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Tell Me A Story: 250 Great Books for Kids

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it's interesting story for kids and good for who needs to increase language
08 December 2019 (09:16) 
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The three novels that I read are not complete, so I want to know if I can get the complete version of it.
07 December 2020 (19:57) 
great book you have to read it
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I love the children's stories my kids love them and looking forward to more stories.
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Not stories, but references to other books
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Tell Me A Story:

250 Great Books for Kids

Grace Sandford

1st Kindle Edition 2013

© 2013 Grace Sandford

NOTE: Book reviews quoted remain copyright of the original author.



A note about how to use this book

A note about the awards mentioned in this book

And finally…

Great Books for Babies to 2-Year-Olds

Books for very, very early readers – babies under 6 months

Textures, flaps and holes: interactive books for under twos

Never too young: clever concept books for under twos

Great stories and rhyming books for little ones

Beddy-byes: perfect bedtime stories

Great Books for Preschoolers Aged 3 to 5

Classics for every child’s library

Fun storybooks to read together

Early learning: books about life lessons and concepts

Sweet dreams: books to help toddlers drift off

	 Great Books for 6 to 8 Year Old Kids

The essential kid’s book list: authors every child should explore

Contemporary books: classics in the making?

Early readers: fun books to encourage reading skills

Series and chapter books worth getting hooked on

Great Books for Older Kids Aged 9 to 11

Stand-out contemporary authors to explore

Modern-day classics

Must-read book series for today’s big kids

Favorite books that have stood the test of time

Great Books for Early Teens Aged 12 to 15

The all time “must-read” classics

20th Century classics

Modern series and chapter books

Compelling contemporary authors


250 Great Kids Authors Quick Reference

250 Great Kids Books Quick Reference

Sources - References


First of all, I’d like to thank you for purchasing this book – a lot of love, sweat and tears have gone into its production and I hope that you’ll enjoy it. And if you haven’t yet purchased the book, here is some background information to give you an idea of why this review book might be for you.

Right off the bat let me tell you a bit about myself: I’m a mom, a godmother, an aunt and a friend to lots of people w; ho have kids. I’m also a massively keen bookworm and have always loved books. Those are my main qualifications for writing this book. I’m not a professional book critic, or a literary expert, nor am I a child education specialist.

But, when I first became an aunt – before having my own kids – I realized right away that I wanted to share my love of books with my niece. I duly took myself off to the nearest bookstore and immediately panicked: there were just so many great looking books to choose from! I spent hours in the store and left with nothing, my brain addled by all the possible options – should I go for an old classic from my own childhood, or something contemporary that was geared more towards today’s kids? Browsing an online bookstore was even worse: there were over 50,000 books listed just for kids under the age of two! Crazy!

Eventually, as I gained more and more friends with children over the years, more nieces and nephews and my own kids as well, I started to compile a list of old and new favorites that were sure winners with the kids I knew. That list formed the backbone of this book: along with extensive research using trusted resources and authorities (you’ll find information about all the resources I used at the back of this book in the section marked References), endless discussions with friends and their kids who were older than mine, consulting numerous ‘Top 100’ type booklists, reading reviews, reading and re-reading the books themselves.

The result is Tell Me a Story: 250 Great Books for Kids, from birth right up to early teens. The basic criterion for each book is this: why is a child going to love this book? I hope you’ll agree that this should be the over-riding factor when deciding if the choices here are suitable for your kids.

Naturally, with a limit of just 250 books, there are bound to be titles that you will feel are missing from my list. As the saying goes “You can’t please all of the people all of the time” – but what I have tried to do is offer up a broad a range of books so that there will be something for everyone.

To this end I have included classic picture books and classic literature as well as popular contemporary books, and even a bit of easy-read escapism makes its way onto my list: because, just like adults, every child is different. The aim has got to be to get our kids reading and, in my opinion, the best way to do this is by finding the books they will love rather than the books we think they ought to read!

This book is for anyone who wants to pass on their love of reading to the next generation – it’s for parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, godparents and friends looking to choose a great gift for the children in their lives. It’s for people who appreciate that instilling a love of reading at a young age is a real gift, and to give this gift all you need to do is find great books that will motivate your child to read more, and more and more!

A note about how to use this book

The book is divided into five sections for these different age groups: babies to age 2; 3 to 5-year-olds; 6 to 8-year-olds; 9 to 11 year-olds; and 12 into teens. I don’t consider any one book as ‘better’ than the next – all the books here are great! But what I have done is loosely group the books in each section into categories, and within each category they are then listed alphabetically by title.

However, as each child develops and matures differently, and learns to read in his own time, some books will crossover from one age group to the next. I have tried to be clear in my review when a book might be better suited to the upper or lower end of the age group; and also to point out when a book might have a more challenging theme which needs to be considered.

With the vast number of great children’s authors to choose from, I also made an executive decision to include each author only once in this book, and on the whole I have chosen what I believe is their stand-out book. Where possible, I mention other great books by the same author that you might want to consider and whether a particular author writes books for different age groups. My hope is that you will see these suggestions as a basis from which to explore each author fully and see what other great books they have written.

Finally, occasionally you’ll see the phrases “we think” or “for us” – this “royal we” refers to me, my family and the other parents and friends who helped shape this book. For us reading is a collaborative experience: we all love reading and sharing the same books. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank them all for sharing my passion!

A note about the awards mentioned in this book

Where relevant, I have mentioned when a book has received a particular literary award. However, please note that some books have won lots of awards, and in order to spare you information overload I have only focused on the main awards that are recognized internationally. Any omission is entirely my fault and I apologize now! Below are the awards I have mentioned, plus a brief description of what they are awarded for.

Caldecott Medal - awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Also a number of runner-up books are awarded the Caldecott Honor.

Dromkeen Medal - awarded annually by the Courtney Oldmeadow Children's Literature Foundation for those who have advanced children's literature in Australia.

Geisel Award - awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.

Greenaway Medal - awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the United Kingdom for an outstanding book in terms of illustration for children and young people.

J.M. Barrie Award - the Action for Children’s Arts charity organization in the United Kingdom presents the J.M. Barrie Award annually to a children’s arts practitioner or organization whose work will stand the test of time.

Man Booker Prize - aims to promote the finest in fiction by rewarding the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.

Margaret A. Edwards Award - administered by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, and sponsored by School Library Journal magazine, to honor an author, as well as a specific body of his or her work, for significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature.

Michael L. Printz Award - administered by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, this award annually honors the best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit, each year.

Newbery Medal - awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Also a number of runner-up books are awarded the Newbery Honor.

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction - awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.

Pura Belpré Award - co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, and REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-Speaking, the Pura Belpré Award is presented annually to a Latino/Latina writer and illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth.

And finally …

As I have mentioned, this book is divided into five age groups, and in each group there are fifty titles. I chose this amount as I believe fifty is a manageable number of books to contemplate, and I’m confident that most people will find at least five titles in each section that they like. However, for further reference I also highly recommend the following books:

100 Best Books for Children offers a smaller selection of books but they are selected and reviewed in greater depth by the leading children’s book critic Anita Silvey.

1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up is compiled by Julia Eccleshare, the children’s books critic at The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom, and includes many European titles that you might not have heard of.

The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children is a gigantic reference tome; with over 1700 titles it is quite overwhelming, but it does have a very impressive cross-referencing section so that you can really drill down to find books that match your kid’s interests/ age etc.

Great Books for Babies to 2-Year-Olds

Helping our children to learn to read is one of the greatest gifts we can give them and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it’s never too early to start reading to your child: newborn infants will benefit from hearing the sound of your voice as this helps develop listening skills and starts him on the journey to language acquisition. There is also evidence that even fetuses still in the womb recognize their parents voices, so – as long as you don’t feel too silly reading to your bump – why not prepare your read-out-loud skills before birth with one of the great books listed here?

In fact, for us, a book’s “read-out-loud”-ability was one of the main criteria in choosing great books for under two-year-olds: it is essential that the books you read to them at this stage are ones that you’ll both enjoy. For those new parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents who maybe don’t have much experience in reading to kids, finding a book that is well-written naturally encourages you to be enthusiastic in its reading (very important when you have to read it for the fifth time in a row!) and is more likely to encourage a child to continue exploring the book on his own. Books that feature strong rhyming texts tend to dominate this age group for that very reason: by having a strong rhythm and rhyme, the text is easier both to read and to understand.

The second most important criteria at this early stage are the pictures. Words and images that combine to “tell the story”, will always be winners as they allow your child to interact with you beyond the story, as you point out objects, colors and more. Interactive books that include flaps, holes, textures, tabs and pop-ups are also vital additions at this stage: by keeping books fun to play with, you will naturally inspire curiosity.

So, below is our list of the top fifty books for under-twos. As with all the sections in this review book, we have chosen a range of books from childhood classics to contemporary works; books that have stood the test of time and books that promise to be great favorites in years to come. We have specified a number of books that are best suited to tiny babies under 6 months, but most of the books listed are suitable from around 6 months and no doubt many of these books will be revisited over time well beyond the age of two. For example, we suggest introducing the enduringly popular Dr. Seuss books right away, knowing that they will likely be a staple of your child’s library right through to middle school!

The main factor for choosing books for under–twos is to tap into their exploration of their universe: books that “speak” to them of the things they do and the things they’re interested in - like choo-choo trains or ladybugs, playing peek-a-boo and getting ready for bed – these are the books that will get them started on the wonderful journey that is reading!

Books for very, very early readers – babies under 6 months

Fuzzy Bee and Friends

by Roger Priddy, 2003

“A cloth book that kids can enthusiastically touch and chew, with simple, two-sentence rhymes that sound appealing to babies. My kids loved the crinkly front cover!”

- Amy Broadmoore, Delightful Children’s Books

Author/ illustrator Roger Priddy has been at the forefront of children’s educational books, first working with publishing giants Usborne before branching off on his own to create Priddy Books. And, whilst our reviews of great books for kids aims to focus, mainly, on children’s fiction rather than on purely learning books, many of the books made for the youngest of our children necessarily combine both areas. And this is what we love most about Priddy’s book Fuzzy Bee and Friends.

Made specifically for babies and pre-toddlers, this is a cloth book – all the pages are made of fabric – making it easy to handle for babies as young as 3 months. Unlike other cloth books which often simply present a series of bold images, perhaps with one word per page, Fuzzy Bee and Friends has a fun rhyming text that parents can read to babies, offering up the critical bonding opportunity of storytelling from a very young age.

Priddy also goes the extra mile, for as your baby explores a brightly illustrated insect world through its textured pages, snippets of useful information contained within the rhyme reinforce the texture. For example on the dragonfly page the rhyme goes, “Don’t be fooled by a scary name, this dragonfly is really tame”, and its wings are made of a gossamer light, soft material which confirms that the dragonfly is far from a scary thing at all.

And if bugs don’t take your fancy, then there are a number of these great Priddy cloth books exploring other animal kingdoms including, Squishy Turtle and Friends, Fluffy Chick and Friends and Snowy Bear and Friends.

Look, Look!

by Peter Linenthal, 1998

“This board book responds to the findings that very young children react best to high contrast black and white illustrations.”- Children's Literature

Black-and-white picture books for very young babies have become all the rage in parenting circles in the past few decades, and this one from Peter Linenthal is one of the best.

Child development researchers are largely in agreement that whilst a baby’s sense of sight develops slowly from birth, the right kind of stimulus can be a helpful tool in his/her understanding of their new surroundings. We now know that at birth a baby can really only see objects 8-12 inches away and as their sight develops they begin to enjoy looking at highly contrasted images, particularly those rendered in just black and white.

This is where books such as Look, Look! come into their own. Amongst the first of its kind, this board book comprises a series of black-and-white illustrations depicting simple objects and animals in Linenthal’s bold and curvaceous style, along with a small amount of text on each page in a limited range of bright colors.

Clearly, this isn’t the stuff of bedtime stories! But as a very early introduction to the joy of books Look, Look! can’t be beat. As such, it comes as no surprise that Linenthal’s range of black-and-white books are part of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library, a fantastic scheme that ensures that one book each month reaches the homes of children from birth to 5 years old in over 1600 communities across the United States.


by Nina Laden, 2000

“The exuberant illustrations in this guessing-game board book will enchant infants and toddlers.”

– Lisa Falk, School Library Journal © 2000

Books aimed at the very, very young should be all about having fun, and Peek-A-Who? by Nina Laden is just the ticket, drawing on the familiar game that can often hold a baby’s attention for ages. Ideal for babies as young as 6 months - in fact from the minute your baby gets the concept of the peek-a-boo game - this book will please almost as much as the game.

The combination of brightly colored, highly contrasted images and die-cut holes that keep you guessing until you reveal the hidden object are simply irresistible. Babies also love exploring the tactile sensation of putting their hands through the holes and, of course, the page that contains a mirror (“Peek-a…YOU!”) is the best bit of all!

Laden wrote and illustrated her first book when she was just 5 years old, and her sense of fun and understanding of the world through a child’s eyes continues to dominate her best books. We really like Laden’s work and her follow-up book, Ready, Set, Go!, is also worth mentioning here. Based on a similar concept and with the same bold imagery, this time the die-cut holes reveal witty illustrations that go with the surprising words that all rhyme with “go”, for example, “Ready, set... BLOW” reveals a girl blowing bubbles.

This Little Baby

by Sandra Lousada, 2002

“There is some evidence that babies can recognize voices and faces within weeks of birth."

- Howard Reinstein,

Babies love seeing other babies, and there are several good picture books featuring photographic images of babies, but if you can get this one – generally only available in the United Kingdom – then it’ll be worth the effort, because we think it’s the best!

Created by the noted portrait photographer Sandra Lousada – whose work in the 1960s snapping celebrities and other notable people was featured in glossy magazines such as Vogue, Queen and Tatler – This Little Baby cleverly puts together a simple yet expressive rhyming text with adorable and expressive black-and-white photographs of babies. But that’s not the best bit… the best bit is the end, where the rhyme goes “And this little baby is the one I love best!” and instead of a photograph, there’s a mirror for babies to see themselves in. Brilliant!

We were given this book second-hand when our daughter was about 5 months old. She went wild for it! And even now, aged 2, she comes back to it, chiming in with the rhyme and screaming her name out when she sees herself in the mirror. It’s really a lot of fun, beautifully executed and – importantly, if your child loves it as much as ours – hardwearing!

Textures, flaps and holes: interactive books for under twos

Counting Kisses

by Karen Katz, 2001

“With buoyant cartoons rendered in a bouquet of vibrant pastel tones, Katz creates a book as irresistible as a baby's smile.”

– Publishers Weekly

Since the publication of her first children’s book in 1997, Karen Katz has been nothing short of prolific, turning out over fifty books that she has written, co-authored or illustrated. Many of her books are specifically aimed at the under-twos and it’s clear that her success is due to a very natural talent for knowing what babies and young toddlers enjoy, both visually and conceptually.

She is, perhaps, best known for a series of lift-the-flap type books, which offer variations of the peek-a-boo game revealing different hidden things: the most popular of these books is Where is Baby’s Belly Button? with bold illustrations cleverly hiding different parts of baby’s body. Thoughtfully presented with both boy and girl babies and of multiethnic origins, this is a book that any parent and baby can easily relate to.

However, our favorite Katz book is not one of her typical lift-the-flap ones. Instead Counting Kisses has a very simple concept – a fussy baby needs many, many kisses from all her family members to help her get to sleep. Starting with “ten little kisses on teeny tiny toes” and ending with one last kiss on her “sleepy, dreamy head”, the book not only introduces counting and identifying parts of the body but, most importantly, the comforting message of all-encompassing love from her family.

We also love Katz’s wonderful book Over the Moon, which relates the story of a couple adopting a young baby, based on the author’s own experience of adopting her daughter from Guatemala. Written in simple language in the style of a classic fairytale, it’s a beautiful way to explain the journey of adoption to young children.

Dear Zoo

by Rod Campbell, 1982

“Simple, stylish and highly interactive, the patterned text invites constant re-reading.”

– Booktrust

For many children, Dear Zoo will be their first foray in to the wonderful world of lift-the-flap books. For therein lies the specific brilliance of the book: the endless satisfaction that a young child gets from revealing what’s behind the flap simply cannot be underestimated and the author, Rod Campbell, certainly knew this when he created it over 25 years ago!

The story recounts a youngster’s search for a suitable pet: he/she writes to the zoo and they send different animals – each more problematic than the last – the lion is too fierce, the giraffe is too tall and so on. Will our protagonist ever find the perfect pet?

But what draws children into this book is not just wondering if the pet will ever be suitable, but also the fact that they have to open the flap of each animal container, box or crate to see what the zoo has delivered. For parents, it’s a great opportunity to practice creative animal sounds as you help your child open the flap. You’ll never forget the moment your child first starts mimicking the “hiss” of the snake and the “roar” of the lion! It will be both adorably cute and one of those many precious moments when you realize your child is learning and growing.

There are now several different versions of Dear Zoo in many different languages, pop-up versions, touch-and-feel versions, and even an app version for iPad! But for us, the original lift-the-flap version will always be the best!

Pat the Bunny

by Dorothy Kunhardt, 1940

“… a classic loved by generations.”

– Karen Wellhousen, Common Sense Media

There are classic books and then there are favorite classic books. These are the ones that come readily to adults’ minds when we think of our childhoods. Pat the Bunny is one of those: a staple of many of our childhoods that reminds us of simpler times. The fact that the book still remains popular today – over 60 years since its first publication – is perhaps more to do with the soft spot it holds in our hearts than anything else.

Nevertheless, the fact also remains that the original book was one of the very first interactive books for very young children, and this element of the book is exactly why it still works for contemporary under two-year-olds. The simplicity of the text followed with a call to action (“Judy can pat the bunny. Now YOU pat the bunny.”), is exactly the kind of straightforward phrasing that young children will respond to. And the different textures, peek-a-boo activity and mirror will all help to engage your child’s growing fascination with books.

Pat the Bunny is also available in a box set edition with two other interactive books in the same vein, Pat the Puppy and Pat the Cat written by Kunhardt’s daughter Edith Kunhardt Davis. There’s even a Pat the Bunny app for iPad.


by Matthew Van Fleet, 2003

“Youngsters will hardly realize how much they're learning in this entertaining and eye-catching caper.” - Publishers Weekly

Following the success of his first published children’s book, Fuzzy Yellow Ducklings, Matthew Van Fleet has dominated the market of interactive books for toddlers.

What’s particularly great about his take on the interactive book is that often there is not just a touch-and-feel aspect, or a lift-the-flap aspect or a pop-up aspect – but a fantastically fun combination of all of these and more. His playful combination of bright cartoon-like illustrations with textures, flaps, pull-tabs and even scratch-n-sniff are sure-fire winners for this age group that are so eager to explore.

We particularly like Tails precisely because it encompasses all these great interactive qualities, but also because the theme – different animal tails – is so fascinating to youngsters. The rhyming text takes you through every conceivable type of tail - furry tiger tails, wagging foxtails and even slightly stinky skunk tails! And added to this you also get opposites, counting and actions, so it’s a book that really grows with your child’s learning.

It’s clear that Van Fleet is in touch with his inner child as he knows exactly what is going to excite a toddler. Heads, his follow-up to Tails, is an equally pleasing sensorial exploration, this time with over thirty moving and/ or tactile animal heads to engage with.

Ten Little Ladybugs

by Melanie Gerth, 2000

“[A] success starring gentle winged creatures: Ten Little Ladybugs… has sold more than three million copies.” – Publishers Weekly

You can tell that a book is a hit, when the publisher commissions more books using the same concept and then other publishers copy them. This is true of Ten Little Ladybugs – there are now Ten Rubber Duckies, Eight Silly Monkeys and others that follow the same idea.

The concept is simple, but brilliant. The book has an easy-going rhyme, counting down the adventures of ten ladybugs and their encounters with various other garden critters. The hook is the addition of “real” three-dimensional plastic ladybugs attached to each page and cleverly incorporated into the bright and colorful images.

As the ten ladybugs reduce to nine, then eight and so on in the rhyme, so do the attached ladybugs! Simple, but effective, as young children enjoy both the rhythm of the words and the tactile element of feeling the bugs and putting fingers through the holes.

Part of the job (and the joy) of introducing books to very young children is to instill an early love of reading and finding books that are fun for this pre-verbal age group is essential. Ten Little Ladybugs is exactly that kind of book.

That’s Not My Elephant

by Fiona Watt, 1999

“Sharing books plays an important part in developing language awareness, even when a baby or toddler hasn’t yet started speaking. It’s also a great way of having some close time together.” - Fiona Watt

Fiona Watt is a great example of an author who found a magic formula and ran with it! Along with illustrator Rachel Wells, she has created over thirty book titles in the Touchy-Feely Board books range from publishers Usborne. And there seems no end to the variations of the theme: titles already include most animals you can think of (both real and imaginary), several modes of transport including That’s Not My Tractor, and story characters such as That’s Not My Fairy.

The books all follow the same format: a series of cartoon-like illustrations with inserted tactile surfaces to demonstrate different qualities of the animal or character. For example, in That’s Not My Elephant, ridged card is used to describe toenails that are “too bumpy”, and a smidgen of faux fur for the end of a tail that is “too tufty”. The books are fantastically popular with little ones – touching the different surfaces reinforces this introduction to basic nouns and adjectives.

Short and sweet, rarely more than about five pages long, the range of That’s Not My… books are great little starter books that engage both sensory and language development, and worthy additions to your child’s first library.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

by Eric Carle, 1969

“One of the greatest childhood classics of all time.” – Kate Taylor, The Guardian*

First published in 1969, translated into over thirty languages and with more than thirty million sales worldwide, Kate Taylor may well be right in praising The Very Hungry Caterpillar as the greatest kids’ book of all time! Now part of a gigantic merchandising franchise – you can get almost everything to match the book, including baby’s first dinnerware set, plush toys, coloring books and more - it’s very clear that this book has captured the hearts and minds of generations of children since its first appearance.

The magic of the book, which was both written and illustrated by Eric Carle, is that it works on so many levels. The story introduces the butterfly life cycle in simple terms, as we follow the tale of a caterpillar hatching from his egg, who then eats a lot, builds a cocoon and emerges as a beautiful butterfly. The book gets the ball rolling on learning to count and the days of the week, as each day the hungry caterpillar eats more and more food; and there’s even a hint of a moral here, when the caterpillar feels ill after too much junk food!

The timeless design of the book offers up the unique collage-like graphics that epitomize Eric Carle’s style, which are both bold and appealing for young readers, but also quite sophisticated artistically. But, and really this is the important bit, the punched out holes where the caterpillar has eaten through a piece of food are a source of endless fascination for little fingers to explore! (NB – make sure to get the hardboard version of the book, for optimal punch out hole fun!)

Genius! The popularity of the book led Carle to create a vast opus, all featuring his distinctive style and an underlying deep understanding of the themes that will engage children.

(*quotation first published in The Guardian, reproduced with consent)

Where’s Spot?

by Eric Hill, 1980

“I… was unaware that in the process of making this book, I had started a whole new development in children’s books. I was just having fun.”

– Eric Hill

This original lift-the-flap book is still a hit more than thirty years later! To look at it you wouldn’t think that the Where’s Spot? book was a groundbreaking phenomenon of its time. Published in 1980, the book was the original lift-the-flap book for children.

The author and illustrator, Eric Hill, had devised the lovely puppy character during improvised bedtime stories for his son. The story goes that, by chance, Hill was working on an advert that featured a flap hiding an image and his son loved the peek-a-boo notion so much that Hill decided to use the idea in Where’s Spot? Thus, in an instant, an entirely new idea of how children engage with books came to be.

Since then, the simple story of the mother dog Sally looking for her puppy Spot around the house has become a firm favorite, and spawned a huge range of Spot books, merchandise and even his own official website featuring interactive Spot games for children, learning tools, fun printouts for coloring and more.

Eric Hill is still actively involved with the development of the Spot brand, along with his son and daughter, ensuring that the brand’s focus remains on learning through fun. In 2008 Hill was honored by Queen Elizabeth II for his services to children’s literature and was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), an award given to civilians by the monarchy in recognition of their contribution to society.

Never too young: clever concept books for under twos

First the Egg

by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, 2007

Caldecott Honor Book, 2008

“Another perfectly pitched triumph from an emerging master of the concept book.”

– Kirkus Reviews

It was really difficult to choose which of Seeger’s many amazing books to choose for this review. Her highly original and intelligent work has won her many awards, combining beautifully crafted artwork and engaging concepts that are perfectly pitched for the eyes and minds of young children.

Whilst many of her books are perhaps geared towards slightly older children (ages 3 up), there are a number of titles that you can introduce to babies – perhaps just as picture books to begin with and then really exploring the themes later.

One such book is the award-wining First The Egg, which tackles the age-old conundrum: which came first, the chicken or the egg? The book presents simple concepts, linking the things that go together (egg and chicken, tadpole and frog, caterpillar and butterfly) with bright die-cut illustrations that are a pleasure to the eye. Another of her books that we like for the under-twos is Lemons Are Not Red, where colors are introduced with vivid clarity. Also, her Dog and Bear series of short stories is a lovely exploration of friendship that will appeal to older preschoolers.

As with all of her books, the illustrations are an integral part of the work. Indeed, on her official website, Seeger describes herself as an artist rather than illustrator, and that distinction comes through very clearly when you look closely at the depth of texture and structure of the art in her books.

Good News, Bad News

by Jeff Mack, 2012

“An instructive and entertaining primer on the art of friendship and the complexity of joy.”

– Kirkus Reviews

In Good News, Bad News author/ illustrator Jeff Mack has come up with a neat way of explaining fairly complex ideas to little minds. The story of two friends - a rabbit and a mouse - demonstrates the importance of having a positive frame of mind, whilst at the same time showing that an understanding of the opposite negative thinking is also an essential quality in coping with the human condition.

Remarkably, he does this with just four simple words: it’s the amazingly expressive imagery that does the rest of the talking. On the first page we see Rabbit arrive in a garden scene with a picnic basket declaring the words, “Good news.” Before he even gets a chance to unpack the picnic it starts to rain. “Bad news,” says Mouse. But the eternally optimistic Rabbit has good news – he has an umbrella. And as the story unfolds, with Rabbit’s unfaltering positivity starting to really annoy Mouse’s innate pessimism, one wonders if the pair will ever be able to reconcile their differences?

Besides the useful message, what also makes this a great choice for youngsters under two years of age is that it has so much detail packed into every image; there is always plenty for parents to point out and talk about in describing the scene.

Not a Box

by Antoinette Portis, 2006

“Full of mischief, the book’s simple line drawings open up a world of imagination, humor and interactivity that make it a superb introduction to children’s literature.”

– Pamela Paul, The New York Times

It has often been noted that kids seem to have more fun playing with the box that a toy comes in than they do with the toy itself. There is a very good reason for this - a box opens up possibilities in a child’s fertile imagination. Sadly many toys today do so much that a child has little room to improvise and exercise their sense of fancy. A box can be anything at all to a child, not just a container for other items.

Not A Box by Antoinette Portis examines this truism. Utilizing simple one-dimensional line drawings, Portis explores some of the possibilities. Rabbit is sitting in a box. When asked why he is sitting in a box, Rabbit defiantly replies, “Not a Box”. On the very next page it is revealed to the reader what Rabbit imagines his box to be, and so on, exploring many possibilities.

Carrying on in the tradition of Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon (the classic exploration of the power of imagination) , Not A Box should appeal to infants right up to 1st grade. Grab a cardboard box when you read this to your youngsters - especially the very young ones - and use it to illuminate the text. The simple line drawings make no attempt to convey dimensionality, the very smallest may not grasp that the square shape is meant to represent a three dimensional object although they will undoubtedly enjoy the story just as much.

Orange Pear Apple Bear

by Emily Gravett, 2006

“…the five-word book that engages, on every level. It should be handed out at birth. The perfect book to read aloud to babies…”

– Dina Rabinovitch, The Guardian*

When we first came across this delightful book from Emily Gravett – a book that only has five words in it - we weren’t so sure about it’s worth. At the same time the accolades it received rather intrigued us. And we’re now very glad that we took the time to consider it, because it takes a moment to really appreciate the cleverness of this book and how it appeals to young children.

Gravett’s illustrations are the essential ingredient that makes this book work. The series of five words (orange, pear, apple, bear, there) are arranged in different orders each time giving them a slightly different meaning, and the images are crucial in demonstrating this word play.

For example, we start with the simple list of the four words in the title with their accompanying images; on the next page the order has shifted a little and now it reads “Apple, pear, orange bear” and there are images of an apple, a pear and then an orange bear with an amusing quizzical expression. The book thus elegantly introduces concepts such as color, shape and sequences to the very young in an accessible and fun way.

(*quotation first published in The Guardian, reproduced with consent)

The BabyLit Primer Series

by Jennifer Adams, 2011

“Thanks to gorgeous illustrations and clever literary touches, you might enjoy this collection of amazing board books at bedtime even more than they do.” – Cool Mom Picks

The BabyLit Primer series written by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver has got to be one of the best ideas in young children’s literature for a long, long time! The basic idea is to take well-known classic (adult) novels and use them as inspiration to introduce babies and toddlers to both the stories and basic learning concepts such as colors, numbers, or opposites. It’s inspired and genius!

Thus you have titles like Pride and Prejudice: A BabyLit Counting Primer where the pages go "1 English Village", " 2 Rich Gentlemen" (Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy) and so on, or Alice in Wonderland: A BabyLit Colors Primer with a “white rabbit”, “purple bottle”, “red hearts” etc. In each book the learning concept has been carefully thought through and Oliver’s illustrations are not only very stylish but rather witty too, with little details that will appeal to adults familiar with the stories.

There are currently nine titles in the series, each taking a famous novel and transforming it into an utterly charming, albeit bare, version of the story to share with your toddler. With a diverse range of classics from William Shakespeare to Herman Melville to Charlotte Brontë all given this quirky treatment, these books also make great gifts for literature-loving new parents.

Great stories and rhyming books for little ones

A Ball for Daisy

by Chris Raschka, 2011

Caldecott Medal Winner, 2012

“Rarely, perhaps never, has so steep an emotional arc been drawn with such utter, winning simplicity.” – Kirkus Reviews

Every so often an illustrator creates a book that speaks louder than words! A Ball for Daisy is one of Chris Raschka’s more recent picture books and is highly acclaimed for its simple yet comprehensive storytelling, done entirely through images. The book won the Caldecott Medal in 2012, awarded every year by the Association for Library Service to Children, part of the American Library Association, to recognize the best American children’s book illustrator.

The book tells the story of a dog, Daisy, her favorite ball and the sadness that follows when another dog destroys the ball – thankfully her owners are quick to supply another ball! Anyone who has lost or broken a favorite toy can relate to the tale – and for most children, that is likely to be an experience they are familiar with or will easily be able to connect to.

However, whilst we do appreciate Chris Raschka’s fluid watercolor illustration – and they are indeed very expressive – it is worth pointing out that the layout of the book can be somewhat confusing. Even for older preschoolers, this is definitely a book for sharing with an adult who can talk through each illustration to guide little ones through the story.

A Bear Called Paddington

by Michael Bond, 1958

Awarded Order of the British Empire for services to children’s literature, 1997

“Being English - or being like the English were in those days - Paddington spends a lot of time being scandalised by the prices of things.”

– Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian*

In the United Kingdom the Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond are a quintessential part of everyone’s childhood. Since the publication in 1958 of the first book, Bond has gone on to write over 150 titles in the series aimed at all ages, from board books for little ones and short novels for preschoolers.

The global success of these charming books means that today the Paddington Bear books have been translated into over forty different languages, and a vast franchise of merchandise has been created to accompany the books, including two animated series that are now available on DVD. Indeed, some of the Paddington Bear merchandise – particularly a range of Coalport china figurines that came out in the 1970s - is now considered highly desirable in the realms of children’s toy collections.

But what is it exactly that makes Paddington so appealing? The clue is in the very first book, A Bear Called Paddington, which recounts how a small bear from Peru arrives at Paddington Station, London, with a suitcase, several jars of marmalade, and a label around his neck that read, "Please look after this bear. Thank you". Who could resist such a charming request?

And so, Paddington’s adventures in England begin. He is taken in by a kind family and then sets out to learn about living in this new country, with numerous mishaps that occur along the way that Paddington’s earnest character can’t help but try to fix… and that children can’t help but enjoy!

(*quotation first published in The Guardian, reproduced with consent)

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, 1989

“This nonsense verse delights with its deceptively simple narrative and with the repetition of such catchy phrases as ‘skit skat skoodle doot’."

- Publishers Weekly

Bill Martin didn’t enjoy reading as a child, and indeed only learnt to love reading at college having been inspired by a poetry teacher to memorize poetry. He went on to dedicate his life to educating children and teachers, and introducing his reading model via his many wonderful children’s books. His best known, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a classic, but Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, co-authored with John Archambault, is like no other book with its combination of poetic structure and silly nonsense that appeals to young children.

Once you’ve heard Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, you’ll never forget it! A staple of many of our childhoods, coming back to the book as a parent is a great joy. For those that aren’t yet familiar with it, the basic premise is this: a bunch of anthropomorphized baby alphabet letters race each other to the top of a coconut tree, fall off the tree as it strains under the weight, and then get rescued by the adult capital letters! Yes it’s silly, but it’s clever too!

True to Martin’s philosophy of creating chunks of poetic phrasing to enhance comprehension, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is written in clever rhyming stanzas that work best when read aloud. The book is decisively enhanced with brightly colored cutout illustrations by Lois Ehlert, adding to the somewhat surreal premise.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo

by Kevin Lewis, 1999

“Lewis and Kirk… embrace an enduring childhood fantasy - the playroom that comes alive at night - and pare it down for very young readers.”

- Publishers Weekly

If your kid is into trains, then this is the book you’ve been looking for. Though be prepared to read it over and over again! With his wonderfully catchy rhyming text, Kevin Lewis takes us on a fast-paced voyage where an engineer and his son ride their steam engine train to the city, picking up freight and such on the way. The infectious refrain "Chugga-chugga choo-choo, whistle blowing, Whoooooooo! Whooooooooo!" is sure to delight train enthusiasts of all ages.

But what also makes this book special are the delightful illustrations by Daniel Kirk. Through them you see that the story is taking place in a child’s bedroom and the train and entire landscape of the story are all toys or bedroom furniture!

So when the train track goes “underground” it actually travels under the bed, when it heads “across the river” it does so on a bridge built over an aquarium, and along the way other toys help to load the train with freight made up of toy blocks! Anyone who’s seen the Toy Story CGI animation franchise will get why this illustration concept is so appealing!

Lewis and Kirk have teamed up on two other transport themed children’s books, all featuring strong verse and bold illustrations, so if your toddler prefers boats or trucks to trains, then have a look at Tugga-Tugga Tugboat or My Truck is Stuck!

Each Peach Pear Plum

by Janet Ahlberg and Allan Ahlberg, 1978

Greenaway Medal Winner, 1978

“Thousands of children have enjoyed the Ahlbergs' pictorial guessing game - not only because the game is fun, but also because the pages contain action and humor and a sense of beauty.” – Scholastic

Each Peach Pear Plum is not just a great picture book, it’s a very clever rhyming tale featuring a cast of classic fairytale and children’s story characters in an elaborate game of I Spy. Each page presents an amazingly detailed picture where the character in the verse is hidden (the opening line “Each peach pear plum, I spy Tom Thumb” should give you an idea of what we mean).

Together, we follow the familiar characters (Cinderella, the Wicked Witch, Robin Hood, The Three Bear et al) as they interact with each other in fairytale land, with the grand finale coming full circle to the plum pie that has been baked by Mother Hubbard at the beginning.

It’s rare to find a book that appeals to both the adults and the children reading it. The concept is wonderfully witty and amusing for parents, while younger children will simply enjoy the pretty rhymes, and older children will enjoy searching out the hidden characters along the way. We also love that there are plenty of little animals in each image to point out too (ducks, mice, birds, rabbits and frogs), making it a great book to use beyond the first read through. This is a very good thing, because your child is likely to ask for it again and again and again!

Favorite Nursery Rhymes from Mother Goose

by Scott Gustafson (illustrator), 2007

“Gustafson’s vision of the Mother Goose characters is so utterly unique. The illustrations are breathtaking and give new life to the familiar rhymes we know and treasure.”

– Kim Harris Thacker, Bookshop Talk

Mother Goose nursery rhymes have been handed down from generation to generation, and the history of some of the poems in the collection can be traced back as far as the 16th century. Needless to say, as a result, there are a huge number of Mother Goose nursery rhyme compilations. Many of them merit attention, but for us the absolute winner is the Greenwich Workshop Press version illustrated by master of the craft, Scott Gustafson.

Here you will find an utterly beautiful treasure trove of forty-five rhymes including all the well-known favorites, plus a few lesser-known ones, all brought to life with Gustafson’s inimitable opulent style which speaks clearly of his fine art training. The illustrations - all oil paintings - are at once detailed, almost photo-realistic in parts, and also endearingly whimsical. And as such they give the book a kind of gravitas, as if it has been in print forever.

Critics may not like the fact that some of the nursery characters are depicted as anthropomorphic animals – for example Jack Be Nimble is a cricket – and others may be disappointed that longer rhymes have been cut short to accommodate the full-page illustration plates; but for us, the whimsy of the illustrations are part of the charm and we’re happy to lose a few verses to enjoy such sumptuous visual delights.

Gossie & Friends Series

by Olivier Dunrea, 2001

“Toddler-appealing story lines and the charismatic charm of the illustrations assure that these smartly clad geese will be marching straight into the hearts of readers.” – Kirkus Reviews

Gossie and all her friends are baby geese - aka goslings. They are the creation of sculptor, painter and medievalist Olivier Dunrea, who perfectly showcases realistic childhood behaviors through his delightful anthropomorphic characters and endearingly rendered illustrations.

Gossie has a number of friends. In the first book, Gossie who rarely goes out without wearing her cute red boots, finds them missing. Searching for them, we are introduced to Gertie, another smaller gosling and we learn an important lesson about sharing. In Gossie and Gertie, natural leader Gossie expects her fast friend Gertie to always follow her wherever she goes. But isn’t Gertie entitled to find her own path after all? In Ollie the Stomper we are introduced to a little male gosling who is somewhat contrary as well as stubborn and impatient. Gideon presents yet another boy gosling who hates taking naps, no matter how much his mother begs him to take them; Booboo is a little girl goose who is not the most discriminating diner, and Peedie is a forgetful little lad, who is always mislaying things.

There are thirteen books in the Gossie and Friends series. Dunrea’s text is simple and features the repetition that so enchants younger kids. Similarly the simple ink and watercolor illustrations are repeated as well, using primary colors surrounded in white space and adding to the charming appeal of these little goslings.

I Am a Bunny

by Ole Risom, 1963

“No child’s library is complete without this gentle story of the seasons.” – Random House

Ole Risom has been credited as being one of the most influential book publishers for children, having been the vice president and art director of Golden Books Western Press for thirty years, the publishing house behind many innovative children’s book formats and who championed some of the greatest children’s book authors of all time.

A lesser-known fact is that Risom also wrote a number of children’s books himself. I Am a Bunny, a delightful story of a rabbit called Nicholas who tells us what he loves about the different aspects of the four seasons, is largely considered the best of his books. It was published in 1963 and is one of the few Risom books that remain in print today, a testimony to its enduring value.

Its success is in no small part thanks to the utterly sumptuous illustrations by the great Richard Scarry. Scarry beautifully conjures Nicholas’ outdoor world with amazingly precise detail, whilst still keeping the images accessible to children. In one image there are twenty-four butterflies, each a different species; in another, several different bird species have been accurately represented.

The detail and the deep and vibrant colors of each season serve to confirm what Nicholas is saying – that each season has its unique gifts to enjoy. A truly, lovely classic book to treasure.

In the Tall, Tall Grass

by Denise Fleming, 1991

“Bold, bright, stylized illustrations capture eye and imagination as they convey the simple, rhyming text of this outstanding nature tale.”

- Virginia Opocensky, School Library Journal © 1991

Author/ illustrator Denise Fleming, has written eighteen picture books for children and won the 1994 Caldecott Honor award for the illustration of her book In the Small, Small Pond which detailed the world from a frog’s point of view with gloriously bold imagery.

In her first book, In the Tall, Tall Grass she used the same chunky pulp painting style of illustration, this time showing the world of the bugs and critters on land. She has more recently also added to the series with a look at animals that live beneath the grass in underGROUND.

All three books are wonderful additions to a children’s library and are sure to be a hit with critter-crazy toddlers. However In the Tall, Tall Grass remains our favorite for the very young under-twos who will be fascinated with the caterpillars, bees, ants and birds that populate the pages.

All three books not only feature her signature highly colored illustrations, but also her clever rhymes with rhythmic onomatopoeia that really appeals to younger readers. Lines such as “crunch, munch caterpillars lunch” and “dart, dip hummingbirds sip” are a joy to read out loud and give depth and richness to what is actually a very simple text.

Kitten's First Full Moon

by Kevin Henkes, 2004

Caldecott Medal Winner, 2005

“Kevin Henkes is a genius… yet he isn’t quite the household name that Dr. Seuss and Maurice Sendak are, though he should be.”

– Bruce Handy, The New York Times

Thankfully, in more recent years, Kevin Henkes has been recognized for his impressive efforts: he was awarded the Newbery Honor in 2004 for his book Olive’s Ocean and in 2005 he won the Caldecott Medal for the illustrations in Kitten’s First Full Moon.

For us what makes Henkes really exciting is the fact that he writes both children’s books and young adult fiction, so you can follow his work as your child grows. Some of his other books that we would also recommend for older children are his series of books featuring Lilly the mouse for ages 6-8 ( Lilly’s Purple Purse is the best is our opinion) or Olive’s Ocean for ages 9+.

It’s not often that you come across an author that can so easily embrace all these age ranges, with their very different demands and needs, both in terms of literacy levels and emotional awareness. That’s what makes Henkes so special. He seems to effortlessly understand what a 2-year-old wants from a picture book as much as he gets the ups-and-downs of those pre-teen years.

That he can do this both with the text and the visuals is, indeed, nothing short of genius! In Kitten’s First Full Moon children are treated to the witty tale of a curious kitten trying to get to a big bowl of milk in the sky, combined with bold illustrations in the muted night time tones of black, white and grey. Both the text and the pictures complement each other perfectly, and that’s what makes this book the perfect introduction to Henkes’ work.

Moo, Baa, La La La!

by Sandra Boynton, 1982

“The text lends itself to a boisterous read-aloud session, and young children will have oodles of fun.” – Ann Marie Sammataro, Common Sense Media

Chances are that, in the unlikely event that you haven’t yet come across Sandra Boynton’s children’s books, you’ll have seen her work in the thousands of alternative greetings cards that kick-started her career as one of America’s most popular humorists, authors and illustrators. Populated with whimsical animals and irreverent silliness, her vast output of creativity has made her a household name and a firm favorite with children everywhere.

She has written over fifty books for children, and so many of them are so good, it was hard to make a choice for this review. Runners-up includeThe Going To Bed Book, Barnyard Dance! and Blue Hat, Green Hat - all very much worth getting too - but we chose Moo, Baa, La La La! as our all-time top Boynton book, because it’s just so well pitched for children from a very young age.

The musicality of the phrasing is clearly part of its appeal, along with the fun illustrations, but also the fact that you can’t help but get enthusiastically involved in moo-ing, and baa-ing and la-la-la-ing along with the animal characters. The text also lends itself to the wagging of fingers and shaking of heads for “No, no … that isn’t right” and whispering at the end.

Children love seeing adults play-act being silly, and with this book even the most straight-laced parent will not be able to resist getting in touch with their inner comic!

Olive, the Other Reindeer

by Vivian Walsh, 1997

“From the lovable main character and her very original story to the uniquely crafted illustrations, this book is fun, fun, fun.”

– Patricia Tauzer, Common Sense Media

It’s pretty rare that a book for the under-twos actually makes us howl with laughter, which is entirely why Olive, the Other Reindeer has to be in our top fifty baby books! The story follows the madcap adventures of a dog called Olive who becomes convinced that she is a reindeer and heads off to the North Pole to assume her Christmas Eve responsibilities!

How on earth does this dog get the idea that she’s a reindeer, you ask? Well, what happens is that she mishears the lyrics to the well-loved holiday classic Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer: instead of “All of the other reindeer,'' she hears “Olive, the other reindeer'' … and so the hilarity begins! Will Olive prove a valuable member of Santa’s team, or just a terribly costly liability?

The book reminds us of the recent trend in CGI animated movies from studios such as Pixar and Dreamworks, which seamlessly blend together the kind of slapstick comedy kids love and in-jokes that only grown-ups will understand. Indeed, in 1999, a CGI animated version of Olive, the Other Reindeer was aired as a Christmas television special on Fox, with Olive voiced by Drew Barrymore.

Like many of Vivian Walsh’s super clever children’s books, in Olive, the Other Reindeer the cartoon-like illustrations are provided by J. Otto Seibold and are key in bringing to life the wit and humor that resonates with adults but also appeals to kids. Definitely an author - illustrator duo to follow.

Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young

compiled by Jack Prelutsky, 1986

Children’s Poet Laureate 2006-2008, America

“Here are more than 200 little poems to feed little people with little attention spans to help both grow.”

– Jim Trelease, Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young

If you haven’t already come across the legend that is Jack Prelutsky, then you’re in for a treat. Specializing in humorous and inventive poetry for kids in over fifty poetry collections, his amazing contribution to children’s literature was finally recognized in 2006, when he was named America’s first Children’s Poet Laureate by the Poetry Foundation.

What’s even more amazing about Prelutsky’s story is that, but for some chance encounters, his natural talent might never have been discovered. Prelutsky says that, as a child, he had pretty much been put off poetry by a dour schoolteacher who chose all the boring poems.

After a somewhat lackluster schooling career, he took up various jobs ranging from cab driver to photographer. It was a friend who, in 1964, encouraged him to send some illustrations he’d done to a publisher. He worked for months refining them and as an afterthought, one evening, Prelutsky added poems to the drawings. The publisher didn’t care much for the drawings – but loved the poems! And so his illustrious career began!

We love his poems too, and we love his generous spirit that delights in sharing his love for all things childlike. In Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, Prelutsky has compiled more than 200 short poems from different poets and authors across the ages that speak directly to children’s experiences and sense of humor. It’s a truly remarkable collection of verse that invites you to dip in and out, always finding something new and fun.

And for the ultimate experience of Prelutsky’s own wonderfully whacky verse, then we highly recommend his book Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face: And Other Poems: Some of the Best of Jack Prelutsky which has 112 of his own brilliant poems spanning four decades.

The Carrot Seed

by Ruth Krauss, 1945

“A free spirit whose own childlike sense of wonder and curiosity made her a natural writer for young children.”

- Karen MacPherson, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The enduring tale of a determined young boy who plants and tends for a carrot seed, despite adults around him telling him it won’t grow, is as resonant a story today as it was when it was first published in 1945. And, whilst the accompanying illustrations, by her husband and fellow acclaimed children’s book author Crockett Johnson, may seem a little dated to today’s adult eyes, they are simple and clear and perfect for young children.

For many, including the great children’s author Maurice Sendak who referred to it as “the perfect picture book”, the publication of The Carrot Seed was the defining moment in children’s literature of the time. The simple message of the virtues of patience, perseverance and hard work must have spoken volumes to the parents of the day, as they emerged from the hardships and horrors of the Second World War.

For today’s audience of young readers, so easily distracted by the instant gratifications offered by modern technology, the message is just as important, if not more so. The boy, who plants a carrot seed and looks after it so very carefully, is most handsomely rewarded in the end: a great life lesson, beautifully told.

The Hiccupotamus

by Aaron Zenz, 2009

“Bright, pudgy, round-eyed cartoon illustrations rendered in colored pencil are an apt match for the goofy slapstick of the text.”

– Kirkus Reviews

What could be funnier than a hippopotamus? Well, a hippopotamus with hiccups, of course! Following in the tradition of nonsense verse from classic poets such as Edward Lear and Spike Milligan, Aaron Zenz brings us this really silly tale of a hippo afflicted with a terrible case of hiccups; indeed he hics “quite-a-lot-amus”, so badly that he’d “fall upon his bottomus”! It’s very silly, very funny and quite clever too.

Zenz is also the illustrator of this book, demonstrating an equally deft artistic talent with his brightly colored cartoon-like illustrations. His animal characters are quite hilarious – their startled expressions get ever more panicked every time the flailing hiccupping hippo wreaks havoc in their otherwise peaceful world.

Little children will love the total silliness of the story, and the overblown chaos provides ample opportunity for parents to really go to town with comedic storytelling: really exaggerating the hiccups will send your toddlers into giggling fits for hours on end! For that reason, this is probably not a great choice for a bedtime story, but perfect for reading time on a dull and rainy day!

Zenz’s follow-up book, The Chimpansneeze – about a chimp with a tickly nose - was published in 2012. We haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but can only hope that it is as full of irreverent nonsense and fun sound effects as The Hiccupotamus.

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt

by Michael Rosen, 1989

Children’s Laureate 2007-2009, United Kingdom

“Beautifully produced, written and illustrated, this is a classic work for any age at any period.”

- The Independent on Sunday

Involved in children’s literature and poetry since the 1970s and in many guises (as poet, author, educator, scriptwriter, broadcaster), Michael Rosen has won many awards and plaudits over the years, including being chosen as the Children’s Laureate for 2007-2009, awarded to distinguished children’s book writers or illustrators in the United Kingdom.

It’s easy to see why: his books and poetry speak directly to children in a language they understand. And Rosen is also not one to shy away from more grown-up topics and themes: in his book Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, inspired by the deaths of his son and his mother, he presents the depths, breadths and challenges of grief in the most poignantly simple terms that children (and adults) will comprehend.

In We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, we don’t have massive emotional concepts to deal with, but there is a bear – a real life scary bear – not like the cute and cuddly ones that so often feature in children’s books! Adapted from the popular camp song, we also get a fantastically rhythmic poem, telling the story of a father and his four children who set off into a gloriously textured landscape to find a bear. Along with the wonderfully expressive illustrations by Helen Oxenbury, the book turns a perfectly every day kind of walk in the countryside into a sonorous adventure.

There is simply not enough room here to go into the full genius of this book. One of the reasons we love it, for example, are the double page spreads interspersing the story where the dad and kids have to traipse through tricky conditions such as grassy fields (“Swishy swashy!”) or muddy bogs (“Squelch squerch!). The words and images just fit so perfectly, and are so appealing to read and to hear!

Some may find that We’re Going On A Bear Hunt is a bit long and wordy in parts for the very young, but it is certainly one of those books that you can (and will) keep coming back to as your baby reaches toddlerhood and onwards into preschool, and should definitely be included in every child’s library.

Where’s My Teddy?

by Jez Alborough, 1992

“The funny mix-up in Where’s My Teddy? will make kids squeal with delight.”

– Jennifer Gennari, Common Sense Media

If your kid has a favorite teddy, you’ll totally get this book! A fantastical rhyming tale about a boy who goes into the woods to look for his lost teddy; little does he know that an enormous bear has also lost his teddy! You can imagine the surprise, confusion and terrible upset that arise when the boy finds the bear’s enormous teddy, whilst the bear finds the boy’s tiny teddy… will the boy and bear ever be able to find their real teddies in the end?

This comedy of errors, cleverly written for young audiences, is the first in a trilogy of Bear books written by award-wining children’s author Jez Alborough. The other two books in the series, My Friend Bear and It’s the Bear! continue to explore the unlikely but heart-warmingly funny friendship between a small boy and a great big bear!

Coupled with Alborough’s expansively expressive illustrations, the text’s rhythmic rhyme is very readable and accessible for two-year-olds and older toddlers alike. As with all of Alborough’s work – over forty-five children’s books to date – there is a clear understanding of both the topics that interest children and how to express them in simple terms, such as the terrible fear of losing a favorite toy.

Fans of his work, may also be interested to know that Alborough’s official website has a wealth of downloadable activity pages, including imagination games, coloring-in pages and quizzes.

Beddy-byes: perfect bedtime stories

A Book of Sleep

by Il Sung Na, 2009

“Na’s wonderfully illustrated debut is one of those bedtime books that children will likely turn to again and again.” – Abby Nolan, Booklist

Why do children sometimes see sleep as something to be avoided at all costs, no matter how tired they may be!? It always seems that even the drowsiest kid will perk right back up when he’s put into his bed. So, the very best “bedtime” books are those that aid a parent in the, sometimes hopeless, attempt to calm and relax children rather than stimulating them further.

A Book of Sleep is the American debut of Il Sung Na, who originally published the book as ZZZzzz, A Book of Sleep in the United Kingdom in 2007. The spare text is presented in comforting lines of iambic pentameter, the rhythmic pace playing a huge part in helping children wind down.

The creatures of the forest are settling down to their rest. That famously nocturnal bird, the owl, watches over them, making sure they sleep restfully. Penguins, elephants, whales, giraffes and more are all metaphorically tucked in by the owl’s watchful gaze.

Aside from the restful text, we also like that the animals are represented sleeping as they do in the wild, some standing, some lying down, some with eyes closed, some with eyes open, and that the imaginative illustrations utilize muted colors, switching to brilliant radiance as the book ends.

Are You My Mother?

by P.D. Eastman, 1960

“This classic tale is as appealing to modern-day children as it was to their parents decades ago.”

– Ann Marie Sammataro, Common Sense Media

Author and illustrator P.D Eastman was first mentored by Dr. Seuss, who clearly saw Eastman’s abundant potential to connect with children’s imaginations and concerns. This is one of Eastman’s best-loved stories, telling the simply tale of a freshly hatched baby bird looking for his absent mother, and asking everyone and everything he meets that most vital of questions: “Are you my mother?”

Published in 1960, it’s easy to see why this classic book continues to win the hearts and minds of readers today. The simple, yet detailed, illustrations, which give a nod to Eastman’s early career as an animator with Walt Disney, and dramatic storyline – will the baby bird ever find his mother again? – never seem to age.

This is also a book that keeps on giving, because of the simple layout and language: having used it primarily as a bedtime story book in the early years, you can come back to this book as a primer when your child starts learning to read.

Close Your Eyes

by Kate Banks, 2002

“This beautifully written and charmingly illustrated story will be enjoyed over and over again.” – Kristin de Lacoste,

School Library Journal © 2002

Although billed as a book for slightly older toddlers, Kate Banks’ lyrical storytelling in Close Your Eyes is easily accessible to younger children from around 18 months onwards. Coupled with evocative illustrations from Georg Hallensblen, we read about a mother tiger who helps her reluctant young cub go to sleep by exploring all the exciting things he will see in his dreamtime. All he needs to do is close his eyes to reach a magical world where he can play with the clouds and sit on the lap of the moon.

Banks is highly praised for her large body of work, and she is comfortable writing books for children of all ages, from very young readers right up to pre-teens; in recent years, she has been nominated for both the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction and the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Juvenile Fiction.

However Banks seems to have an exceptionally natural talent for exploring bedtime ritual: in another equally lovely bookAnd If the Moon Could Talk she eloquently leads us through the nighttime view that the moon has of the world outside our bedrooms. As with Close Your Eyes, the words and images, again by Hallensblen, complement each other beautifully to create a peaceful vision to help children wind down.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site

by Sherri Duskey Rinker, 2011

“Perfect for sleepers who are more fascinated by the motorized and muddy than by the soft and fluffy.” - Mary Harris Russell, The Chicago Tribune

Published in 2011, this relatively new children’s book became an instant hit with parents of young children who, by and large, are completely obsessed with construction site vehicles! We personally have no idea why our kids are so utterly fascinated with trucks, bulldozers, cranes and cement mixers – perhaps it’s the vast size of them, or the noise? Whatever the reason, they love them and their inherent mystery.

And so, with a stroke of genius, author Sherri Duskey Rinker came up with a question that perhaps we adults hadn’t even thought of: what exactly happens to the vehicles when a tough day of busy building is done? Beautifully and wittily illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site is a very unique bedtime story that sees Crane Truck cuddling up with his teddy bear and Cement Mixer enjoying bath time before bed!

There are so many wonderful bedtime stories that feature fluffy bunnies, twinkling stars and such sweet loveliness – but if you have a boy, or a tomboy, who simply doesn’t really care about “all things nice” then this is a great choice for you. And if this book becomes your kid’s biggest obsession, you may be interested to know that there is plenty of themed merchandise to match the story, including the Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site plush toy bulldozer!

Goodnight Moon

by Margaret Wise Brown, 1942

“Her unique ability to see the world through a child's eyes is unequalled.” – Harper Collins

Goodnight Moon is the kind of book a child should be given by a doting grandparent. It’s a classic bedtime story that evokes a time gone by; the beautiful rhyming couplets reminiscent of the gentle support and encouragement only an older, wiser person can give. First published in 1942 and still illustrated with Clement Hurd’s brightly detailed images, Goodnight Moon has become an international bestseller, helping babies and young children get off to sleep all over the globe.

There is definitely something magical about this book. Countless customer reviews, and indeed our own experience, talk of how reading this book aloud – above all others – helps settle their little ones off to sleep. The simple lilting phrasing, first describing the objects in a little bunny’s bedroom, and then saying goodnight to each object in turn, has a calming repetitive quality that clearly has this effect.

But what we think is really clever, is the way Wise Brown both picks out objects that are familiar and fascinating to young children and also references things that connect with children’s imagination. In turn, we say goodnight to the clock, the red balloon, the toy house, but also to the cow flying over the moon and the three bears sitting on their chairs. Only someone who is attuned to a child’s mind could think to write those words, and that’s why this book continues to delight.

Guess How Much I Love You

by Sam McBratney, 1994

“This sentimental tale gives a good tug on the heartstrings without descending into sentimentality. Gentle humor and a pervading sense of love dominate the pages.”

- Ann Marie Sammataro, Common Sense Media

Since its first appearance on children’s bookshelves in 1994, this delightful bedtime story has gone on to sell more than twenty million copies worldwide and been produced in over thirty languages. This remarkable achievement is surely testament to the winning combination of a lovely text from author Sam McBratney and the delicate illustrations of Anita Jeram.

There’s no real story in Guess How Much I Love You, instead we see the bedtime ritual of two nutbrown hares: the Little Nutbrown Hare asks the Big Nutbrown Hare the all-important question of how much he is loved, and what ensues is each hare coming up with ever greater expressions of their love for each other. It’s a very endearing conversation, illuminating this everyday ritual that many families take part in. In our family, the game is the same but slightly different: “I love you”, “I love you more”, “Impossible!”

We also like the fact that, although the hares are never specifically assigned genders, it rather feels as if they are father and son, which is relatively rare in children’s literature for this young age group. McBratney provides another great father figure in his more recent children’s book You’re All My Favorites, where a father bear explains why each of his three cubs are each loved equally.

I’ll See You in the Morning

by Mike Jolley, 2005

“The gentle words which make night friendly and the reassurance of the mother's proximity are given visual expression with soft pictures.”

– Children’s Literature

The back cover of this book says it all: “This dreamy little book is like a hug and a kiss goodnight.” It is an utterly charming poem designed to reassure and comfort children who might fear the approaching darkness of the night and the accompanying separation from their parents. The accompanying soft focus illustrations by Mique Moriuchi add to the tenderness of the words perfectly, creating a wholly satisfying bedtime story book.

The overall message of love and security that this book imparts is very beautifully conveyed – we particularly like the imagery of the night being like “just a blanket that helps the earth to sleep” - and what could be better for night time fears than the reassuring final line “and I'll see you in the morning”?

Even if your child is not particularly afraid of the dark, the soothing rhythm lends a sense of peacefulness at bedtime – especially good if you have a live wire of a toddler who needs help in winding down to sleep.

I Love You Through And Through

by Bernadette Rossetti-Shustak, 2004

“This is a sweet book… It reads as an affirmation that the child will be loved, from top to bottom, when happy or sad.”

– Martha Topol, School Library Journal © 2005

On her official website, Rossetti-Shustak talks of how her book I Love You Through And Through is all about the “unconditional love and total acceptance” that parents have for their children, and the importance of showing children as often as possible that they are loved exactly for who they are. And that is exactly why this book is so well loved by parents and children everywhere.

The elegantly precise words get straight to the point in a way that little ones will fully understand, even if they’ve had a rough day of typical growing-up challenges that might have tested their parents’ patience: "I love your happy side, your sad side, your silly side, your mad side”. The book moves on through the obvious things we love about our children – “fingers and toes… ears and nose” - to the more complex notions such as the actions and emotions that express their character. And the story beautifully rounds off with a promise that this love will last for all time.

Rossetti-Shustak’s book is something of a one-hit wonder. I Love You Through And Through was published in 2004 and so far she has sadly not published any other children’s books. But it is a stellar singular hit that simply must be on everyone’s top books list for this age group. Letting young children know how very much they are loved, right from day one, is that important!


by Bruce Degen, 1983

“Berries and jam are roundly celebrated in a lilting text that, coupled with the jaunty colored pictures, make it hard to resist thinking about one of summer's lusher treats.”- Booklist

Jamberry tells the joyfully fanciful tale of a bear and a boy romping through the countryside looking for as many berries as they can – including some that adults might not have heard of – just for the sake of eating lovely berries! It is pretty nonsensical and definitely quite silly, but its charming lyricism makes it a good choice for bedtime for very little ones.

Although published in 1983, Jamberry has an old-world feel to it that accentuates its charm. This is mostly thanks to the wonderfully detailed images of illustrator/ author Bruce Degen. The boy in the story, with his battered straw hat, tatty britches and braces, reminds us very much of the archetypal Tom Sawyer character and elements like the decorated capital letter in the opening line and the plant-based borders have clear links to ancient manuscripts.

But when you look a little closer at the detail, there are some fabulously fun surprises: cookies, sugar bread and jellybeans grow on bushes and trees, lily pads are actually butter pats and waffles, reeds are tipped with marshmallows. When you find yourself reading this book for the umpteenth time, these quirky details will certainly keep this book fun and fresh for you too.

Little Tug

by Steven Savage, 2012

“With just 100 words, including the title, this book is a good one for last call, as any demand to “read it again” can be easily satisfied.”

– Roger Sutton, The New York Times

One of the more recent books to cross our path whilst researching this book is this latest offering from award winning author/ illustrator Steven Savage and, as soon as we read it, we just knew it had to be included. Published in 2012, Little Tug combines Savage’s rich retro imagery, and a storyline that is reminiscent of family-favorite The Little Engine That Could, to great and charming effect.

Little Tug is not very big and not very fast. And he rather wishes he could be as big as an ocean liner or as fast as a speedboat, but he soon learns that when these other boats get into trouble, he’s the only one who can help. And at the end of a long day helping everyone out Little Tug is richly rewarded by his bigger friends.

The chunky block cut illustrations and simple text is perfect for children under two years old, and learning to appreciate one’s own individuality is a lovely message to convey to little ones who are trying to make sense of a very complex world. Some might feel that the ending of the story is a bit too sweet, but we think that the reassurance of the bigger boats looking after Little Tug as he gets ready to go to bed is exactly the kind of comfort small children will appreciate.

Llama Llama Red Pajama

by Anna Dewdney, 2005

“An uproariously funny tale detailing the true events that occur between lights out and when a wee one actually falls asleep.” – Kirkus Reviews

Since the first appearance of Anna Dewdney’s llama family in 2005, her series of children’s books have taken a firm hold in parenting circles everywhere, with several of them topping best sellers lists the minute they are released!

It’s easy to see why: the watertight combination of strong rhyming text, boldly eloquent illustrations, and every day themes is always a sure fire winner. But what really make the Llama Llama books work are, most importantly, the accurately drawn dynamics and emotions that play out between family members that are so clearly recognizable to young children.

This is made clear right from the first book in the series, Llama Llama Red Pajama. It’s time for Baby Llama to go to bed, but after Mama Llama tucks him in and heads downstairs, he gets scared and needs to hear her reassurance that "Mama Llama's always near, even if she's not right here" to settle him to sleep.

Other titles in the series that we particularly like include Llama Llama Time to Share, where little Llama learns to share his toys with his new friend; and Llama Llama Mad at Mama, where a shopping trip tantrum can only be resolved with co-operation from both parent and child. It’s great that little Llama Llama reacts to real life just as our toddlers do and exploring these big emotions through books is a useful tool in helping our toddlers learn to manage them.

“More More More,” Said the Baby: 3 Love Stories

by Vera B. Williams, 1990

Caldecott Honor Book, 1991

“A joyous expression of verbal and physical affection, these are truly love stories for our times.”

– Starr LaTronica, School Library Journal © 1990

Vera B. Williams came into children’s books a little later in life, having previously trained in graphic arts and working as a teacher. Her first books were published in the late 1970s when Williams was already in her 50s with a wealth of life experience, and it is perhaps because of this that her books are filled with so much carefully considered imagery and emotionally mature text.

In “More More More,” Said the Baby: 3 Love Stories you get three beautifully crafted stories depicting everyday family life and the utter love that is shared between family members. But more than this, you also get three multicultural and multigenerational families, which underlie Williams’ clear concern to showcase the universality of the love that exists between adults and their offspring.

Williams has won various awards for her work, including the 1991 Caldecott Honor for the illustrations that go with this book; the bright, fluid watercolor paintings with rainbow colored text add to the open, warm and celebratory tone of the book. And whilst we do love the imagery, what we enjoyed most about “More More More”… is the naturalistic, conversational style of the text that seems to hark back to traditional oral storytelling, effortlessly creating a sense of intimacy between the reader and the child who is listening.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

by Dr Seuss, 1990

“A person's a person, no matter how small.”

- Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who!

Of course, the outstanding importance of the Dr. Seuss’ opus to the world of children’s literature cannot be covered in a simple review here. And yet, at first, adults didn’t really get the charm of his simple philosophy, that children want the same things as adults: “to laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted.” It took twenty-seven attempts before a publisher accepted Dr. Seuss’ first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, back in 1937!

Now his collection of forty-six children’s books has become part of the very fabric of American children’s literature and a ubiquitous element of everyone’s childhood. The silly/ serious tales have been collated in various compendiums, abridged and adapted for different age groups, turned into Broadway musicals and, more recently, superbly executed feature films, both in animated and non-animated genres.

Our personal all-time favorite is, in fact, the last story Dr. Seuss published, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! With its utterly lovely explanation of how we humans learn to adapt to the highs and lows in the journey of life, it’s the perfect book choice for any child at any age.

Whilst it may seem a challenging theme for babies under two, the rhymes and rhythms of a couple of stanzas make for pleasant bedtime reading and will charm you, the parent, in those quiet moments when you take stock of the challenges of parenthood. And as your child grows and engages more in reading, there are many, many other versions and editions of all the Dr. Seuss classics to grow with him.

Time For Bed

by Mem Fox, 1993

Dromkeen Medal Winner 1990, Australia

“Charming illustrations and comfortable rhymes characterize this appealing bedtime book.”

– Joy Fleishhacker, School Library Journal © 1993

Australian author Mem Fox is best known in her homeland for her hugely popular debut children’s book Possum Magic, which has sold over four million copies worldwide. Since that first book, Fox has gone on to write many more wonderful children’s books as well as having an active career as both an educator and advocator for literacy.

Time for Bed , first published in 1993 and an instant best seller, is Fox’s best known book in the United States and has remained high on the list of best loved books with parents and children alike ever since. With its soothing, repetitive rhyming structure calling familiar animals to get settled to bed (“It’s time for bed, little mouse, little mouse/ Darkness is falling all over the house.”) accompanied by delicately cozy watercolor illustrations by Jane Dyer, it is a magical bedtime story that is both charming and effective.

Fox is a great believer in the importance of reading aloud to young children and, as with all her books, Time for Bed is underpinned with the author’s very own “ten commandments” for reading aloud to children, as detailed on her official website. In particular her instruction to “read with joy and enjoyment: real enjoyment for yourself and great joy for the listeners” is made very easy with this beautifully structured book.

The House in the Night

by Susan Marie Swanson, 2008

Caldecott Medal Winner, 2009

“Artful simplicity, homely wisdom… quiet tone demonstrate the interconnected beauty and order of the world in a way that both children and adults will treasure.” - Publishers Weekly

This book is almost certainly like nothing you’ve ever seen before, thanks to the stunning visual imagery by illustrator Beth Krommes who richly deserved to win the 2009 Caldecott Medal for her contribution to this beautiful storybook. Using the scratchboard technique to create white on black images which are then infused with yellow gold highlights, Krommes offers up the perfect illusion of the night time world that is as reassuring and comforting as the lyrical text it depicts.

Inspired by cumulative nursery rhymes, poet and author Susan Marie Swanson weaves a poem together, describing the magical nighttime flight of fantasy of a young girl who is given a key to a house where she finds a book that comes to life. As the story expands ever outwards into the realms of imagination, you can’t help but be drawn into the beautiful adventure. And for young children the cumulative style (where the introduction of one object leads to another and so on) gives the narrative a structure that they can easily makes sense of.

The lyricism and lightness of the text makes it a lovely read for bedtimes for very little ones, and older toddlers will enjoy exploring the unusual but familiar imagery of the black and white nighttime world.

The Sleepy Little Alphabet: A Bedtime Story from Alphabet Town

by Judy Sierra, 2009

“The jaunty text and subversive humor in this hybrid alphabet book/?bedtime story will certainly lead to repeat readings and new discoveries.”

– The Horn Book

Judy Sierra worked for many years as a puppeteer before turning her hand to writing children’s books. On her official website she credits the author Uri Shulevitz, for inspiring this transition when she heard him say that “picture books are like small theatres”. Thank goodness for that eureka moment, for the world of children’s literature would be much poorer without Sierra in it! For, indeed, her books resonate with the “high drama and slapstick humor” that she knew children loved from her puppet shows.

This focus on dramatic comedy is very true of The Sleepy Little Alphabet – a gorgeously funny book where the “grown-up” capital letters of the alphabet chase, cajole and comfort their little letter offspring to bed. Sierra’s strong rhyming verse is deftly illustrated by Melissa Sweet, who visually brings to life the fantastical world of Alphabet Town. There are many laugh-out-loud moments, as the kid letters try to avoid bedtime, eventually – of course – succumbing as they all do in the end.

And if your toddler likes Sierra’s work, then there are many other Sierra books to explore. As an entertainer, Sierra often used traditional folklore to weave magical stories for her audience, and many of her books for older children are also inspired by folklore – one of our favorites is Silly and Sillier: Read-Aloud Tales from Around the World, a collection of 20 madcap stories from around the world.

Great Books for Preschoolers

Aged 3 to 5

The three to five-year-old age group was one of our favorites to compile as many of the books here are classics from our own childhood that have really stayed with us to this day. That is a secondary part of the joy of reading with your kids – getting to rediscover all the great books that marked you as a child. Books like Winnie-the-Pooh, Harold and the Purple Crayon and Where the Wild Things Are have made their mark on millions of kids over the generations, and have a timeless quality to them that keeps them fresh for today’s kids too.

At this stage you will still be looking for the best read-out-loud books that keep both you and your child entertained. And because under-fives will often still insist on reading the same favorite book over and over again, this age is a good time to introduce story series books – for example the Curious George books – so that whilst the character becomes a firm favorite who must be revisited every night, at least you can vary the actual story from time to time!

We also enjoyed getting to explore books from contemporary authors and in particular those books that introduce new concepts and life lessons in new and interesting ways. The preschool years are the ones where we really start teaching our children about the wider world they live in: the job for us now is to find great books that help them explore their creativity and imagination, books that offer strong role models and books that give useful guidance.

This is also a wonderful time to choose books that are simply funny! As children begin to truly mature into their personalities, their understanding becomes more sophisticated and they can begin to get the kind of humor that you’ll find in some of the books listed here. To that end, the illustrations become even more important in relating the story: for example, in The Gruffalo the expressions on Mouse’s face as he brags about his fearsome friend are just perfectly rendered, so we all know he’s making it up.

But as sophisticated as they are becoming, children under five often need lots of reassurance and are still fond of routines. Bedtime stories can play a big part here in giving that sense of security and structure. You’ll likely still be reading some of the bedtime books from the under-two list, so here are just a few more that will be welcome additions at this age.

It’s worth remembering again, that at this stage, the joy of reading is really also the joy of spending quality time interacting with a parent, grandparent or carer. The books and authors we’ve listed here are all very much geared to being enjoyed and explored together: some will make you laugh, some will raise questions to be discussed, and some will just result in a sleepy hug at the end!

Classics for every child’s library

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

by Lewis Carroll, 1865

“Inventive language and charming fantasy make this a classic that both adults and kids love.”

– Monica Wyatt, Common Sense Media

Lewis Carroll’s classic novel of literary nonsense began its life one day in 1862 when he was rowing a boat down a section of the River Thames, in which the three daughters of Oxford Vice Chancellor Liddell were passengers. He began crafting a story to entertain the girls and one of them, Alice, asked him to write down the tale for her. He not only did that, he published it as The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland, and it was destined to become an enduring classic.

The novel tells the tale of Alice who was very bored, sitting on a riverbank with her sister until she spied a white rabbit dressed in human clothes, which talked and carried a pocket-watch. She gave chase; fell down his rabbit hole and into the weird world of Wonderland. Here Cheshire cats disappeared leaving nothing but a smile, the Mad Hatter had a strange tea party, and the Queen played croquet with flamingos as mallets. Populated by Dodo birds, dormice, caterpillars and other anthropomorphic animals, the novel captured the hearts of the public and became a great success.

For most three to five-year-olds, the original Alice in Wonderland is likely to be a bit heavy-going with its nonsensical happenings and Victorian prose. However, the imaginative universe that Alice finds is perfect for this age, and so this is one time when the simplified Disney version of the story might be better suited to the age group, especially if they’ve seen the movie. That said, the original novel makes fine bedtime story material, though you may have to stop and clarify a few things along the way.

Caps for Sale

by Esphyr Slobodkina, 1938

“One of the best readaloud picture books of all time.” – Elizabeth Bird, School Library Journal © 2012

While adults may be easily bored with repetitive children’s books, those who read to preschoolers will understand the importance of repetition in relation to a child learning to read independently. Repetition reinforces memory, and is an important step towards word recognition in preschoolers. This classic book from 1938 is a great illustration of this principle.

Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business is based on an old Siberian folk tale, adapted and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina. The book tells the story of a peddler who sells caps in his village. He keeps his entire inventory on top of his head; many caps of various colors each stacked one upon another. He moves through the streets shouting “Caps! Caps for Sale! 50 cents!” One day, when sales are slow, the peddler sits down beneath a tree, his caps stacked beside him. He soon falls asleep and awakes to find all his caps gone. Looking up he sees a troop of monkeys on the limbs above him, each wearing one of his caps! How will he ever get them back?

Slobodkina’s stylized illustrations are bright and engaging; her color palette is dominated by orange, brown, olive green, with bits of red added in. While the peddler is rendered in black and white the caps are colored according to the rhythmic text which uses the repetition principle to great effect: the book was written in 1938 and has remained a bestselling children’s title ever since.


by Don Freeman, 1968

“A timeless story… [that] speaks to many themes, including friendship, courage, and hope.”

– Mary LeCompte, Common Sense Media

What happens in a department store after it closes for the night? As adults we know: next to nothing really. However, in the imagination of a child, all things are possible, including a toy teddy bear coming to life and wandering about.

Don Freeman’s Corduroy engagingly explores this fantasy. Corduroy is the name of a stuffed bear sitting on a shelf in a department store. One day a girl named Lisa, shopping with her mother, sees Corduroy and asks her mom to buy him for her. Her mother resists spending more money, and notes that the bear is a bit shop-worn; he’s missing a button from his overalls! This event inspires Corduroy to search the department store for his missing button that night. He embarks on a delightful excursion through the various areas of the store, seeing things he never has before. Does he find the button? Might Lisa come back?

Freeman wrote Corduroy in 1968, a turbulent time when many traditional values were being questioned. His aim was to contrast the differences between the artificial luxuries of the department store against how people really live; the book reinforces with a gentle wisdom some very basic values. When he shopped the book around to publishers (including Viking Press which had published his other books) he was met with rejection after rejection. He finally resubmitted the book to Viking and they took a chance on the title. And thank goodness they did - the book has become a classic bestseller enjoyed by legions of children in the decades since.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

by Crockett Johnson, 1955

“An ingenious and original little picture story.”

– The Horn Book

There is one children’s book that is guaranteed to take most adults born in the last half of the 20th Century back to a place of warm and cherished memories in a heartbeat. That book is Harold and the Purple Crayon. Some of my own earliest memories involve being enraptured by the plucky young boy creating his own “reality” with the help of his oversized crayon. Crockett’s simple line drawings (all in purple) evoke a sense of enchantment that more elaborate artwork could not have captured.

Written in 1955, Crockett Johnson’s classic book is as captivating today as when it first appeared. Four-year-old Harold (in his footie pajamas) wants to take a walk in the moonlight. Unfortunately, there is no moon; so, Harold draws one! Needing a path to walk on, he also draws that. The magical landscape that continues to flow from Harold’s crayon shows him many things which seem to surprise him as much as us. Harold also proves he's as resourceful as he is creative; when he encounters water, he draws a purple boat and he sketches landmarks so he won’t get lost.

Harold’s adventures are of a quiet and contemplative sort; the quest he goes on he goes on alone, just him and his fertile imagination. There is a quiet sense of wonder, and an unshakeable belief that anything is possible when you go on Harold’s journey with him. Johnson wrote eight sequels to the original book, each a worthy successor to the enchanting original.

Make Way for Ducklings

by Robert McCloskey, 1941

Caldecott Medal Winner, 1942

Designated the official children’s book of Massachusetts in 2003

Make Way for Ducklings is an enduring children’s classic. First published in 1941, its popularity and sales are still brisk over six decades later and the title has sold well over two million copies to date. The book was awarded the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1942, has been praised by generations of critics and is beloved worldwide.

Make Way for Ducklings follows the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard who are searching the Boston area for their nesting site. Mr. Mallard makes many suggestions, most of which Mrs. Mallard rejects. The pair visits some of Boston’s famous landmarks before finally settling on an island in the adjacent Charles River. Here they nest and soon welcome eight ducklings. While Mr. Mallard decides to explore the river, Mrs. Mallard gets down to the business of teaching her brood to be ducklings. Having arranged with her husband to meet him at the Public Garden in a week, Mrs. Mallard works hard to get her