IF YOU'RE LOOKING for last-minute stocking stuffers, books make ideal Christmas presents that kids can enjoy long after the holidays. Whether the children on your list are toddlers or teens, here are some books that are sure to please.
AGES 3 TO 8
MADELINE'S CHRISTMAS -- By Ludwig Bemelmans (Viking Press). This story first appeared in the 1956 Christmas issue of McCall's magazine. It has now been enlarged and recolored by Jody Wheeler to provide young readers with a brand new Madeline book. All the little girls and Miss Clavel get sick on Christmas Eve, and Madeline is the only one well enough to take care of everybody. Although Madeline doesn't go off on any adventures in Paris in this story, her fans will undoubtedly enjoy her Christmas. $12.95.
MOTHER GOOSE -- By Tomie de Paola (Putnam). De Paola has created a masterpiece with this collection of favorite nursery rhymes. There are more than 300 brilliant full-color paintings to accompany the rhymes, and each illustration will capture the attention of young children. $17.95.
WHISKERS AND RHYMES -- By Arnold Lobel (Greenwillow Books). Lobel's books are always a hit with younger children, and "Whiskers" will be no exception. This book of poetry is reminiscent of Mother Goose, yet there's a variety of other poetry as well. $13.
THE RELATIVES CAME -- By Cynthia Rylant (Bradbury Press). Although this story has a summer setting, it's quite apropos to the holiday season because it tells the story of relatives coming to visit for a few days. Any child will relate to this straightforward account of what family life is like with relatives around. The pictures are full of delightful details. The book was selected for The New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books of 1985. $12.95.
MERRY CHRISTMAS, ERNEST AND CELESTINE -- By Gabrielle Vincent (Greenwillow Books). The story and message are timeless. Ernest the bear and Celestine the mouse don't have enough money to buy fancy presents for their friends. By using their ingenuity, they throw a Christmas party for their friends and make the presents and decorations with materials on hand. This is a charming book, with a "giving" message. $12.
THE SECRET GARDEN -- By Frances Hodgson Burnett (Harper Junior Books). This classic is making a comeback, being rediscovered by a whole new generation of children. It's the story of a young orphan girl who goes to live with her only remaining relative, an old uncle who is quite remote. So the girl sets off to explore the gardens around the house. She finds a secret door that leads to a forgotten garden, and she finds true friendship for the first time. $12.95, and $1.75 in paperback.
AMY'S EYES -- By Richard Kennedy (Harper Junior Books). This spellbinding sea epic is sure to enthrall older readers. Although the book is thick, the plot is so masterfully woven that the reader is drawn into the story and can't help but read on. Amy is actually a doll that comes to life and takes off on an adventure at sea. $13.50.
A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS IN WALES -- By Dylan Thomas (Holiday House). Illustrations by award-winning artist Trina Schart Hyman bring new life to this charming story in which Thomas reminisces about his childhood Christmas memories. This book is best shared with the entire family. $14.95.
POLAR EXPRESS -- By Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin). This is the newest of Van Allsburg's books for children. His books intrigue readers because they don't contain run- of-the-mill plots. In this book a man is recounting a story of the Christmas in his youth when he lay awake waiting to hear the bells of Santa's sleigh. He hears instead the unmistakable hiss of a steam locomotive, jumps on board with many other children and sets off on a magical adventure to the North Pole. This terrific book was also selected for The New York Times Book Review's Ten Best Illustrated Children's Books for 1985. $15.95.
THE ALL AROUND CHRISTMAS BOOK -- By Margery Cuyler (Holt, Rinehart and Winston). It neatly tells the origins of the Christmas celebration, both historically and religiously. The book then goes on to explain the origin of our holiday customs and how other countries celebrate Christmas. Activities for crafts, cooking and children's games are also included, plus a Christmas bibliography. A good resource book for families. $4.95.
THE 24 DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS -- By Madeline L'Enle (Shaw). If you enjoy nostalgia, then this book is for you. The story is of an average American family and its special Christmas season full of peace and harmony. $7.5.
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS -- By Clement Moore (Holiday House). No Christmas season is complete without this famous poem. The illustrations by Tomie de Paola make this rendition very special; each page is a work of folk art. $5.95.
NEW KID ON THE BLOCK -- By Jack Prelutsky (Greenwillow Books). It will delight every child because the zany poetry deals with the funny realities of childhood. $9.25.
STORIES FOR CHILDREN -- By Isaac Bashevis Singer (Farrar, Straus, Giroux). Especially appropriate during the holiday season, most of these stories were translated from the original Yiddish by Singer. Among the highlights are "Menasche and Rachael" and "A Parakeet Named Dreidel." $13.95.