The Best Books for Toddlers

Two-year-old Elsa loves books and that is clearly a good thing. However, we have had to instigate a four book limit at bedtime as, otherwise, we’d be there until morning ploughing through all the stories she’d like to hear before she drifts off. This means that I’ve become quite the expert on books for toddlers, able to discuss the nuances, twists and characterisation in intricate detail. That English Literature degree has not been wasted.

Following my analysis of kids’ TV, here’s my guide, aided by Elsa, to the best toddler-friendly books around.

Little Beauty by Anthony Browne

Little Beauty by Anthony Browne – Anthony Browne is a sickeningly talented man and Little Beauty is Elsa’s favourite of his books. It’s the tale of a gorilla who uses sign language to tell his zoo keepers he wants a friend. They give him a cat who gets on so well with him, she tries to take the rap for the gorilla when he smashes up a television. I don’t think it’s based on a true story.

Browne writes and illustrates stories that are fun, surreal and absolutely stunning to look at and  there isn’t one that Elsa doesn’t enjoy. Other favourites include Gorilla – a lot of Browne’s books contain gorillas, presumably because he’s really good at drawing them. It’s a good job he isn’t an expert at depicting slugs because it wouldn’t have the same effect – and Changes. 

We once met Anthony Browne at a museum in London but I’d never heard of him at the time (Elsa was still on basic picture books) and Elsa slept through it, but now I get why Jill (a former primary teacher who had read the stories for years) was so excited.

Superworm by Julia Donaldson

Superworm by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler – The team behind The Gruffalo successfully  cast a worm as a hero (perhaps the Anthony Browne slug book would work). The titular character relieves bees’ boredom by acting as a skipping rope and transforms into a fishing line to rescue beetles from wells (once again, probably erring more towards the fiction section than the gritty documentary arena), but is captured by the Wizard Lizard. Despite being called the Wizard Lizard, Elsa is convinced he’s really a crocodile and I can’t persuade her otherwise.

There’s a small issue with the reader being expected to pronounce ‘ant’ and ‘aunt’ differently – something beyond the capability of my flat northern vowels – but it’s a cracking rhyming story and Elsa can now quote most of it, allowing my vocal cords a rest.

Howler by Michael Rosen

Howler by Michael Rosen – This is another book that Elsa can almost fully quote and Michael Rosen was the first author whose name she committed to memory. The narrator is a dog who tells the story of a family with a toddler having another baby whilst also documenting how his friend, a female dog, gave birth to a litter of puppies after they ‘spent some time together’.

I’m worried about Elsa’s capacity for keeping spoilers a secret as, from the first time she sees the picture of the mum of the family, she tends to point and scream “mummy baby in her tummy!” This proved awkward when my mum read the story with her and, not knowing what was to come, thought our two-year-old had just let slipped a massive family secret. As if we’d have told a loose-mouthed toddler if we were trying to keep news like that secret before the 12 week scan.

What are your toddler book recommendations? What should we be reading next? Leave a message in the Comments.

4 Comments

  1. Hey Jim. Nice to read about some other books to check out. Stanley’s favourites include his mother’s vintage Teddy Bear Boatman/Gardener/Coalman/Baker/Farmer. Also recently we got Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine which has some great lines. Superworm is a favourite here too as well as the other Donaldson/Scheffler combos – most notably Tiddler and Room on the Broom. Anything Thomas the Tank related goes down a treat including the relatively narrative-free Thomas’ Really Useful Word Book. The Peep Inside series is one that is frequently enjoyed – most recently the castle edition (though the presence of Roast Peacock is unnerving to me at least, especially as our local park is blessed with living versions). There’s lots more I could mention and we seem to go through periods favouring some over others, but one that deserves special mention for the enjoyment it brings him and me is Meet the Parents by Peter Bently (he of the sheep book too). Worth checking out for sure – it’s knowing without being smug or too cutesy. Bang on the money.

  2. Erin loves books too, will have to look them up. Hairy Maclary always goes down well, especially any involving scarface claw. Current favourite is Winston was worried, a free bookstart one, that I had low expectations of. I do do some pretty good voices for it though, so i’ll take the credit for it being a read again book!

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