Reading to your children is just a beautiful thing. It’s never too soon to begin exploring the world of books together – and it’s never too late to start if you haven’t quite got into it yet. Reading the right books is key if the parent is going to enjoy it too, an important factor if story time is going to become a regular thing.
If you’re looking for books for babies, you can find our fabulous top ten recommendations here.
Without further ado, we bring you…
The Top Ten Toddler Books
Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers
We are huge fans of Oliver Jeffers, and Stuck is an excellent place to start your child’s discovery of his work. I started this series of blogs about children’s books because I think story time should be fun for parents too – because the more parents enjoy reading stories to their kids, the more they will do it, and the more the children will enjoy being read to and the more they will learn. You can’t put a price on instilling a love of literature from an early age. Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers is genuinely, laugh-out-loud funny. I won’t spoil the punchline but the tale follows the cheeky protagonist Floyd as he lobs ever-more ridiculous items up a tree in a bid to dislodge his kite which is – guess what – stuck. It’s such fun to read and even at the age of one your child will enjoy naming and pointing to the objects (and animals) which Floyd uses to try and get his kite back. Not only does Jeffers spin a funny and original tale but he illustrates the books in a beautiful and unique way.
Ten Little Pirates, by Mike Brownlow and Simon Rickerty
Chances are your toddler will be starting to take an interest in numbers. There are lots of dull books out there to cater for this. Or there is the brilliant Ten Little Pirates, sailing out to sea, full of youthful optimism, until one by one, they meet a grisly, and untimely end until there is just one left, sad and all alone. There’s plenty of drama and a few little frights and opportunities to tickle like an octopus. The bright, bold illustrations include plenty of fish, birds and mice to count, and as you count down the catalogue of sticky ends, your little one can shout out the number to start off the next page. And *spoiler alert* there IS a happy ending, so no nightmares. Phew.
The Gruffalo, By Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood…and a whole world unfolds in your toddler’s mind. There are many wonderful books by Julia Donaldson but the ingenious tale of The Gruffalo is the perfect introduction to her longer stories for your toddler. There is so much to stoke their imagination; the simplicity of following a mouse’s journey through the woods and back again is built upon layer by layer so this book can be enjoyed and understood in new ways for many years to come. But for the toddler, different animals and voices, the woodland scene, the colours, and Donaldson’s rhythmic verse is a joy to read – and to listen to. Axel Scheffler’s illustrations are just the perfect accompaniment: depicting the main scenes in the story but also giving so much detail to pick through at leisure with your little ‘un. There is a good reason why this book keeps on topping lists of the best children’s stories – it is superb. When you have read it a few hundred times you will find yourself reciting it during any trip to the woods, you and your child re-enacting the story, tracing the footsteps of that bold, clever little mouse.
Oh no George! By Chris Haughton
We are HUGE fans of all of author-illustrator Chris Haughton’s books but this story of a wayward dog is a corker. George promises he’ll be good when his owner, Harris goes out but his enthusiasm for cake, cats and digging get the better of him. Haughton’s vivid colour palette and simple yet beautiful illustrations show George on the rampage and then on the path to redemption. This is a brilliant book to read aloud, and you can elaborate on the tale as your toddler grows up. It’s a great way to talk about behaviour with your toddler at a time when they might be experiencing some *ahem* challenging emotions. One member of The Motherload® said she uses the last page as a barometer of her toddler’s mood – and his answer to the cliffhanger is an indicator of whether any George-like episodes await her.
We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
This is a tale of an epic yet ordinary adventure: a family traipsing across the countryside going through squelchy mud, swishy grass, splashy water, a bumpy forest and a narrow, gloomy cave all in search of a bear. Which is all fine and dandy until they actually find one and then they don’t know what the hell they are doing. The repetition and rhythm of this makes it a brilliant read and such fun for your toddler to listen to. You can do the actions and the sounds and then do them all really fast, in reverse towards the end of the story, joggling your little one on your lap as you carry them along on the Bear Hunt. This tale can be whipped out from memory to turn a weary trudge home from nursery or the park into an exciting adventure.
Bing! Make Music, by Ted Dewan
Is your toddler a huge fan of Bing! on CBeebies? Well whether you’re a fan or not, we can heartily recommend the original Bing! books, by Ted Dewan, especially ‘Make Music’ as they are brilliantly interactive, energetic, new yet familiar and imaginatively illustrated. Channel your inner Mark Rylance as you begin ‘Round the corner, not far away…’ and then you and your toddler can choose an instrument to play along with Bing and Flop and the poor, ill-fated music box (spoiler alert: an over-excited and selectively deaf bunny smashes it up – it’s a Bing thing!) So we have a celebrity rabbit, sound effects, drama and a happy ending. What more could you want?
The Baby’s Catalogue, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Strictly speaking, this book could have appeared in the Top Ten Books for Babies but I went for Peepo instead. On the face of it, The Baby’s Catalogue is a simple tale with very few printed words: it the story of an ordinary day lived by five families, through the eyes of their babies. The complexity comes with the late Janet Ahlberg’s wonderfully detailed illustrations, which tell the tale of night feeds, nappy changes, breakfasts, play time, trips to the park, pegging out washing, playing in the garden, going to the shops, getting into mischief, who other members of the family are and what they do, bathtime, stories and bedtime. But that’s not all: this remarkably compact book is perfect for developing your toddler’s language skills with hundreds of individual images of everyday household objects, people, animals, food items and toys that you could spend hours saying ‘can you point at the …’ and ‘what’s this’. It’s an absolute joy to unpack the many layers of this book over the years. My heart actually melted when my three year old read it to his baby sister, so it turns out it’s a great first reading book too.
Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
This book is now 26 years old and is becoming a children’s classic. Parent and child can do the actions (and get out any excess energy) along with Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare as they tell each other they love each other as high as they can hop and and wide as they can reach and Big Nutbrown Hare can always love that little bit more. It’s a lovely, fun story, and it ends with a huge snuggle. I won’t lie: I’ve often had tears in my eyes as I read the final lines and kissed my kids’ heads as I deliver the ending. The phrase ‘I love you all the way to…’ will become part of your family lexicon and that’s no bad thing. My son told be he loves me ‘all the way to Frogs-Bottom, in Iran’ which sounds like a lot of love to me. I’ll take that.
Hairy Maclary From Donaldson’s Dairy, by Lynley Dodd
The way Lynley Dodd’s rhymes roll off the tongue, this is a joy to read and to listen to. It has a fantastic rhythm and like Oliver Jeffers, the author isn’t afraid to use complex words. If a child can learn the word cauliflower they can also learn the word cacophony, surely? Follow Hairy Mclary and his canine mates as they roam across town only to come face to face with a truly terrifying cat. Scarface Claw is the pantomime baddie with the best onomatopoeic hiss you will find. The rest of the Hairy Mclary tales are great too but this is a true classic.
Alice in Wonderland, by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver
A wonderfully colourful book about colours. Introduce your toddler to Alice (well, her feet anyway), the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the Dormouse in this beautifully illustrated book. It’s a book of few words, so you can skip through with an impatient toddler or pore over the details of the gorgeous images and use them to tell the story of Alice in Wonderland when they’re feeling more patient. It’s also a lovely book to enjoy as a first reading book, with simple words and pictures.
Love this? You can find our Top Ten Baby Books here. Coming soon, the Top Ten Books for Pre-schoolers
About Alison McGarragh-Murphy
Alison writes and edits stuff for The Motherload®, and is also a radio producer and broadcast journalist, a mum of two and a wife of one. Since becoming a mother she has (mostly) gladly swapped a busy social life of gigs, pubs, art galleries and museums for dancing in the kitchen, drinking on the sofa, finger painting and hanging out at the park. She talks incessantly about not having slept for three-and-half years.
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