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baby + toddler books

This is by no means comprehensive, but I thought I'd write a bit about some of the books we and Helen have enjoyed most over the last year or so. Some of these have been given to us or recommended to us by friends and family, some of them I found reading online reviews and lists. (Book titles are linked to Amazon UK.)


some of the downstairs books

Julia Donaldson's Toddle Waddle was the earliest hit, with a good balance of repetition and variety, and is largely responsible for Helen's first word ("duck"). Other early favourites were a fairly non-descript Book of Nursery Rhymes ("The Grand Old Duke of York" and suchlike) and Baby's First Hundred Words, with photographs of common household and everyday items. In the same vein as the latter, Alison Lester's ABC is probably aimed more at early readers, organised alphabetically and with some quite esoteric words ("ocelot"), but it has also been (and continues to be) popular. (I think the time for the other Alison Lester books is yet to come.)

Interest in the classic Goodnight Moon comes and goes - it is weirdly surreal, but that's half the attraction. In a similar vein, but more modern in its feel, is Alison Jay's Picture This, which contains pictures with interesting details and visual links (similar to the classic Each Peach Pear Plum). And of course there's Where is the Green Sheep?

Regular reading now involves more complex books. We have most of the Julia Donaldson books, but Room on the Broom and the classic The Gruffalo are probably our favourites. Then there's Shoe Baby and Pip and Posy: The Bedtime Frog (I'd be more inclined to get the others of this series if Posy didn't giggle). And Don Freeman's Corduroy, which Helen loved right from the first reading, listening all the way through without losing concentration once, is I think the longest book she's had read to her in one go, though recent acquisition Blueberries for Sal is longer. And we have several of a series of Usborne first readers, of which she really loves The Emperor and the Nightingale.

There are a couple of random adult books that happened to be on the shelf in the nursery and which Helen has taken a shine to. She keeps on picking out the The Book of Yoga and can leaf through it for some time (while I amuse myself by reading out the Sanskrit names for the poses) and a Garden Wildlife book with photographs (albeit small and not always clear) is a hit.

There are some surprisingly crappy childrens books out there. We were given two in some kind of free parent pack which consist of photos of babies with texts that have no real baby appeal at all - I eventually decided that the target audience here was not children but sub-literate parents... Then there's a "colour" book which joins colours with random animals and unconnected texture patches for touching.

Addendum: there are clearly some country-specific trends in children's reading. Alison Lester is Australian and well-known in Australia, for example, while Corduroy has 500 reviews on Amazon.com but only 15 on Amazon.co.uk and The Gruffalo has 300 on Amazon.com and 700 on Amazon.co.uk.

Update a month on. Some new favourites include:

  • I Want My Hat Back (Jon Klassen) - hat tip Nadia
  • Handa's Hen (Eileen Browne)
  • The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Judith Kerr) - hat tip Kathy
  • Mrs Armitage on Wheels (Quentin Blake) - hat tip Jon
  • I Took the Moon for a Walk


  1. Having just passed through this stage to independent reading it is good to revisit things we enjoyed reading together. I like all of Alison Lester's books although the baby ones came out a bit too late for us. We also enjoyed Janet and Allan Ahlberg especially Each Peach Pear Plum. Pamela Allen and Mem Fox are classic Australian children's authors. My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes and other rhyming ones are favs too. Guess How Much I Love You is OK but may be a bit too sweet for some tastes. I have more if you want them!

    Comment by Rowena Henery — August 2014
  2. Emma's List of current favourites:
    Several Spot books. Also several Moomintroll books. Her all-time favourite at my place is a book of photographs on Turtles,a DK publication intended for junior high school, I'd say. Turtle is also a favourite word. Runner up is a book of the same age range with excellent illustrations on Birds. But at home, at present, she reaches constantly for Ben's old battered Church Mice book. Of course all of these are books she peruses solo, with minimal input from adults. In between she goes through the rest of her ever growing collection in a haphazard way, dumping them on the floor as she goes. Koren actually reads her stories properly, so she can add to this. I am content to let her identify different parts of the books I have here for her own entertainment/benefit. Will be looking for more of those older animal books beyond Vinnies, where I fortuitously found the above. Someone else can do the nursery rhymes!

    Comment by Gabi — August 2014
  3. More is always good, Rowena, at least with books!

    We should try some older children's animal books on Helen - at the moment she doesn't have anything between the fairly incidental animal appearances in the toddler books and full-on adult identification guides.

    Comment by danny — August 2014
  4. Gabi, Helen also seems to like "non-fiction" magazines. Wildlife magazines are full of ducks, bees, frogs and water voles. UK travel books - we have a large one that covers the whole of the UK - are full of boats, churches, houses, trees, people wearing hats - and she delights in pointing out all these things to us. Even catalogues are ok - I regularly get one from a kitchenware company - and it's full of plates, cups, forks, bowls, spoons, and nice-looking food on the plates etc. that she can identify for us. And when they get a bit tattered there's always plenty more of them :) The garden wildlife book is a gem - it covers fluffy things like squirrels and foxes, but also butterflies and slugs, and lots of birds so Helen has learnt to distinguish magpie from owl and duck. I almost feel bad showing her books with dragons in it because dinosaurs and giraffes are just as magical and amazing.

    Comment by Camilla — August 2014
  5. Australian classic picture books that our girls love hearing (and I love reading to them) were Edward the Emu (Knowles/Clement), Edwina the Emu (Knowles/Clement), Olga the Brolga (Clement), Wombat Stew (Vaughn/Lofts), Milli Jack and the Dancing Cat (King).

    British and American classics of the same kind that we love include Owl Babies (Waddell/Benson), Can't You Sleep Little Bear (Waddell/Firth), Snow Bears (Waddell/Fox-Davies), Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Martin/Archambault/Ehlert) Iggy Peck Architect (Beatty/Roberts). Your Helen may have pssed the stage for the Waddell books, but the others should still be suitable. Not quite so repetitious/rhythmical, but a glorious story with glorious drawings, is Chameleon's Colors (Tashiro). Special to teach a girl to defy gendered expectations: The Paper Bag Princess (Muntsch/Martchenko)

    A special recommendation should go to almost all the books of Leo Lionni, many of which have a wonderful philosophical twist; our favorites include Frederick, Let's Make Rabbits, Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse, A Color of His Own, Tilly and the Wall, Little Blue and Little Yellow, Inch by Inch, Tico and the Golden Wings, Matthew's Dream. Swimmy is a bit scary, but the art-work is amazing. If you only get a few of these, make sure you vary the style of drawing (Frederick, Alexander, Matthew and Tilly are all mice, and so look pretty similar).

    I would also recommend the picture books by Patricia Polacco for somewhat older kids (we learnt about them on our previous trip to Berkeley); the stories and the language are a bit more complex. Perhaps the places to start (around 3 years old) might be "The Bee Tree", "Trees of the Dancing Goats" and "Tikva Means Hope"; others have much more challenging themes including pogroms, slavery, racism, bullying etc.

    I hope you have plenty of expansion space in your bookshelves (or else, the grownups may need to cull some of their accreted stuff).

    Comment by Alan Fekete — August 2014
  6. Thanks for that long list of suggestions, Alan! Most of those are new to me - notably the Lionni books - so that's really useful.

    Also thanks to everyone else who mentioned their favourites, here and on facebook.

    Comment by danny — August 2014
  7. We might well need some expansion space - I just worked out that only one of the last twenty books I've bought has been for me, the rest have been for Helen!

    Comment by danny — August 2014

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