This week is National Storytelling Week. I love children’s books. I’ve always loved books, and was a voracious reader as a child – and still am now, although I can only really read a little each night in bed these days. When I was at school, I used to love writing stories, and I’d like to think I have a book in me somewhere, although I wouldn’t know where to start with writing it. But, although I could write them, I’m not so good at making them up on the spot; I much prefer reading someone else’s work out loud, and it was a favourite part of my job when I was in child care.
I’d always hoped that my own children would share my interest in literature. Big certainly has done so far; although he’s not quite as keen on it as I was at his age, he tries hard and he’s just started reading the Harry Potter books, so I’m very proud! He loved books as a little one, though, and reading a bedtime story or two was an integral part of our bedtime routine. We built up quite a collection of books, which I had saved to pass on to Small, but she’s a different kettle of fish! She will only allow us to read one book. Every. Single. Night. I won’t lie – I’m a little bit gutted, but it’s just the way she is and that’s ok.
With Big’s help, I’ve compiled a list of some of our favourite children’s books over the years…
For Babies and Toddlers
Tip Tip, Dig Dig, by Emma Garcia. This simple story was easy for Big to memorize when he was little and he enjoyed joining in with the prose.
It’s Mine and Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell. These board books are perfect for curious little ones who just love to lift the flaps. The repetitive wording helps them to expect what’s next, until the surprise at the very end!
That’s Not My Plane, by Fiona Watt. The hugely successful ‘That’s Not My…’ books were always a favourite with both Big and Small as babies. They loved the different textures on each page and there was always a sense of relief when the correct plane/monkey/kitten/fairy was found at the end! Big’s favourite was the plane.
For Toddlers and Preschoolers
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle. This classic tale of a caterpillar whose eyes are bigger than his belly was a favourite in every nursery and preschool I’ve worked in. The children loved to count how many of each fruit the caterpillar eats and it lends itself nicely to a variety of follow-on activities.
Gruffalo and Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson. The talented Julia Donaldson has written countless fabulous tales for kids, but these two are my absolute faves. They’re brilliant for reading to little ones; it’s great fun to do the voices and you could make wooden story spoons, puppets or a prop bag to go with the books.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen. I love all of the books on this list (and it could have been about three times as long!), but this has to be up near the very top. It’s the classic tale of childhood exploration, told in a beautifully rhythmic style. What I really love is that the story can be told in such an interactive way, and isn’t limited to the bedroom; I love reciting it when I’m out with the kids in the woods, for example, really bringing it to life!
Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell. This beautifully illustrated story of three owl siblings seemingly abandoned by their mother one night was a frequent request from Big at bedtime. I think he felt reassured by the ending, and I often read it to children I worked with who were having some separation anxiety when left in our care for the first time.
Preschoolers to Infant Schoolers
Aaaarrgghh, Spider!, by Lydia Monks. This was one of Big’s absolute favourites, and we must have read it eleventy million times! It tells the story of a spider, adopted as a pet by a kind family who realise they can’t get rid of it. I always gave the spider a thick, Brummie accent for some reason (it’s ok, I’m a Brummie!) and Big loved joining in with the “aaaarrgghh, spider!” parts!
Lost and Found, by Oliver Jeffers. This cutely illustrated book is a beautiful story of friendship and carries an important message about overcoming loneliness. It was made into an animated film, which is actually what Big saw first, and he must have seen it countless times. We read the book a lot too!
Aliens Love Underpants, by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort. This was the first in the ‘Underpants’ series and was also the first ‘cheeky’ book Big had! For a while I think he actually thought he might have pant-loving aliens hiding under his bed! We went on to collect the others in the series, with ‘Dinosaurs Love Underpants’ another favourite.
The Great Dog Bottom Swap, by Peter Bently. This is another slightly naughty book that has given us plenty of giggles at bedtime. Ever wondered why dogs go around sniffing each other’s bums? Well, read this, and you will wonder no more…!
Pooh! Is That You Bertie?, by David Roberts. If you have a boy, this will, undoubtedly tickle their fancy. It’s all about a rather smelly little boy, Bertie, who has something of a flatulence problem. Big found it hilarious, because, well, farts.
Juniors and Beyond
Captain Underpants, by Dav Pilkey. Sticking with the underwear theme, this series of books was one of the first ‘big boys’ books that Big read. It’s a little bit cheeky, a little bit rude, but not enough to corrupt their innocent minds too much! Big found the style of writing and illustration easy-going and they certainly made him more keen to read to himself more often.
Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. I have long been a fan of Roald Dahl and read all of his books when I was young. My favourite is ‘The Twits’, and it’s the first one I read to Big. However, his choice is ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, so that made it onto our list. The story is a classic; if you haven’t read the book you’ve more than likely seen the film(s) and, whilst the films are good, nothing quite matches up to Dahl’s descriptive story telling paired with quirky illustrations by Quentin Blake. Big has the box set of Dahl books and is working his way through them gradually.
The Famous Five: Five on a Treasure Island, by Enid Blyton. Enid Blyton was one of my favourite authors when I was a girl. I longed to board at Mallory Towers or have adventures in the Faraway Tree. But I absolutely loved The Famous Five and, to a lesser extent, The Secret Seven (even if it was milking the formula somewhat!) and I would have given anything to have the adventures the gang had. Big and I read ‘Five on a Treasure Island’ together, and he enjoyed it too, so it’s not just for girls!
There are so many more books I could add to this already long list. Big’s current favourites include the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series, the ‘Goosebumps’ books (although he scares himself a little with those!) and, as I mentioned, he’s just begun the Harry Potter series.
There is just something so special about books, and children’s literature in particular. Taking time to read to and with your child for as many years as you can will not only help them with their communication, language and literacy development, but it is precious time spent together that you will miss when they get too old. Giving them a love of books is giving them a lifelong gift.