We love reading books in our house. It’s one of my favourite things to do with my children and stories have been a big part of their lives since they were new-borns. It’s not uncommon for us to read 15 to 20 books in a day.
Cardiff Daddy once commented that we have too many books in our house. I was amazed that he said it, as he loves reading to our three just as much as I do, despite not being a particularly big reader himself. “You can never have too many books,” I exclaimed. I thought it probably wasn’t the time to mention that the previous day I’d bought four new ones, so instead reminded him of one of my favourite quotes from the wonderful and witty children’s author, Dr Seuss:
“The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
I’ve already blogged on the 10 books every baby should read before their first birthday. I was thrilled to see the amazing response that blog had – it’s one of the most popular posts I have written. Lots of parents agreed with my selection telling me the ones I had recommended were among their favourites. Some told me they were going to order the ones they didn’t have, while others suggested a few of their own, with Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Owl Babies by Martin Waddell being the most suggested. Three absolute classics.
Now, I’m turning my attention to 11 classic books to read to your toddler. There’s no reason, of course, why these books shouldn’t be enjoyed by babies (mine certainly did/do) or older children (ditto), but these 11 are perfect to introduce during the toddler years. All have stood the test of time, being enjoyed by generations of children already, and no doubt will continue to be loved by more to come.
How many have you read to your little ones? What else would you add to the list?
1. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Walker Books
Oh, this book is such fun! It has a catchy chorus – “We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day. We’re not scared” – that children love joining in with. It has wonderful onomatopoeic noises to make as the family hunting for the bear swishy swashy through the grass and splash splosh through the river; and a dramatic ending as they find the bear and run back home to hide under the bed covers. I remember the song of this when I was a child, but despite it being retold by former children’s laureate Michael Rosen as a book back in 1989, I only came across it when I became a parent. The illustrations are lovely too – full colour images alternate with black and white ones, perfectly complementing the verse and chorus structure of the book. We saw a wonderful and lively stage adaptation of it a couple of years ago – I’d highly recommended watching it.
2. Funnybones by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, Puffin
I had completely forgotten about this book until we came across it in the Clore Discovery Room at the National Museum Cardiff. Little O absolutely loved it, not least because we had just put together a skeleton jigsaw; it brought back memories for me of reading this series as a child. First published in 1980, it features the antics of big skeleton, little skeleton and dog skeleton as they look for people to frighten. It was one of the first books Little E managed to read by herself – lots of the words are repeated time and again, which made it easier for her! They love the beginning and end, “On a dark dark hill, there was a dark dark town. In the dark dark town, there was a dark dark street,” and so on. The pictures are unusual for children’s books, in that they contain so much black, which contrasts well with the white text.
3. The Tiger Who Came To Tea by Judith Kerr, Harper Collins
There has been speculation as to whether the tiger in this book – who calls one day at little Sophie’s house and eats and drinks everything in the cupboards and fridge – is a metaphor for the threats Judith Kerr saw growing up in Nazi Germany. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it doesn’t really matter. First published in 1968, this is a lovely book with charming illustrations. One of my friends said she didn’t like it because of the old-fashioned gender stereotypes; Daddy returns from work and saves the day by taking them out for tea. But its traditional charm – such as the period teacups and teapot, Daddy with his briefcase and hat – is one of the things I love about it. We saw the touring theatre adaptation a couple of years ago and it was very enjoyable indeed.
4. Dogger by Shirley Hughes, Red Fox
As a child, my favourite toy was an Andrex puppy called Doggy. I still have him to this day! If I’d ever lost him, I would have been devastated – so as a child I totally empathised with Dave in this story (first published in 1977), when he loses his beloved Dogger and can’t find him anywhere. The prose in this story is so simple and the day-to-day activities (taking a child to school, going to the school fayre) are familiar occurrences, yet there are enough gentle twists and turns in the plot to absorb young readers. I love that it is Dave’s sister who eventually saves the day, sacrificing her win at the school fayre so Dave can have his beloved toy back. A lesson in compassion and putting others first, if ever there was one. The images are just as heart-warming as the story, with plenty of intriguing detail – the more you look at them, the more you see. We also love Shirley Hughes’s Alfie books. Again, it is the depiction of every day events, and detailed illustrations, that make them so adorable.
5. Green Eggs And Ham by Dr Seuss, Harper Collins
Father Christmas bought my son a Dr Seuss gift set of 15 books from The Book People and this is by far our favourite of the bunch, although I could have included several of them in this list. Full of repetition and fast-paced, punchy rhymes, every member of our family (bar Baby I, so far!) is able to recite huge chunks of this book by rote. The protagonist spends much of the book telling us he does not like green eggs and ham and will not eat them under any circumstances, “I would not, could not, in a box; I could not, would not, with a fox.”. Finally, he is persuaded to try them and – surprise, surprise – it turns out he likes them after all. Luckily for us, my children aren’t fussy eaters but occasionally they refuse something saying they don’t like it when I know that’s not true. Reciting a few lines of this always does the job. The book is also great for those learning to read – almost all of the words are one syllable, and the rhyming and repetition are great for word recognition and sounding out phonics.
6. Peace At Last by Jill Murphy, Macmillan Children’s Books
I picked this up in a charity shop when Little E was a few months old. I recognised Jill Murphy’s name as the author of The Worst Witch, which I loved as a child, and thought for the sake of 50p, we’d give it a go. Published in 1980, it tells of Mr Bear, who is being kept awake at night by Mrs Bear’s snoring. He journeys around the house trying to find somewhere quiet to sleep, but everything from the ticking clock to the owls in the garden prevents him. My children love the repetition of the phrase, “Oh no, I can’t stand THIS”, as well as making all the noises of the animals and household objects. The illustrations are wonderfully absorbing, too.
7. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
First published in 1999, The Gruffalo might not be as old as some of the books on this list but having sold 10.5 million copies worldwide, it is definitely a modern classic. It’s the tale of a mouse who, while taking a walk through the deep, dark wood, scares off a fox, an owl and a snake who want to eat him, with tales of an imaginary creature, the Gruffalo, only to then bump into such a creature and discover he does exist after all. Julia Donaldson really is a creative genius; her rhyming text contains plenty of repetition that little ones will love joining in with, and it has the right level of drama, darkness and suspense but without being scary. Axel Scheffler’s images are glorious, with plenty of attention to detail. The duo have created quite a collection together, and if you haven’t yet discovered them, make sure to do so immediately, as they are utterly brilliant.
8. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
Little E was given this book, accompanied by a soft toy penguin, as a gift when she was born, and it is a favourite in our house. Like all of Jeffers’ books, it’s a little surreal and random, but the combination of dream-like illustrations and a quirky tale of friendship, make this a real winner It’s one of the most recent books on this list, first published in 2005, but it has such a timeless quality about it that I’m happy to call it a classic. It’s also been made into a wonderful animation, which usually gets shown on television around Christmas time. Other Jeffers book we like include The Way Back Home and The Incredible Book Eating Boy, both delightfully quirky.
9. It’s The Bear! by Jez Alborough, Walker Books
I had a wonderful haul of Jez Alborough books in a local charity shop, picking up a couple of his Bear titles, as well as some of his equally brilliant Duck in the Truck series. He is such a wonderful writer; his rhyming text is fast-paced and memorable, combining elements of humour and just enough drama and danger for his young audience, all accompanied by his bright and bold illustrations. This is the second book in a series of three – it makes sense on its own, but the other two are great, too.
10. Willy The Wimp by Anthony Browne, Walker Books
The former children’s laureate has over 40 books to his name and this one, first published in 1984 and one of many featuring Willy the gorilla, is a brilliant introduction to his work. It shows how a wimpy gorilla transforms himself from being bullied by the neighbourhood gang into a muscular hero who rescues and wins the heart of the damsel in distress. The writing is in turn emotive and witty, enhanced by the bright and detailed illustrations, which also contain plenty of humour too. I’d also recommend Browne’s Little Beauty, an inspiring tale of friendship and loyalty between a gorilla and a cat.
11. Not Now, Bernard by David McKee, Andersen Press
The first time my children heard this book, they hated it and were scared. I can see why – a little boy being eaten by a monster must be quite frightening when you are two and four. I was gutted though – this was my brother’s favourite book growing up. My parents still have his copy at their house and my nephews love it too, so I was hoping my children would be the same. But then, a few months later, they saw it at our local library, recognised it and asked me to read it. Six times in a row! We borrowed it for a few weeks and read it so much I bought them their own copy. They really enjoy chanting the “Not now, Bernard” phrase that is repeated throughout the book. They love the pictures, and as there’s only a line of text on each page, Little E does a good job of reading it herself. It’s also a lesson to parents about the dangers of not paying attention to your children, still as relevant more than 30 years after it was first published.