A little library can grow into big things
These are the children's books parents don't mind reading over and over again.
A Little Note
This will be the last instalment of The Little Things for a while as I’m taking maternity leave. Thank you so much for taking the time to read these emails. I hope you’ve picked up a few useful tips along the way (I know I certainly have). This newsletter relies on the generosity of parents sharing their wisdom to help others overcome the little dilemmas we all face, and I’ve been overwhelmed with how kind and helpful you’ve all been with sharing your tips and knowledge. Thank you for being such a lovely lot.
Now let’s begin…
Reading to your children can be a wonderful bonding experience, but let’s be honest, some of that magic is dependent on finding the right books.
A good children’s book is a thing of wonder, filled with lines that trip off the tongue and spark the imagination, or teach you lessons about the world without feeling like a sermon.
But not all books live up to this ideal. There are some whose bright covers promise the world, but whose pages fail to hold your interest even on the first read, let alone the hundredth. These are books written in haste, whose cadence feels unnatural and whose sentences form stumbling blocks.
So how can you make sure you fill your children’s bookshelves with great reads? The answer, as always, lies in the wisdom and experience of other parents.
When I asked mums and dads to share their favourite books to read with their children, I received an outpouring of responses on Twitter.
Now I have a list longer than my arm of titles and authors to look out for next time we visit the library or bookshop. I’ve compiled some of the recommendations below to help inspire your next book haul too.
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy, by Lynley Dodd
“Mostly loved it because there is a dog called Schnitzel von Krumm and I got to say it in a silly voice,” says Giarc.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
“Every child needs a copy of that one,” says Michelle Davison.
Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
“An oldie but goodie,” says Emily Seares and Colleen Vanderlinden adds that when her four children were little they read this book “almost every night”.
The Going To Bed Book, by Sandra Boynton
This is another book Colleen Vanderlinden read to her children at bedtime. “They're all teenagers now, and I swear I could still recite those books from memory in my sleep,” she says.
Feminist Baby, by Loryn Brantz
“[This] is still an absolute fave here. Read it a zillion times,” says Alice Hoyle.
Peepo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
“When I had my daughter ten years ago I was an old first mum (40) so most of my friends had older children and many grumpy teens,” says Julie Bryson. “One of the nicest gifts I got was when a friend with three teens asked them for their favourite books they remembered from when they were little and she got them for my daughter. Amid all the wonderful things I received from many people, this gift sticks in my mind.”
We're Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
This was also in the thoughtful present Julie Bryson received for her baby daughter.
Rhyming and sing-song books
Nature Trail, by Benjamin Zephaniah, illustrated by Nila Aye
“Our 18-month-old is obsessed with Nature Trail and now says: ‘Bees!’ ‘Leaves!’ ‘Trees!’ constantly,” says Emma Finamore. “The words, pictures and message of that book are all beautiful.”
Oi Frog! by Kes Gray, illustrated by Jim Field
“I like to do different voices for the different animals,” says Jenna Shea.
Mr Magnolia, by Quentin Blake
“We love the Cockatoos!” says Kirsty Ketley.
A Hebridean Alphabet, by Debi Gliori
“[This] is basically my own favourite book,” says Jemma Beedie. To which author Debi Gliori replied: “I was absolutely blissed out making it, especially all the sketching in beautiful Hebridean places. One of those 'OMG I bloody LOVE my job' times.”
The Highway Rat, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Eimear O’Hagan recommends: “anything by Julia Donaldson but particularly The Highway Rat. The rat is very, very naughty and greedy, then he gets his comeuppance thanks to a clever (girl) duck.” Georgina Fuller adds that “the rhyming and the iambic pentameter makes it so much more entertaining to read.”
Pearl Power, by Mel Elliott
“It’s great fun — as are the sequels.” says Chris O’Sullivan
So Much, by Trish Cooke, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Rachel Jones says this book “is really satisfying to read”. “My two-year-old now interjects with the repetition of 'ding dong!' and 'soooo much', so it feels like we're reading it together,” she continues.
Class Two at the Zoo, by Julia Jarman, illustrated by Lynne Chapman
“My children are in their tweens/teens now but when they were little we read this book every night (every, single, night for years),” says Sharon Mcteir.
Peace at Last (A Bear Family Book), by Jill Murphy
“[This story] has lots of sounds, which makes it fun,” says Faith Dawes.
Books about emotions
Dogger, by Shirley Hughes
“Shirley Hughes is so loved here,” says Rebecca West. “Especially Dogger. In fact lots of the books I like to read to my kids are books that my folks read to me.”
The Paper Dolls, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb
This books got lots of recommendations, including from Lucy Baker who said: “I've cried a few times at that book I have to say. But I just have such a soft spot for it. It is well written and evokes so much emotion.”
The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff
“[This] is lovely and brilliant for helping with separation anxiety,” says Emily Seares.
The Koala Who Could, by Rachel Bright, illustrated by Jim Field
“It's sweet, lovely illustrations, gorgeous rhythm to read, and unlike many others I don't mind reading it every single day,” says Helen Copping. Vishalakshi Roy adds that it’s a “firm fave” due to the “cadence of the rhymes, the illustrations have great details, like animals (not just the obvious ones), and we like the moral.”
The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
“I am especially proud of my voices for this one,” says Sian Hewitt.
My Big Shouting Day, by Rebecca Patterson
This story about a girl who is having one of those days “is brilliant”, says Laura Macdonald.
Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Anthony Lewis
“[This book] has been the perfect bedtime story for both my kids,” says Michael Kwan. “It's repetitive enough that I can recite it by heart and it's got a singing element which helps them sleep.”
Penguin, by Polly Dunbar
“My son is relatively indifferent (to be fair he is one), but I cry, in a good way, every time I get to the end,” says Rosy Edwards.
Lift the flap and interactive books
Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell
Is “always a winner,” says Lisa Lewis. “Its one of the fave touch-feely books out here.”
The Jolly Postman, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
“My children adored the Jolly Postman,” says Louise Nicholls. “I remember vividly having to remake some of the letters as they got read so often.”
You Choose, by Pippa Goodhart, illustrated by Nick Sharratt
“A great book for generating conversations with young children,” says @PippaCan’s mother. “Pippa used You Choose Fairytales to do a piece of creative writing during lockdown. Worked a treat for generating ideas because it’s lovely and visual.” Shelly adds: “You Choose was always a favourite for generating interaction and discussion for all three of our small people, who are now 16, 10 and five.”
Stone Soup, by Jess Stockham
“[This] is one I’ve bought and gifted many times - such a great message in it,” says @Megansmum. “Always a winner in our house.”
Books with hidden elements in the pictures
The Pirates Next Door, by Jonny Duddle
“My kids used to love the Johnny Duddle pirate books,” says Emma Midgley. “The Duddle books have lots of good visual Easter eggs, which are fun to spot.”
Each Peach Pear Plum, by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
“I never tire of looking at the illustrations,” says Jane. “And neither does my daughter, she always spots something different to talk about.”
Keith The Cat With The Magic Hat, by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
“My youngest son loved Keith the Cat - every night,” says Jenna Shea. “I get him to say some of the words in the story as it encourages his speech. Sue Hendra books are really funny - my son also likes No-Bot, The Robot With No Bottom.”
Superworm, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
“I echo many others and say you can’t go wrong with Julia Donaldson,” says Helen Massy. “My children are two, four and seven, and they are firm favourites for all of them, especially Superworm.”
The Book With No Pictures, by B.J. Novak
‘Laugh out loud brilliance for reader and listener,” says Ellie Irwin and Celia Amodeo adds that it is her “all time favourite”, which she “will never tire of reading aloud. It is *Chef's kiss*” .
The Troll, by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by David Roberts
“A firm favourite in our house,” says Andy Coley. “The mix of the Billy Goats Gruff story and pirates is something my daughters both love.”
The Hairy Toe, by Daniel Postgate
Hamish Thorn loves this book “because it is scary”.
I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen
“Anything by Jon Klassen when my kids were a bit younger — such as I Want My Hat Back, the pictures add so much to the story.” says Michelle Jackson.
More great stories for younger children
Where The Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
“We always find something new in the illustrations no matter how many times we have read it,” says Erin Nutter.
Flora's Blanket, by Debi Gliori
“Flora's Blanket is a joy, [a] really lovely book for tiny ones. Especially if they have a love for their own blanket” says Lulu.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea, by Judith Kerr
“It was my favourite and is now my two-year old’s,” says Rebecca Goodman.
Blueberry Girl, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess
“It’s beautiful and empowering and lovely,” says Meg Hill. “It comes with a ‘might make you cry’ warning.”
Whatever Next, by Jill Murphy
“An old childhood favourite of mine,” says Michelle Davison and Anna M Rea says preschoolers “never get tired of hearing it (or reading it)”.
Books for older readers
The Accidental Diary of B.U.G., by Jen Carney
“B.U.G. books are quite interactive with lots of jokes,” says Emma Midgley.
The Polar Bear Explorers' Club, by Alex Bell, illustrated by Tomislav Tomic
“Great new book [series] with a strong female lead,” says Dulcie Alexander. “My son wanted to go to his last world book day as Stella, the main character.”
Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
Linda Stewart says she is currently reading this with her daughter after watching the Studio Ghibli movie. “She was intrigued that the storyline is different in the book and that Howl and Sophie turn up in two more books and you find out what happened to them,” she explains. “I'm hoping to get her into lots more Diana Wynne Jones books now because they're brilliant.”
Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpurgo
“As it’s for slightly older children, it’s a book you read with them rather than to them,” says Louise Impey. “Used to get me every time and has remained with all three of my now grown-up children.”
In need of even more reading inspiration? There are plenty more suggestions in this thread on Twitter (sadly I wasn’t able to include them all here for reasons of brevity. Bedtime stories should help you drop off, but reading lists of them shouldn’t!)
The Little Lowdown
Looking for a new baby monitor? I spoke to nannies, parents and sleep consultants to find out which ones they’d recommend, in The Strategist.
Products that make life with toddlers easier, safer and less messy are always high on my priorities these days, so for Yahoo I’ve written about the ‘miracle’ cup that stops my son spilling drinks and the invisible cabinet locks I’ve used to childproof my kitchen.
I’m Ellen Wallwork, a sleep-deprived mum-of-one, incessant worrier and freelance journalist. I’ve been writing about parenting for more years than I care to remember and previously launched the Parents section on HuffPost UK. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, (but be warned, I’m not a prolific poster).
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Disclaimer: This newsletter does not provide medical advice and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. The use of any information contained in this newsletter is solely at your own risk.