Five classic books (and one you won’t have heard of) that every child needs to own – little ones

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It’s a bit daunting, that first time you step into the children’s section of the bookshop. A million books jumping out and shouting at you… picture books, chapter books, books for early readers, books to be read aloud… what do you go for? Here at the Dad Network we’re going to put together a list of the books that every home needs, starting with these classics to be read out loud for little listeners.

The Tiger Who Came To Tea – Judith Kerr

We love this book so much we’ve got two copies at home: one stiff board book for little fingers, and one larger version with lovely full-sized pictures to hold up and show.

This beautiful tiger tale enchants children and adults alike with its simple story of being kind to a stranger. Sophie and her mummy are never scared of the big, furry, stripy tiger who rings the doorbell one day when they’re having tea. They let him in, feed him sandwiches and let him drink all of daddy’s beer. Well why wouldn’t you?

Written in 1968, the story stands up well today, even if you might have to explain what a milkman is to your little one. Chances are, though, they’ll be entranced by the gorgeous illustrations, especially one showing a street scene at night. As an adult reading it, you are drawn back into remembering the excitement of a day that was unlike any other, when you did something different and got to stay up late.

Many clever people have speculated over the years as to what “the tiger” in The Tiger Who Came To Tea really “means”. Is it alcoholism? Adultery? Judith Kerr has always been adamant: it’s about a tiger who came to tea. And that’s exactly right.

If you like this, you’ll also enjoy: Mog The Forgetful Cat, also by Judith Kerr.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – Eric Carle

There are so many versions of this book, you might not know which one to choose. You might find the puppet book exciting, to have the caterpillar peeping through every page, but the standard board book with its unusual, different-sized pages and holes inside the fruit is entertaining in itself. Don’t forget to “flap” the butterfly pages to make it float off into the sky at the end!

Eric Carle’s sparkling story about the life of an insect, from egg to caterpillar to butterfly, has so much learning crammed into it, you might forget it’s an actual story. There are days of the week, numbers, fruit and life cycles, but don’t worry, you don’t need to turn into a teacher. Your little one will love the caterpillar’s journey through apples, plums, strawberries, chocolate cake and cherry pie on its way to building a cocoon and transforming into a beautiful butterfly.

If you like this, you’ll also enjoy: The Bad-Tempered Ladybird, also by Eric Carle.

Dear Zoo – Rod Campbell

This engaging lift-the-flap book is a marvellously interactive sharing experience. While you tell your child about all the amazing animals that arrive through the post, they will love lifting the flaps to see the pictures underneath. Very soon, you’ll find your little one predicting which animal will be next as they learn the rhythm of the story. “So they sent me a…”

(Adults might wonder what on earth the zoo was playing at sending a dangerously fierce lion in a cage to a child’s house, but kids won’t care.)

If you like this, you’ll also enjoy: Oh Dear!, also by Rod Campbell.

Each Peach Pear Plum – Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Hands up if you can recite this one word for word. I thought so – and you’re not alone.

There’s so much to see in Janet Ahlberg’s beautiful illustrations that you and your child will never get bored, whether it’s spotting bunnies or dogs, or noticing the next character peeping into the picture. And the story contains all the nursery rhyme favourites you’re going to know and love over the next few years, from Robin Hood to Bo Peep and the Three Bears. I spy… a book that you’ll want your children to read to their children one day, maybe.

If you like this, you’ll also enjoy: The Jolly Postman, also by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. 

Monkey Puzzle – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

The Donaldson / Scheffler combination has produced some classic children’s books, but I would put this one above even The Gruffalo because of the beauty of the illustrations and the joy of the story.

A little monkey is lost in a huge rainforest, and can’t find his mummy. Butterfly tries to be helpful, but keeps showing the baby the wrong animals, based on tiny descriptions.

Some children’s poetry books suffer from stilted scanning that leaves parents stumbling over the words, but Monkey Puzzle is simple to pick up, easy to read out loud and – most importantly – will get your little one joining in. The “NO NO NO” refrain is a particularly fun hook, and it’ll help your child learn all about animals too.

If you like this, you’ll also enjoy: The Snail And The Whale, also by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

Here’s one you might not know… This Is Not A Book by Jean Jullien

It is a book, but there aren’t any words. Manipulate the glossy board pages and it becomes: a theatre showing a play; a laptop computer; a tent; a tennis court; and much more, too. Make a creaking noise as you open up the fridge door! Hold the book on its side and keep the page open, and it becomes a girl sitting in a chair, with her pet dog, reading a book about a cat!

You can describe the pictures however you want, and make it into something unique for you and your child to enjoy together.

I took a chance on this book when I saw it peeping out of a shelf in the children’s bookshop a while back, and I’m so glad I did. There’s so much to enjoy and be creative with that you can never get bored!

If you like this, you’ll also enjoy: Ralf, also by Jean Jullien. 

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