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Brilliant picture books: 22 beautiful books for children under 5s

Wendy Cooling MBE has selected her favourite illustrated books to help you introduce your child to the wonders of stories and storytelling.

Rhyming stories to read aloud

Rhyming stories are great fun to read aloud and share with your child, and for new readers rhymes can really help them learn and identify new words. Why not experiment with different voices for different characters as you read aloud together?

Each Peach Pear Plum

Janet Ahlberg, Allan Ahlberg

An all-time wonder – one to read again and again and to take you and your children into nursery rhymes and fairy stories. Perfect to share with your toddler, it features familiar characters from nursery rhymes and fairy stories, with a surprise to spot on every page.

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Some Dogs Do

Jez Alborough

Delights all young children. Can dogs fly? Very funny and life-enhancing.

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Pants

Giles Andreae, Nick Sharratt

Hilarious, and wonderful to sing as well as read aloud – you’ll soon have everyone joining in. Lots of opportunities for learning – vocabulary, opposites, counting – but most importantly, it’s fun!

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Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy

Lynley Dodd

Just the story of a dog taking a walk, but this puppy’s tale is packed with rhyme and rhythm. Quite a challenge to the reader since the story speeds up as it goes.

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The Gruffalo

Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler

A brilliant rhyming text and fabulous illustrations combine to tell a memorable story of a very cunning mouse.

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Doing the Animal Bop

Jan Ormerod, Lindsey Gardiner

Children will want to dance along with this one as you read about overexcited animals and the strange ways they move. It’s a delight all the way, from waddling like a penguin to stomping like an elephant. Lots of great noise words to join in with too.

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Bedtime stories

We all know the value of reading to children before bed, and this selection features some beautifully-illustrated books on the subject of bedtime.

Rumble in the Jungle

Giles Andreae, David Wojtowycz

A noisy and entertaining book, perfect for bedtime, and a chance to meet all the animals in the jungle. Told in short rhymes so that you can read as much or as little as you like, with lots of opportunities for joining in. Vibrant illustrations.

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One Snowy Night

Nick Butterworth

Percy the Park Keeper is snug in his hut as the snow falls outside. The animals are not so cosy and each one knocks at Percy’s door in turn, in search of a warm bed.

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The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark

Jill Tomlinson, Paul Howard

Plop the Baby Owl is afraid of the dark – not good for an owl. Soon he discovers fireworks and Father Christmas, and begins to feel much better. This warm and magical story will calm any fears.

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Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?

Martin Waddell, Barbara Firth

Another beautiful and reassuring story that explores the fear of darkness. Lovely illustrations and several other books in the same series to enjoy.

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Owl Babies

Martin Waddell, Patrick Benson

Owls again, but this time a warm and comforting story of parental love. Beautiful to look at and loved by children even as they get older.

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Classic picture books

These picture books have all been in print for at least twenty years so really have stood the test of time. Enjoy passing them on to your child.

Mr Gumpy’s Outing

John Burningham

Mr Gumpy decides to take a trip on the river and, of course, children and animals want to join him. What fun – until the boat starts to rock… Great illustrations, in sepia and full colour, make this a book to return to over and over again.

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Dear Zoo

Rod Campbell

Choosing the perfect pet is always a challenge and it takes a while for the zoo to get it right. An elephant or a giraffe won’t do, but something a little smaller will. The flaps on each page reveal a surprise and make young children almost burst with expectation.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Eric Carle

A perfect book that needs no introduction. Eric Carle’s collage pictures, especially the butterfly, are a joy. Pages are split and used creatively, and, amidst all the food, there are holes just big enough for small fingers.

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Where’s Spot?

Eric Hill

One of the first lift-the-flap books, and still one of the best. Spot hides away and can’t be found – until the last flap is lifted. Simple and perfect, and children will choose the book endlessly even though they know exactly where Spot is!

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Dogger

Shirley Hughes

Dave is upset to lose his favourite toy, which later turns up at the school fair. How can he get Dogger back? This heart-warming story has a little more text than the others listed and is ideal to read to more than one child.

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Rosie’s Walk

Pat Hutchins

This time the story is in the pictures as Rosie the hen takes a walk and is unaware of the fox not far behind. It’s good for children to learn to read the pictures as well as the words, and there is always huge excitement as children begin to see what is happening.

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The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Judith Kerr

It’s not every day that such a surprising visitor comes to tea, but Sophie takes it all in her stride as the Tiger eats everything in the house, and drinks all the water out of the tap. A magical story about the power of the imagination.

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Not Now, Bernard

David McKee

Bernard’s parents usually ignore him, even when he tells them there’s a monster in the garden. When it’s in the house about to eat him up, they still don’t bother to come to his aid… A scary message, but children see the joke!

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Michael Rosen, Helen Oxenbury

The perfect adventure story, told in rhyme and pictures. The bear hunt is packed with excitement, anticipation, and movement. Wonderfully interactive and one for the whole family to enjoy together.

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Where the Wild Things Are

Maurice Sendak

Max is sent to bed without his supper and he goes on an incredible journey to the land where the wild things are. He is not scared and becomes king of the wild things. When he’s tired, he sends the wild things to bed without their supper and goes back to his bedroom – he finds his supper waiting, and still hot. An unforgettable fantasy adventure.

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The Elephant and the Bad Baby

Elfrida Vipont, Raymond Briggs

An elephant meets a bad baby and takes him for a ride and off they go, ‘rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta’ down the street, helping themselves to ice creams, buns, and more as they go, without so much as a ‘please’. They’re chased by angry shopkeepers but then the baby wants Mummy and all finishes well. Demands participation.

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