity in there, and the reading becomes a delightful performance. Most of them make me laugh out loud, but Adam's current favorite is A Big Guy Took My Ball. I like We Are in a Book! because it's so meta, and I think There Is a Bird on Your Head! is my favorite, but I Am Invited to a Party gets quoted the most often around our house (we must be ready!).
Whew! This barely scratches the surface; there are runners-up in all these categories, including Superman Family Adventures, by Art Baltazar and Franco (by the team that brought you Tiny Titans); Bone, by Jeff Smith (I recommend the colorized version); and anything else by Mo Willems, especially Hooray for Amanda and her Alligator! Plus I didn't even get into chapter books, since we've had somewhat uneven results there--though I highly recommend Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin.
So go forth and buy books for children! Buy them by the pile--parents love gifts that are quiet and don't need batteries or take up a lot of room. Enjoy the giving season!