For me, the most compelling reason to read to toddlers is it encourages them to sit still for. A. Second. Here are ten books that will pause your toddler, and educate them too (because this is also important, I suppose).
1. I Want My Hat Back—written and illustrated by Jon Klassen I burst into laughter each time I read this book. The subtle, dry humour might not be for everyone, but the lesson is: don't steal and don't lie or you'll be eaten by a big bear. The plain illustrations, which are remarkably expressive, discreetly tell the dark (getting eaten) part of the story, leaving it to you to explain where the rabbit (who-was-wearing-the-red-pointy-hat) went.
2. The Paper Bag Princess— written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko This book is a treasure, and I urge you to use it as an antidote to the Disney Princess epidemic. The message is simple and clear: girls are industrious and brave and clever and bold and independent and they most definitely should not be judged on what they look like – a message as important for little boys as it is for little girls. You can read a review of the book here.
Warning: on the final page, Princess Elizabeth uses a (soft) swear word to describe Prince Ronald however, in the circumstances, I would argue the use of this word is entirely appropriate.
Don't-steal-and-don't-lie-or-you'll-be-eaten-by-a-big-bear is the lesson imparted in 'I Want My Hat Back'.
3. Oh, The Places You'll Go!—written and illustrated by Dr Suess I find it difficult to choose a favourite Dr Suess book; I think they are all fantastic. However, (today) this is the one I love the most for toddlers. It's about the wonderful life that lies before children, the great places they will go and the amazing feats they will accomplish. But it's also about the challenges they will face, the hang-ups and bang-ups, the lonely times, and the scary times. If you're keen to help your child to develop resilience, then this book is a great way to start the conversation.
4. The Story of Ferdinand—written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson Ferdinand is a little bull who lives in Spain. He doesn't like to fight the other bulls, but prefers to sit just quietly under a cork tree and smell the flowers. This gorgeous tale is about the merits of enjoying simple pleasures in life and of being calm. It is also about being an understanding parent (like Ferdinand's mother, even though she's cow) and allowing children to be themselves. This book is an absolute pleasure to read. To prolong the pleasure (and to prolong your peace), encourage your toddler to find a favourite 'cork tree' where he can sit quietly and smell the flowers, just like Ferdinand.
Encourage your toddler to find a favourite 'cork tree' where he can sit quietly and smell the flowers, just like Ferdinand.
5. Where the Wild Things Are—written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak Now what toddler can't relate to being sent to their room (or to quiet time, at least)? Probably not without their supper these days but, nevertheless, this book is timeless and is sure to resonate with your toddler. The illustrations are exquisite, and the prose reads like a song. The story goes like this, a little boy named Max causes mischief – is sent to his room – heads out into the world to explore – becomes tired and hungry – yearns to be where someone loves him best of all – and returns home to find his dinner waiting for him. And it is still hot.
6. Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley—written and illustrated by Aaron Blabey Pearl Barley is loud and outgoing and adventurous; Charlie Parsley is quiet and shy and conservative. They are different in almost every way, but they are friends, really great friends. This charming book is about how to be you, how to be a friend, and why to appreciate the differences between people. It is gorgeous. Unsurprisingly, it has won and been shortlisted for several literary awards.
'Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsely' is a beautiful portrayal of friendship.
7. Australian Animal Verses—written by Colin Thiele and illustrated by Wendy DePaauw This is a superb collection of verses about Australian animals, including fairy penguins, dugongs, lyre birds, and quokkas. The language is stunning, as you would expect from the acclaimed writer Colin Thiele, and the illustrations are beautiful. It calms my daughter down completely and therefore has become somewhat of a go-to tool of mine whenever she shows 'excessive spirit'. Which can be often - we both know the verses by heart.
8. Juk's Adventure in Phuket Thailand—written and illustrated by Meng Lin Chen and Michael Kirjon This beautiful book is a clear winner with toddlers. I'm not entirely sure why, though I suspect it has something to do with the vibrant illustrations and the exciting life Juk leads in Phuket – driving the local bus, swimming and snorkelling, running through the old town to visit his grandmother, milking the rubber trees, and more. If you want to introduce a second (or eighth) language to your child, then this is the book for you. On each page the English text is translated into eight languages, including Chinese, German, Italian, and Spanish. The same applies to the beautiful companion volumes, 'Juk's Adventure in Bangkok Thailand' and 'Juk's Adventure in Chiang Mai Thailand'.
Read 'Juk's Adventure in Phuket Thailand' in nine different languages.
9. Possum Magic—written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Julie Vivas
'Over four million copies sold.' 'Australia's best-selling children's book.' The magic of Possum Magic is not a secret, and I just had to include it on this list. It is stunning. The writing is flawless and the illustrations are enchanting, but the true magic is the book's ability to mesmerise children. It is fascinating to watch.
10. Press Here—written and illustrated by Herve Tullet
So, you have a toddler who finds it a challenge to follow instructions. No problem. This is the book for you. It is ingenious: interactive and fun and it will have your toddler doing everything you ask. Immediately. I promise. PRESS HERE AND TURN THE PAGE – FIVE TAPS ON THE RED – PRESS HARD ON ALL THE DOTS – CLAP YOUR HANDS ONCE – QUICK, PRESS THE WHITE DOT. Disclaimer: my toddler's enthusiastic cooperation when reading this book is yet to filter across into daily life, but I remain hopeful.
A rare, precious moment: a toddler relaxing in a hammock, reading a book.