10 best books for 4 year olds

Whether your 4 year old likes friendly animals, playful toys or memorable nursery rhymes, they'll love all these books...

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  • The Enormous Crocodile

    By Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake, Puffin, RRP £5.99

    What’s the story: He loves to eat juicy, delicious children, but the other animals are tired of his schemes so they hatch plans to stop him from guzzling any children.

    Why we love it: Dahl is famous for his mock-violence, and there’s plenty of detail here about the particular taste and texture of children as imagined by the greedy crocodile. This could only occur in the absurd world of Dahl where children are threatened in the most beastly way by monsters with cheeky grins and twinkly eyes, making them a lot less scary than they should be.

    First published: 1978

  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

    By Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, published by Walker, RRP £5.99

    What’s the story: Small children adore playing imaginary adventure games and this book really does take you on an adventure. A father and three children set off in search of a bear. They all swish through long grass, splash through a cold river and squelch through a field of mud. When they finally come across the bear all four decide to make a hasty retreat all the way back home to safety.

    Why we love it: This is a gorgeous picture book with alternating illustrated pages in black and white and colour which captures the dramatic and delightful apprehension of going on a search for something fearsomely exciting.

    First published: 1989

  • Dogger

    By Shirley Hughes, published by Red Fox, RRP £5.99

    What’s the story: Dogger is the endearing story of how Dave's beloved stuffed toy was lost and found. Winner of the 1977 Kate Greenaway Medal, Dogger is a timeless classic which, in simple words and detailed pictures, shows the distress the loss of a toy causes a child, as well as the reality of family life.

    Why we love it: Filled with humour and Shirley Hughes' deft touch in her text and drawings, this is a book for them to tackle by themselves, as well as a delight to read aloud by a grown up.

    First published: 1977

  • The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark

    By Jill Tomlinson, illustrated by Paul Howard, published by Egmont, RRP £5.99

    What’s the story: Plop is a baby barn owl who’s just like any other barn owl except for one thing - he’s afraid of the dark. Plop’s mother and father decide to solve the problem by sending him off to ask a variety of humans and animals who adore the darkness. Each one gives Plop a special reason for loving the darkness and finally Plop is convinced and joins his parents for some companionable night hunting.

    Why we love it: Children will learn too that the dark can be just as fun as the day. You can see fireworks and play games round the camp fire or look up at the stars in the dark.

    First published: 1968

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  • The Book of Moomin, Mymble and Little My

    By Tove Jannsson, published by Sort Of Books, RRP £9.99

    What’s the story: The magic of Tove Jansson's bestselling Moomin picture book was re-crafted in English to launch Sort of Children's Classics (for readers from four to infinity). Follow Moomin's adventures in verse, through amazing full colour, cut-out pages as he helps Mymble find her little sister My.

    Why we love it: This is a magnificently imaginative and entertaining children's book. For those already familiar with Jansson’s Moomin books, this beautiful book will astonish you with its superbly detailed illustrations. The text is in the form of rhyming poetry, which has been newly re-composed in English by Sophie Hannah from a literal translation.

    First published: 1952

  • The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters

    By Janet and Allan Ahlberg. published by Puffin, RRP £12.99

    What’s the story: This is not just a book – it’s a whole postbag! The jolly postman is our hero who has a busy time of delivering letters around a story land. Lots of pages are envelopes with real letters tucked inside which includes an apology letter from Goldilocks to the Three Bears, an eviction notice from Little Red Riding Hood’s lawyers to The Big Bad Wolf, and a witchy catalogue to the old hag occupant of the gingerbread house.

    Why we love it: This book, like Peepo, mixes fairy tales and nursery rhyme characters to present a fun and interactive book for young children. The clever idea of incorporating actual letters to slot in between pages shows the sheer genius of the Ahlbergs

    First published: 1986

  • The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant

    By Jean de Brunhoff, published by Egmont, RRP £5.99

    What’s the story: It’s thanks to A.A. Milne, author of Winnie-the-Pooh, that the book made it over from France to England after nagging his publishers to ‘take out naturalisation papers for them, and let them settle down at once in everybody else’s family.’ Brunhoff first wrote about the little elephant with a grand future in a series of letters to his children, while separated from them due to illness. The classic story has remained a firm favourite.

    Why we love it: If you and your child love elephants, enchantment and adventure then this is a story for you and your small one to treasure. Like the very best of fairy tales the story of Babar, from his birth to his marriage to Celeste in a yellow balloon will delight children.

    First published: 1934

  • The Heart and the Bottle

    By Oliver Jeffers, published by Harper Collins, RRP £6.99

    What’s the story: Once there was a girl whose life was filled with wonder at the world around her…Then one day something happened that made the girl take her heart and put it in a safe place. However, after that it seemed that the world was emptier than before. But would she know how to get her heart back?

    Why we love it: In this deeply moving and remarkable story, Jeffers deals with the weighty themes of love and loss with an extraordinary lightness of touch and shows us, ultimately, that there is always hope as long as there are always young minds that are curious about the world.

    First published: 2010

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  • Why the Animals Came to Town

    By Michael Foreman, published by Walker, RRP £5.99

    What’s the story: A powerful environmental story for children.  A young boy climbs out of bed and peeks through his window to see a parade of animals, coming down the street two by two. They’re here to tell the boy about melting ice caps and dry desserts and to show what a desolate place our world would be without the Ant Eaters, lions, tigers, hippos and bears around.

    Why we love it: The loveable illustrations and lilting rhymes, Foreman has created a fun and beautiful book with a very serious message.

    First published: 2010

  • Frog and the wide World

    By Max Velthuijs, published by Andersen Press, RRP £5.99

    What’s the story: When Rat sets off for his travels, Frog is anxious to join him in search of adventure. But Frog soon misses his other friends, Pig, Duck and Hare, and discovers that the wide world is very far from home

    Why we love it: Every child should meet Frog. With simple but effective illustrations along with a charming and innocent story, Frog and the Wide World is a book to treasure.

    First published: 1998

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