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Last year I got a couple of requests for books from parents of reception age children (two different schools). Both parents had book lists with lots of classics picture books on on them, one of the lists didn’t have a single book published in last 10 years! This got me thinking, I talked to other parents and reflected on my own children’s experiences in the early years . I realised some classic picture books had been important to my children’s reading journeys. I also began to realise what parents and teachers had to get their heads around when choosing books for the early years. Some picture books have richer language than others, some are better suited to developing language skills than others. But, if a child is going to become a child who is motivated to read after they have grasped phonics then they need to experience being read to and sharing stories that are meaningful to them.
Some more recently published picture books are far more likely to engage a wider range of children than some of the classics. So much more is now possible in terms of pictures and picture book design, resulting in great detail and innovative design in some picture books. For my children exploring the pictures in a book together was just as important as reading the story. I’ve begun to wonder whether we talk about visual literacy enough in early years education? Not only does engaging interaction with text and pictures, create ‘memorable moments’ of story times with parents, siblings, and teachers it also develops visual literary, which underpins future literacy development in so many ways. Due to a specific set of circumstances including a challenging year 3, my daughter was happy to still be read picture books most evenings together with her younger brother until the middle of year 5. I observed what a difference her razor sharp visual literacy skills made in enabling her to overcome earlier gaps in reading and become the confident reader she is today. I also noticed that it was certain sorts of picture books that got the attention of both my children, who contrary to some peoples perception have from a very early age been very discerning about which stories they would listen to and later on would read themselves.
Were in the middle of a covid-19 pandemic and libraries have been shut for almost a year, and even when they were opened for a bit, many parents with young children that would have in normal times have gone to a library will have chosen not too. For many young children this has meant they haven’t listened to as many stories. There is also something else important that has changed too: many young children have not been able to browse books with their parents or a significant adult. Browsing matters in developing children who want to read for pleasure in the future because it is through this process that you begin to discover not all books or stories are the same and that you like some more than others. So if you can’t browse where do you start. How about with some of these eleven picture books?
This collection of book is specifically aimed at the needs of children aged 3/4 to 7 year olds, but of course many toddlers and older children will love them too.
Additional notes on book selection:
To give an idea of the age range each picture books is likely to appeal to I have given a suggested age range. All of the books would make great read aloud’s in early years setting. But, I have chosen these particular titles for a a number of different reasons which include: They are great stories to share at home at bedtime with parents. Many of them have the potential to appeal to a variety of interests and ages., and are books that can grow with your child (a child will spot different things in the book as they get older). They also aim to reflect some of the variety in picture books that can be found today.
Start with one of these:
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
Great for 3 to 7 years.
A must have for every young child. A family go for a walk in the countryside to find a bear. They have to cross different sorts of terrain on the way, across a river, mud, through the woods and into a dark cave. This is all linked together by a verse that is repeated. Young children love repetition and the sounds in this story are wonderful. The fact that it is all wrapped up as a journey and an adventure to ‘find a bear’ draws you in too. Great re-cap scene at the end too as the family retrace their steps running away from the bear. For language development and a story you can get hooked into this is a real winner.
First published in 1989
The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
Great for 4 to 7 years
This wacky and fun story has inspired and motivated generations of children to learn to read since 1957! Drawings are in distinctive blue, red and black. Great for fun vocabulary building and for spotting objects in the pictures.
What’s in the Truck? by Philip Ardagh and Jason Chapman
Great for 2 to 6 years
A fantastic rhyming story that bounces along featuring many different vehicles and a great ending. Love the twist at the end with a tiara wearing princess, showing girls can definitely be into vehicles too.
I often get asked by parents of toddler and pre-schoolers for stories with vehicles in. What I love about this book is that it will also appeal to children that don’t play with cars. Neither of children (a girl and a boy) were interested in cars as young children but they both would have loved this.
The Knight who Said No! by Lucy Rowland and Kate Hindley
Great for 2 to 8 years
A fun story that takes some traditional story book themes such as a knight and a dragon and twists it into something else. Ned the knight is always polite and says Yes no matter what. But, one day he says No. This is a story about a young boy learning to think for himself, but it will also resonate with parents of young children who are trying to get their child to do something.
I could have included other books by either the author or illustrator here. I chose this one because several parents of toddler and pre-schoolers said how much their children enjoyed it and kept asking for it for a bedtime story.
Try these next:
That Rabbit belongs to Emily Brown by Cressida Cowell and Neal Layton
Great for 3 to 8 years
A heartwarming story about a girl called Emily who doesn’t want to give up her cuddly rabbit to the Queen. Emily goes on some great adventures around the world and the Queen gets more desperate by the page to convince Emily to giver up her cuddly rabbit . One of my daughters favourite books aged 4 to 5 years.
First published in 2006
You must Bring a Hat by Simon Philip and Kate Hindley
Great for 4 to 7 years
I discovered this story when my son was in reception. What struck me was how it was a progression language wise from We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, but with the same repetitive pattern to the story. It has lots of humour, which comes across in the writing and in the fantastic illustrations, which really capture the expressions and feelings of the characters.
Nigel is invited to a party, but he must wear a hat, however he does not have a hat. So in a panic he finds a monkey wearing a hat. But, when he gets to a party the rules have change and he can only come in if he has something or someone else, and so the story caries on. Near the end there is a delightful plot twist.
The birthday invite at the start of this story is a great addition and it introduces the reader to the idea that text and reading can take many forms not just books.
First published in 2016
The Squirrels who Squabbled by Rachel Bright and Jim Field – see next section
Pictures matter and there’s more than one way to illustrate a book
The pictures in every book in this blog really matter and most of the stories wouldn’t make much sense without them. So why single out 3? Each of these stories does something different in the way that they use pictures to tell a story. If we are going to give young children the best opportunity we can to find books that they enjoy and which have meaning to them then they need to be exposed to the variety that it out there.
The Squirrels who Squabbled by Rachel Bright and Jim Field
Great for 3 to 9 years
The story is about two squirrels Cyril and Bruce who end up squabbling over the last nut of their season. But, in their haste they loose the nut and end up in danger themselves. The moral of the story things are better when you share and to make the most of right now. A book that is so relevant to kids lives right now.
There is some really clever text placement in this book, showing not all text has to be in straight lines. What I also love about this book is the comic like action pages, where the story is divided into sections. This make it funnier to read aloud and great for shared reading when children begin to read for themselves.
If you are fed up of squabbling siblings you need this book!
Published in 2018
There’s Not Such Thing As.. Unicorns by Lucy Rowland and Katy Halford
Great for 2 to 7 years
In this story you are taken too many places on a hunt for unicorns. The language is simple, and there are few words. If you want longer rhyming stories check out one of Lucy Rowland’s other books. The text here serves a different purpose it guides the reader as to what to look out for in the pictures as there on a hunt for a unicorn. You can spot lots of rainbow coloured tails and manes but do any of them belong to a Unicorn?
So why this book? Here’s 3 reasons. Firstly, the illustrations are brilliant, colourful, vibrant and full of detail. The second is introduces many different experiences, as you visit a farm, the zoo, camping the seaside. Thirdly, its primary aim is to search for things in the picture, which introduces young children and their parents to the idea that enjoying a book can be as much about engaging with pictures as it is listening to a story. In this sense it is much more like a search and find book, which both my children loved when they were younger.
Octopus Shocktopus! Peter Bently and Steven Lenton
Great for 3 to 7 years
What happens when an Octopus comes to live on top of your house? I love how this story takes something familiar such as playing and spending time together outside your house and an mixes it with something unusual/unexpected, and Octopus. On the one hand there is a great rhyming story that bounces along. There is also so much detail to spot in the pictures, children and grown-ups doing different things. Leaving plenty of opportunity for questions like: Can you spot the baby? If you were in this story what would you be doing? Oh look what do you think is going to happen there? There is plenty to revisit in the pictures and keep kids busy for hours.
Jasmine Sneeze by Nadine Kaadan (author and illustrator)
Great for 4 to 9 years.
This story is set in a more peaceful Syria, the pattens and vibrant colours of Damascus are brought to life by the illustrations. This is the story about a cat called Haroun. He likes spending his days sleeping in the courtyards, but he doesn’t like that the Jasmine plants that are every where make him sneeze. He hatches a plan to fix the problem. But, he doesn’t realise he will anger the Jasmine spirt or it’s impact on his human neighbours. This was one of my sons favourite books aged 5 to 7 years.
The expressions on the cats face are wonderful and really help you to empathise with how the cat is feeling. So much so that my son felt sad for the cat., when the Jasmine spirit teased him It all works out in the end as Haroun learns the value of the Jasmine plants to his community and makes amends. For older children (8+years) you might also want to check out Tomorrow by the same author.
Published 2016 by Lantana publishing that do other diverse picture books
Omar and the Bees by Helen Mortimer and Katie Cottle
Great for 4 to 9 years
This story is told by Maisie about what happened when Omar came to their school:
“It all started when Omar brought a small slice of his mum’s special honey cake for show and tell.”
At school Omar talked about how his grandad used to keep bees and it’s turns out Maisie’s grandad keeps bees too. This resulted in the teacher Mr Ellory-Jones doing various creative class activities in response to what Omar told them , so they had the tissue paper blossom trees in the corridor and a discussion about bees. In which the children decided they needed more flowers, and their teacher helps them put their ideas into action. They ordered seeds and divided them into little packets to put through the doors in the street to create a bee corridor between the park and the school.
The story shows the passage of time and season as the seed outside each persons house grow into flowers. It also shows them doing show and tell the next year with a new teacher which in terms of supporting children’s transitions is such an inspired idea. A story full of hope and with so much to enjoy in the actions of the children and in the pictures, which includes a number of diverse characters.
Published March 2021 by Owlet press who do other books with diverse characters.
You can buy from me an independent bookseller at Readers that Care.