I got told to buy them picture-books, which was perfectly cool by me, but picture-books look so lonely in a gift bag. The stupid bag keeps collapsing.
Then I remembered this Chinese zodiac amigurumi set of patterns that knit.1 magazine published a while back. It's now a free pattern to download (that's where the link goes to). I took the Year of the Rabbit pattern and Eastered it up into two dolls, one for each niece. The only mods necessary were to embroider the faces instead of using the recommended buttons, and to add the neck ribbon/flower to make them look more seasonal. The flower petals are tacked down so that little fingers can't pull them off.
I used dishcloth cotton for the bodies and neck decoration, and the faces are embroidered with cotton floss. I wanted something that wouldn't taste/feel yucky if a little one decided to teethe on an ear or an arm, and to make them more washable.
They were quick and unfussy to make, good TV crocheting, and I got a kick out of using a Japanese crochet aesthetic to appropriate a Chinese zodiac symbol for a European holiday.