Reading is such an amazing part of being a kid; I’ve never forgotten the adventures I went on from the comfort of my own bedroom as a child thanks to my love of books. I am passionate about getting my own kids to enjoy reading (and thankfully they do) but some children’s books are, quite frankly, rubbish. If you and your pre-schooler are ready to move on from the baby and toddler books here are ten fantastic titles from the last fifty years to get you started. They are all absolute zingers – each one is a pleasure to read and will make your child laugh or feel amazed and inspired to imagine worlds beyond our own.
It’s never too late to start reading with your children if you haven’t quite got into it yet. If your child is going to pre-school it’s important to read regularly with them, to prepare them for learning to read by themselves and for a while there will be a gap between the kinds of books they enjoy and the kinds of books they are able to read. Reading with your children is just a brilliant, and joyful thing to do, but the right books are key to get children interested, and keep the parents on board too.
Without further ado, we bring you…
The Top Ten Books For Pre-Schoolers
Janet and Allan Ahlberg are just the absolute nuts when it comes to children’s books and if you’re a parent in your late twenties you might remember this one from your own childhood. The Ahlbergs’ baby books are beautiful, emotional and funny, but ‘The Jolly Postman or Other People’s Letters’ is an absolute work of art. Fairytales is a familiar theme for the Ahlbergs and it returns in this one, as the Postman does his round, delivering letters to various characters including Goldilocks, The Big Bad Wolf and the Giant who lives at the top of the beanstalk you and your child get to read them. And even better, every letter, or card, or miniature book is REAL and the delight of reading the story, reaching into the envelopes and discovering a letter or a birthday card or a board game is just incredible. There is also a Christmas version which is quite possibly even more wonderful and probably deserves a blog all of its own. Buy both of them. Please. Janet Ahlberg is no longer with us, but her wonderful, meticulous illustrations continue to bring joy to many, many people.
This book is repeatedly chosen by my four year old son as his favourite book. In simple terms, it’s an alphabet book, but every letter has its own story, so you can cherry pick a few, have a lucky dip or snaffle the whole lot from A-Z. It is witty, quirky and a lot of fun. Author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers creates a brilliant range of characters including Edmund the Astronaut, Danger Delilah, the Ingenius Inventor and Victor the Victorious (my personal favourite) and as usual, he doesn’t shy away from using big words – but why wouldn’t a kid want to learn such wonderful words as vanquished, or domain, or zeppelin?
Quick Quack Quentin is a duck with a quick quack…
And so the eponymous duck waddles from the doctor, to the farm, to the zoo, desperately seeking a spare letter A so he can quack properly. This book is a joy to read, it’s clever, brilliantly illustrated and so sweet and funny. Pre-schoolers and young school children will love getting the jokes about the various missing letters as Quentin borrows different ones from his animal acquaintances with varying effects. And the ending is just wonderful – *spoiler* it involves an aardvark…
Tree is a stunning book, beautifully illustrated and perfectly worded as an owl in a tree takes your child through the seasons; the bees, foxes, bears, and blossoms emerge through cut outs in the pages, and die away again as Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter come and go, and come again. Gorgeous bedtime reading, the rhythms are almost hypnotic. My child has been known to fall asleep while this book is being read to him…
Hands up if you read Meg and Mog when you were a kid? There’s a good reason why you remember them vividly: they are bonkers and brilliant. The illustrations and stories are anarchic, fast-paced and fun, every page feels different with a variety cartoon strip layouts as Meg, Mog and Owl grow vegetables, visit the Himalayas and hatch dinosaurs. We love all of them so I let my son choose his favourite for this list. Meg on the Moon is just a classic.
Our friend Oliver Jeffers returns to illustrate this amazingly original picture book by Drew Daywalt. Duncan receives a bundle of letters one day, from his crayons who have various gripes with him over-using him, peeling their labels off, not giving them interesting enough subjects to colour, and there is an amusing dispute between yellow and orange about who is the true colour of the sun. The letters are so funny and witty and the crayons are surprisingly characterful and feisty. It’s quite a long story, but it’s so brilliant it should keep your pre-schooler transfixed until the explosion of colour at the end.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea is an absolute classic, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year. The fact that it has endured so long and is still beloved by many is testament to how utterly brilliant it is. Sophie and her mum are having tea together, when something extraordinary happens; a tiger knocks at the door. I adore the little sequence where Sophie’s mum wonders who it is – could it be the milkman, or the boy from the grocer? Nowadays we’d all be thinking ‘Ooh, it’s Amazon with my parcel’. Not only that, the rather debonair tiger eats them out of house and home and trashes the joint in the process, leaving Sophie’s mum to wonder at the mess, which quite frankly is nothing compared to the state of my gaff at the end of a day with the kids…
Julia Donaldson is the doyenne of children’s literature and there are so many of her books which I could have chosen for this list that I wonder whether perhaps she deserves a top ten all of her own? I chose A Squash and a Squeeze because it’s funny and witty, and if you’ve ever watched Peter Serafinowicz reading it on CBeebies Bedtime Story you will know it is a wonderful opportunity to try out your accents. The old woman and her titchy house feels like an old story written hundreds of years ago with its message essentially being ‘be grateful for what you have, things could be a lot worse’ but it’s much more jolly and fun to read than an Aesop’s Fable. Every time we go on a caravan holiday and come home to our poky two-bed flat I’m reminded of how true, and wonderful this book is.
Where The Wild Things Are is one of my favourite books to read, and fortunately, the children like it too. Maurice Sendak’s tale is essentially the dream of a boy called Max who falls asleep after being sent to his room for misbehaving. The story trips off the tongue as it unfolds in a dream-like way; new, surprising dimensions suddenly appear without needing to making sense – ‘and an ocean tumbled by with a private boat for Max and he sailed off through night and day, and in and out of weeks, and almost over a year to where the wild things are…’ – and we all are swept along on Max’s fantastical dream where he is King of all the Wild Things, until he is eventually back in his room.
Oh Little Rabbit Foo Foo, you are a naughty scamp. Michael Rosen’s bad boy rabbit rides through the forest on his pollution-spurting motorbike, armed with a mallet, ready to bop any passing worms/tigers/gnomes on the head. Fear not though, this isn’t unadulterated rebellion; the good fairy (kinda like an elderly Mary Poppins) is ready to give him what for. Warning: Your children may be turning each other into goonies left, right and centre after reading this.
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 four years.
Image credit: Alison McGarragh-Murphy
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