10 of the best books for babies and young children

The founder of Bookstart shares her favourite first books for toddlers and pre-schoolers

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children

When you read to young children, the emphasis should always be on fun rather than education: there’s a lot of learning going on but it’s important that your child enjoys the experience rather than seeing it as a chore. Make it an interactive activity: encourage your child to join in, point to pictures, discuss the plot and characters, elaborate on the text and guess what happens next. Once your child is more familiar with the tale (you know how they can listen to a beloved story again and again and again…) why not stop midway and see if you can recreate your own different ending.

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You can start sharing books with your baby as early as you like but don't get hung up on how she looks at them. Choose books which are fine to chew. Pick chunky board books, plastic books, and fabric books. Forget reading rules. It's OK for your baby to 'read' them upside down.

The process of learning to read and write is called early literacy and begins way before your child is striding off to school. Educators now know that these skills emerge alongside language development and are intrinsically linked. It doesn’t mean just teaching your baby about letters or letter sounds. “Language underpins all literacy,” says Jenni Renwick Smith, child psychologist. ” Babies learn the language of books long before they learn to read.” The emphasis should be on enjoyment of books rather than education (as there really is a lot of learning going on anyway but it’s important that your child enjoys the experience rather than seeing it as a chore) and the closeness between you and your baby that comes from reading together.

You can start sharing books with your baby as early as you like but don’t get hung up on how she looks at them. Choose books which are fine to chew. Pick chunky board books, plastic books, and fabric books. Forget reading rules. It’s OK for your baby to ‘read’ them upside down. Just looking at sequences and pictures in books are the beginning of later language, reading and writing development. Make it an interactive activity: encourage your child to join in, point to pictures, discuss the plot and characters, elaborate on the text and guess what happens next. Once your child is more familiar with the tale (you know how they can listen to a beloved story again and again and again…) why not stop midway and see if you can recreate your own different ending.

Wendy Cooling, children’s books guru and founder of Bookstart, the charity that championed free books for babies, shares some of her all-time favourite books, perfect for pre-schoolers.

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

This classic, lift-the-flap book has been a favourite with toddlers for over 20 years. Little readers love joining in with the story of when, “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet…” Now available as an award-winning Dear Zoo app, too.

Dear Zoo is published by Macmillan Children’s Books

10 of the best classic picture books for your baby

Roar! by David Wojtowycz

A simple, bold, board book that encourages readers to match animals to their habitats. There are four animals on ribbons to slot into the correct page. A great way to put little hands to work.

Roar! is published by Gullane Children’s Books

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins

Rosie is pursued across the farm by a determined fox but the shrewd hen makes it home safely, just in time for tea. Groovy illustrations accomopany this simple story.

Rosie’s Walk is published by Bodley Head

10 of the best classic picture books for your baby

Cowboy Baby by Sue Heap

A bright, happy story about Cowboy Baby, who won’t go to bed without his gang of toys Texas Ted, Denver Dog and Hank the Horse.

Cowboy Baby is published by Walker

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children

Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough

Duck’s truck is stuck in the muck. Which of his animals friends can help set it free? The hero is a clever goat floating past in a boat, but there are hilarious consequences…

Duck in the Truck is published by Harper Collins

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

A classic picture book that is as popular now, as ever. Young children search the beautiful illustrations to find the next fairy tale and nursery rhyme character.

Each Peach Pear Plum is publshed by Puffin

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children

Here Comes the Train by Charlotte Voake

Who knew that watching and waiting on a bridge could be so much fun! A gentle story, with beautiful illustrations, about a family outing to watch the trains go by.

Here Comes the Train is published by Walker Books

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram

A feel-good tale about family love between a son, Little Nutbrown Hare, and his father, Big Nutbrown Hare. Little Nutbrown Hare loves him right up to the moon, but that’s just halfway compared to Big Nutbrown Hare’s love for him. A classic that continues to stand the test of time.

Guess How Much I Love You is published by Walker Books

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children

Mr Wolf’s Pancakes by Jan Fearnley

The tables are turned and the big bad wolf is reincarnated as a gentle, kind, aspiring cook. But when he asks his friends, the Three Little Pigs and Mother Hubbard, for help they are rude and reluctant. A book with a sense of humour and a comedy twist in the finale!

Mr Wolf’s Pancakes is published by Egmont

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children

With Love compiled by Wendy Cooling

A beautiful collection of images, rhymes and stories for babies and young children, featuring contributions from the very best of today’s authors and illustrators.

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With Love is published by Orchard

Wendy Cooling's 10 best books for babies and young children