Picture book project part 1: Valentine’s Guest House,

Why I am interested in picture books to read aloud to EYFS, year 1 and year 2

I have been an independent children’s bookseller for 7+ years and a mum for 14 years. I passionately believe in the power of pictures to help children learn about themselves and others. For children in KS1 and EYFS I think we sometimes underestimate the value of ‘read aloud’ and ‘story-time’ as an activity in itself. Regularly reading aloud can and be a powerful way to build positive connections between parent and child, teacher and class and when shared at home between siblings. Which will also help to build positive associations with reading and books that will help foster a love of reading for pleasure when they are older. 


So much of my knowledge of picture books for year 1, year 2 and EYFS has come from reading aloud to my own kids. Especially during my sons first 3 years of schooling, when his sister was 3 years ahead (so year 3, 4 and 5). What I didn’t realise until much later is that from the beginning both my daughter and son were discerning readers, if you add to this the nearly 3 year age gap between them it wasn’t straight forward to find books for bedtime that would engage both of them. But, when we found those books their response was incredible and several were re-visited multiple times. One book was the ‘Day the Crayons Quit’, and the follow-up book ‘When the Crayons Came Home’. The crayons write a letter to their owner Duncan, expressing their needs and feelings and how they want to be used differently next time he draws a picture. In the final spread my kids loved checking whether Duncan had met their requests. It also seemed that because the characters were not human it was easier for them to relate to the the different needs and emotions. Reading picture books to my own children over multiple years has taught me that not all picture books for younger children are equal. Some have that special something which make them more likely to engage a range of ages and interests.


In September 2022 two things happened. Firstly, my youngest started secondary school, and I realised that in order to keep my recommendations for picture books for EYFS, year 1 and year 2 current I needed to build more relationships with teachers and school staff working with these age groups. Secondly, as someone who has been an active participant in bookish communities on Twitter for many years whilst there is a lot of talk about KS2 texts there isn’t the same sharing for KS1. I also noticed that the kind of picture books that got my kids attention when they were younger often weren’t being talked about. There is a recent, much welcome focus on diversity of characters in the stories shared. However, for our under 8’s when choosing books to read aloud we also need to consider how that story is told and what that story is about, and pay attention to what it is about a picture book that grabs their attention. 


Introducing the picture books project

My picture book project included about a dozen staff from schools across the UK, ranging from a nursery manager, to a year 3 teacher (with a several lower ability children). We had a core text for everyone which was Valentine’s Guest House, published by Childs Play. For year 1 and year 2 teachers there was a second core text Elephants’ Island. Each participant then got to choose 3 more picture books from a selection.


Project participants were asked to incorporate these new books into their normal weekly read aloud time, and to notice individual and group responses to them. These were fed back via a group padlet and a number of zoom conversations. The original plan had been to arrange a group chat via Zoom about Valentine’s Guest House. However, differences in October half-term dates, pressures of time from both them and me meant that we could not find a date suited most people. So instead I had 3 separate Zoom conversations, two 1:1’s and one with two school staff. Which also ended up giving some fascinating insights into the way educators share picture books in their classrooms and schools. There were a number of books that got really positive responses from children, Elephant Island for two schools in particular prompted some really creative responses. These books are listed at the end of this blog post, but I will be talking about them in future posts as I am now focusing on Valentine’s Guest House.


Be More Bearnard

Valentine’s Guest House by Sam Sharland, published by Child’s Play

The animals in the story 


It was clear from the responses to this book that whilst it did include humans it was the animals that took centre stage. It was fascinating in the project to also gain insights into ways in which young children engage with a text.


Kept guessing which animal would appear next


A discussion with one teacher in the project about how she introduced the read aloud to her class, highlighted an important element of this story, children were kept guessing which animal would appear next.


“When I read Valentine’s Guest House with the children. I deliberately didn’t read the picture book  first so we discovered it together. Initially we looked at the front and the back cover. I love how the back cover doesn’t show all the animals that are in the story, leaving the children to be surprised and kept guessing what animal might be visiting the hotel next.”

Rachel, year 2 teacher 

One KS1 child responded:

“I can’t believe there are penguins that go through a medium door”


Animals and humour 

In talking about a number of picture books for young children, humour was something that came up often. It’s a special skill to tell a story in a way that appeals to young children’s sense of humour. 


One KS1 class especially liked the way the authors comic like pictures portrayed the tortoise’s attempts to get up the stairs.


“The children’s favourite page was the tortoise page. They thought it was really funny, they liked the humour in it. They didn’t expect the underground burrow page”

Rachel, year 2 teacher 


Another illustrator that is really good at conveying humour in their pictures is Kate Hindley.  


“The children fell about laughing when they realised that what was in the burgers that the rabbit’s were eating was rabbit poo”.

Hannah year 2 teacher 

More examples of humour in other stories read aloud, will be shared in future blog posts.


Animal characters as a way to explore different needs


When I was talking about Valentine’s Guest House with some of the educators in the picture book project. We talked about how responding to and respecting different needs was introduced with animal characters, and how this seemed to make it easier for children to relate to and understand the different needs, as well as making it a fun and engaging story. 


Some comments from KS1 teachers:


“If the characters with different needs had been human it would have seemed a bit forced. But with animal characters it wasn’t”


“It was a really special book. We loved the pictures of the different things Elsie and her mum created to respond to the animal’s needs.”


“It was so helpful it made everyone feel special”


Kindness and giving the Tiger a home


“Best book ever, as the tiger didn’t have a home and the girl gave him one.’  KS1 child.


Children of all ages from 3 to 8 years picked up on the kindness of the girl in giving the Tiger a home. A number of kids picked up that people were not kind to the Tiger, but that we should be. But, what was interesting was that it was the 4 and 5 year olds that that chose to particular verbalise this aspect of the story. It also highlighted the differences in settings between my project schools. 



“We have some children without permanent homes and are moving around hotels every few nights. It has been a great book to help them come to terms with where they are living”

Karen, EYFS teacher


“None of them knew what a guest house was so we explored this first. Most of them have never been to a hotel either so it was interesting to explore this.”

Vicky, Nursery Manager


Valentine’s Guest House is a fantastic book which really engaged children in year 1, year 2 and EYFS and provided plenty to talk about.  Available to buy from me at Readers that Care. 


The following quote from Rosie a year 1 teacher sums up this book so well:


“This book sparked some fabulous discussion with Year 1 children. We talked about how kind and thoughtful Valentine’s daughter is in the way she wants to help to Tiger and fill up the guest house once more.


We the different animals coming to stay and the problems they were faced with. Imagining these were people, it led to some deeper thinking about how different we all are. They talked about older people staying in the guest house and how they too would find it difficult to navigate the stairs and so suggested a lift. Poor Elephant couldn’t fit through the door, so imagine somebody in a wheelchair!  It certainly allowed time for children to think beyond themselves and to give more thought to others who may face challenges in their everyday lives.


This book has so many angles to explore and so could be shared with older children who could discuss further issues more clearly.

Loved it!!!!”



A huge thank you to all the educators that took part in this picture book project, for sharing picture books with their students and feeding back their responses.  For the next blog post on my picture book project check back in mid-january 2023. 



Some of the other picture books enjoyed by the children in the project:


A Bear is a Bear by Karl Newson and Anuska Allepuz

Ellie’s Wellies by Amy Sparkes and Nick East 

No! By Marta Altes 

Mini-Rabbit Not Lost by John Bond 

Elephant Island by Leo Timmers 

You Must Bring a Hat Simon Phillips and Kate Hindley 

Be More Bernard Simon Phillips and Kate Hindley 


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