13 best books for preschoolers
From mischievous nighttime creatures to doctors flying on dragons, these are the creative reads you can enjoy together
Reading with preschoolers can be one of life’s great joys – if the material is right. Re-reading the same tedious guff every bedtime is the bane of many parents’ lives but snuggling down with a small person plus an engaging text and/or some beautiful illustrations is a real treat.
Every child is different in their reading habits and tastes – some have devoured Roald Dahl’s back catalogue with their parents before starting reception, others still enjoy picture-based books. Below is a range of new titles, published in the last 18 months or so, that should between them appeal to young children of roughly two- to four-years-old. Staff at The Reader, a wonderful charity that promotes shared reading, contributed some excellent recommendations.
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Welcome to our World by Moira Butterfiled with Harriet Lynas (illustrator): £13, Nosy Crow
This wonderful book, sub-titled “A celebration of children everywhere”, is full of cheery illustrations and the kind of facts that inquisitive pre-schoolers adore. Here they can learn how to say “My name is” in a number of languages; discover that Australian children apparently get to eat sugar sprinkles on toast for breakfast; and wow grown-ups with sayings from around the world such as Arabic’s “Some days honey, some days onions” (you win some, you lose some). Out in June but available to pre-order now, this is sure to be a smash hit with the older end of the preschool market.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty with David Roberts (illustrator): £14, Abrams Books for Young Readers
Ada Twist is my hero. She’s a smart, curious young girl who doesn’t talk unless she’s got something clever to say, and she thinks like a scientist – always wanting to find out the truth for herself rather than accept someone else’s say-so. Plus she wreaks havoc with her hair-brained experiments. I cannot stress strongly enough that this is not a book only for girls. A New York Times bestseller, from a series by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts that also includes Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer, it is a great book for all preschoolers that happens to promote the revolutionary notion that women can do science.
The Night Box by Louise Greig with Ashling Lindsay (illustrator): £7, Egmont
The Night Box is written by an award-winning poet, the Aberdeen-based Louise Greig, and you can tell. It is lyrical tale of nighttime coming to life as it is released from its box by a little boy at bedtime, bringing with it mischief and magic but also quiet. Enjoyable to read out-loud and calming to listen to, with engaging illustrations from Ashling Lindsay.
What is Poo? By Katie Daynes with Marta Alvarez Miguens: £8, Usborne
Let’s face it, the lowest common denominator usually works pretty well when appealing to young children, so what could possibly be more fun than a lift-the-flap book about poo? It’s actually quite educational – dinosaur coprolites and composting both make an appearance – and is ideal for scatalogically minded preschoolers, particularly when potty training.
Rhyme Crime by Jon Burgerman: £7, Oxford University Press
A romp about a thief who swipes items and replaces them with something that rhymes – see “Arney’s comfy chair was swapped for a bear’’ – complete with suitably daft and technicolour drawings from author and artist John Burgerman. This is the kind of word play that my youngest (nearly three years old) thinks is the highest form of wit.
Boogie Bear by David Walliams with Tony Ross (illustrator): £13, HarperCollins
The literary juggernaut that is David Walliams continues with Boogie Bear, the tale of a polar bear and a brown bear who end up realising that their differences are only fur-deep and making multi-hued baby bears together. An unlikely way to introduce the concept of inter-racial harmony perhaps, but a sweet and entertaining one, and in my experience young children do love Tony Ross’s humorous illustrations.
Triangle by Mac Barnett with Jon Klassen (illustrator): £7, Walker
Triangle, the anti-hero of this entertaining tale by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, is a mischievous cove. He likes to play tricks on his friend Square, but eventually gets his comeuppance. The illustrations are simple but full of wit.
Lots: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies with Emily Sutton (illustrator): £13, Walker
This is a beautiful hardback book perfect for any young nature lover. Lovely, almost old-fashioned illustrations are paired with the sort of random fact – scientists have so far counted 100,000 kinds of mushroom – that smart little ones love. Sure to generate some mini eco-warriors.
Zog and the Flying Doctors by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (illustrator): £13, Scholastic
Only the second sequel produced by children’s book dream team Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (after the Gruffalo’s child), this tome sees accident-prone dragon Zog and his companions saving a sexist king from both “orange fever” and his own prejudices – with the help of some lion snot and mermaid’s scales. What’s not to like?
Ottoline and the Purple Fox by Chris Riddell: £11, Macmillan Children’s Books
As they approach school age, some book-loving pre-schoolers are chomping at the bit to make the transition from picture-led tomes to what my four-year-old calls “chapter books”. The Ottoline series, from former children’s laureate Chris Riddell, about a young detective/explorer and her Cousin Itt-style sidekick Mr Munroe, is a wonderful hybrid. This most recent instalment features plenty of illustrations, a steampunk aesthetic and great mystery. These books were designed originally for slightly older children to read themselves but my daughter and I devoured it over three nights.
I Am Bear by Ben Bailey Smith and Sav Akyuz (illustrator): £7, Walker
Ben Bailey Smith (aka Doc Brown) is a rapper by trade, and it shows in the rhythm of this simple, irreverent book about a mischievous purple bear. There’s an online version set to music that will be stuck in your head for weeks once you watch it.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr: £7, HarperCollins Children’s Books
This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Tiger Who Came to Tea’s initial appearance, and with it, the publication of a celebratory edition. While it certainly doesn’t have the progressive gender politics of Ada Twist – Mummy’s at home with Sophie worrying about Daddy’s beer having been consumed by a voracious feline while he is at work – it remains full of charm and character.
Everything You need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins with Emily Hughes (Illustrator): £13, Chronicle
This newly released and beautifully illustrated hardback is an ode to outdoor exploration that will make you want to head for the woods. It reads almost like a poem; a perfect bedtime treat.
The Verdict: Books for preschoolers
Welcome to Our World is one of the very best non-fiction books for preschoolers that I have seen, and will be genuinely fascinating for adults as well as children. For fiction, Ada Twist is hard to beat.
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