It is never too soon to buy your child’s first book. Even the tiniest baby can learn about the world from looking at books and about language from hearing you read. These very first books will be as loved, misused and possibly as chewed as a teddy bear (many of the most popular titles now come in sturdy board versions).
Books for this age group need to be simple and bright. That doesn’t mean they can’t be either poetic or profound, although there are few really great books for the under-threes. There are, however, plenty of highly enjoyable ones. Pick those that you will enjoy reading over and over and over again; children of this age like familiarity and will never tire of the books they love. You, of course, might, so those books with a sly glance in the direction of adult humour are much appreciated.
10 Minutes Till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann (Puffin, £4.99)
Ten minutes is a lifetime when you are little and almost anything can happen. It certainly does in this surreal, almost wordless tale in which, as the countdown to bedtime begins, the house is invaded by a busload of hamsters arriving for the bedtime tour. They get everywhere, from the bathroom to bedroom. The great thing about this funny, odd little book is that it is so matter of fact in the way it presents a skewed reality. Neatly bridging the gap between reality and dream worlds, this book may encourage children to make a connection between their dream lives and their waking lives. At the very least, it will make them laugh and help them learn to count backwards from 10. The drawings are like detailed cartoons, busy and full of perceptive little touches that make this as enjoyable for adults as it is for children.
Daisy and the Beastie by Jane Simmons (Orchard, £4.99)
When Daisy the Duck’s grandpa reads her and little Pip a story about the Beastie, Daisy is determined to find the Beastie for herself on their own farm. So it’s off to the chickens to see if the Beastie is lurking there, and down to the barn in case the Beastie is with the cows and the sheep. But it turns out there is something nasty in the woodshed. Simmons’s vivid picture book knows that it is the beasties you can’t see that are the most frightening, and it soothes small fears by revealing the terrible, fearsome beastie to be two playful kittens. Cynical adults will know that this alliance between beak and claw cannot last into adulthood but children fall for this gentle story without fail. Best of all, the pictures have a direct quality that cleverly captures the intensity of the world as experienced through young, not-yet-jaded eyes.
Spot Bakes a Cake by Eric Hill (Puffin, £4.99)
Originally written for his own small son, Eric Hill’s collection of lift-the-flap books never date as they tell of the adventures of the loveable little dog that rates in the nation’s consciousness along with the Andrex puppy. But the Andrex puppy can’t help you learn to read. The great thing about these big, bold books is that they bear repeated readings and introduce the very young to new situations and experiences such as going to school, going to a party, staying overnight and going to the circus.
Meg and Mog by Helen Nicholl and Jan Pienkowski (Puffin, £4.99)
There remains something very stylish and attractive about these extremely simple books about a witch and her cat that is always getting into scrapes. The text is kept to a minimum and for lots of children it is the few words in these books that become the very first that they read.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Puffin, £4.99)
It is almost 30 years since Carle’s wondrous book first appeared but it is still a marvellous thing, never bettered in the age of the pop-up and the cut-away. The life cycle of the butterfly is recounted in the very simplest terms using bold blocks of colour and minimal language as the caterpillar emerges from the egg and nibbles his way through the pages. This is a colour book, a counting book, a days of the week book and a nature lesson. It is transforming in every sense from the final triumphant emergence of the butterfly to the finger-sized holes in the pages that demand exploration by tiny hands. A book that is quite crucial to happiness.
The Baby’s Catalogue by Janet and Alan Ahlberg (Puffin, £4.99)
The lives of six babies (including a set of twins) living in five different families are dissected under various headings such as Mums and Dads, Baths and Bedtimes, Shopping and Dinners and Accidents (falling down the toilet, feeding your birthday cake to the dog). In effect it is a book of lists, but all the paraphernalia surrounding a small child’s life is detailed with wit and affection. For a small child it is like looking in the mirror and seeing a reflection of a life that is both recognisable but also less ordinary. Peepo (Puffin, £4.99) is a variation on these themes set during the last war.
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (Puffin, £4.99)
“In this book/With your little eye/Take a look/And play I spy…” A delectable little book with a poem on each page that gives a clue to the characters from a well-known fairytale or nursery rhyme hiding in the picture opposite. Encourages eagle eyes as the stories of Tom Thumb, the Three Bears, Cinderella and others become joined in a seamless thread of nonsense.
We’re Going On a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury (Walker, £4.99)
In fact you’ll be going on it very frequently once this book joins your library. Rosen’s version of the old familiar game has a comic slant as a family set off on a imaginary bear hunt, find a real one and get chased back home. The language is delightful to small mouths, all swishy swashy, squelch squerch and hooo wooo, and the chanting rhythm completely infectious. Oxenbury’s lovely watercolours add to the effect. Not just a book for sharing but one for acting out with the whole family.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Collins Picture Lions, £5.99)
Quite possibly one of the best books ever written. Sendak’s story about Max who gets into mischief and is sent to his room and who “sails through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year to where the wild things are” is a masterpiece of the subconscious. The anger of the child who longs to eat up the mother who calls him “a wild thing” creates the monsters who despite roaring their terrible roars are rather benign figures totally under Max’s domination. This is a book about the terrible frightening storm of anger that wells up in the breast of the two-year-old and the warm safety of home and a good hot dinner when “the wild rumpus” is finally over. No home with children should be without it.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr (Collins, £4.99)
Just as Sophie and her mum are settling down to tea, the doorbell rings and an uninvited guest arrives. One of the comic joys of this book is the sang-froid with which Sophie and her mum accept the tiger as if they are perfectly used to having dangerous beasts roaming the kitchen, eating all the food in the fridge and drinking all the water out of the taps. All the better if it means Sophie can’t have a bath and the family has to go out for supper in a cafe. A really delightful, friendly book. Just like the tiger.
Can’t You Sleep Little Bear? by Martin Waddell and Barbara Firth (Walker, £9.99)
Little Bear is frightened of the dark. At bedtime he can’t sleep, not even with the Biggest Lantern of Them All at his bedside. But fortunately Big Bear finds an ingenious way to reassure him. Beautifully written story that dispels all fear of the dark with captivating drawings that display the kind of wit that keep adult interest even after many readings. Well Done, Little Bear in which Little Bear demonstrates all the clever things he can do and falls in the river is the latest in a series that now runs to four books.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Bill Martin Jr (Puffin, £4.99)
Another brilliantly simple book that works on the “I Spy” principle as animals in bright colours spot their friends. Good for chanting, learning colours and animals.
The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs (Puffin, £4.99)
Runner up for the Guardian Award this is a really beautiful little book in which an elephant and a bad baby wreak havoc as they embark on a glorious chase through town.
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (Puffin, £4.99)
When a small boy writes to the zoo to ask for a pet he isn’t offered many suitable candidates. Lift the flap and you’ll get a surprise too. Delightful book for the very young.
Strange Bear by Hilary McKay (Hodder, £4.99)
Simon is a toddler who loves his teddy bear, Snowtop, whose fur is covered in jam, paint and sand. Mum and Gran are not so keen. So Gran takes him out for the afternoon, and on their return a Strange Bear is waiting for Simon. That night they go on a Snowtop hunt. The story works on two levels, so it is satisfying both for adults which will enjoy the throwaway humour and small children who know the importance of your own special teddy with his own special smell.
Isabel’s Noisy Tummy by David McKee (Red Fox, £4.50)
Isabel has a noisy tummy. Nothing can stop it burbling and gurgling. Isabel gets embarrassed and her friends get the giggles. But, on a school visit to the zoo, Isabel’s roaring tum saves the day. Very sharp modern drawings combine with tummy humour to make this a winner.
Five Minutes’ Peace by Jill Murphy (Walker, £4.99)
Mrs Large is desperate for just five minutes to herself. But everywhere she goes in the house the children follow her. Murphy’s lovely, witty books about an elephant family show situations recognisable to every child and every mother who has ever wanted her own five minutes of peace.
Spot Goes to School by Eric Hill (Puffin, £3.99)
Engaging series of brightly coloured lift the flap books that tell of the everyday adventures of a small puppy and his menagerie of friends. Very good for early word recognition.
Coming To Tea by Sarah Garland (Puffin, £4.50)
Garland takes familiar events in a toddler’s life such as having friends to tea, going swimming or doing the washing and turns them into mini-aga sagas. The humorous illustrations make these good books to share and talk about.
Maisy Goes to Playschool by Lucy Cousins (Walker, £7.99)
One in a best selling series about a loveable little mouse who does all the things a toddler would do. The drawings have a flat, childlike quality that small children find appealing and they love the sturdy pull the tab and lift the flap elements.
Mog and Bunny by Judith Kerr (Collins, £9.99)
Consistently good series of books about a cat called Mog and the family with whom she lives. Everyday tales of family life made special by Kerr’s sympathetic storytelling.
Nice Work, Little Wolf by Hilda Offen (Puffin, £4.99)
When Little Wolf fell into the Porker’s cucumber frame, he was forced to work hard to make up for it. But one day he gets his own back. Smarties award winner that will delight any child who knows that wolves and pigs are one bad combination.
Mr Archimedes’ Bath by Pamela Allen (Puffin, £4.99)
Science comes easily to tots with this story in which the animals wonder where all the water has come from when Mr Archimedes’ bath overflows. Everyone takes turns getting in and out until they discover who is responsible for the mess.
We have some news …
… three years ago, we knew we had to try to make The Guardian sustainable by deepening our relationship with our readers. The revenues from our newspaper had diminished and the technologies that connected us with a global audience had moved advertising money away from news organisations. We knew we needed to find a way to keep our journalism open and accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or what they can afford.
And so, we have an update for you on some good news. Thanks to all the readers who have supported our independent, investigative journalism through contributions, membership or subscriptions, we are starting to overcome the urgent financial situation we were faced with. Today we have been supported by more than a million readers around the world. Our future is starting to look brighter. But we have to maintain and build on that level of support for every year to come, which means we still need to ask for your help.
Ongoing financial support from our readers means we can continue pursuing difficult stories in the challenging times we are living through, when factual reporting has never been more critical. The Guardian is editorially independent – our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. This is important because it enables us to challenge the powerful and hold them to account. With your support, we can continue bringing The Guardian’s independent journalism to the world.