The best interactive books for toddlers and kids

We've found ten books that offer a story plus an interactive element, with games to play and toys to build for all ages

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Instilling a love of reading is one of the most important things a parent can do for their child. Experts claim that youngsters who read for pleasure do better at school, have better levels of concentration and are more aware of the world around them.

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So what could be better than a book that inspires them to produce a story of their own, while helping them to develop their creative and fine motor skills, too?

This selection includes books that offer added value by transforming into something else, building the story as you go or creating a scene that enables little ones to explore their imaginations after the story ends.

1. Make & Play Nativity, £7.99 – best for Christmas

Age: 4+

This beautifully crafted book has been specially designed to help little ones create their own version of the Christmas story. It features 20 easily-pop-outable cardboard figures – including Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, shepherds and an array of animals – all with slotted stands that allow the characters to be positioned while you or your child reads the story.

The book also includes a selection of carols should your child decide to stage a full-blown nativity.

Alongside the story and figures are a range of craft activities for some added festive fun, as well as an advent calendar. Should pass many a happy festive hour!

Available from: Waterstones, Amazon and Blackwells

2. Convertible Submarine, £17.99 – best for encouraging imaginative play

Age: 3-6

Possibly the ultimate in transformation books, this brightly coloured submarine is just one of a series that also includes a fire engine, racing car, police car, train, aeroplane, princess carriage and tractor.

The story (which is packed with detail) follows a group who take a trip in a submarine to explore beneath the waves, where they meet all manner of sea creatures.

You and your child can either read the book in the conventional way, or unfold it into a play mat that follows the route of the submarine. Once the story is over, the mat can be transformed into a sit-in submarine for your child to have some ocean adventures of their own.

Thanks to small Velcro tabs on the pages, the book fits together well, and it takes an adult around 5 minutes to swap it from mat to vehicle.

Although sturdy, they take up quite a bit of room, but the detail is really impressive, with foldaway windscreens and even doors to climb in and out of. Excellent for encouraging imaginative play.

Available from: Books2door, WHSmith and Amazon

3. Cinderella’s Castle – Build It, £20 – best for Disney fans

Age: 6+

Recreate the magic of Disney’s Cinderella with this gorgeous gift book, which also contains a build-it-yourself 3D model of the castle, as well as more than nine press-out characters and other story elements.

You or an older child should probably assist in building the castle as some of the folding tabs are quite delicate, but little ones can certainly get involved in ‘pressing out’ the famous characters. Once built, the castle stands at about 60cm and forms the backdrop to the famous ball scene.

There is a step-by-step guide to assembly and, helpfully, all the pieces slot back inside the box (at the rear of the book), ready for another play day.

Available from: Amazon, Waterstones and WHSmith

4. Usborne Wind-up Plane Book, £16.99 – best for transport-mad tots

Age: 2+

Things that go are fascinating for young children and this ‘book and toy’ combination from Usborne has been a big seller for more than a decade.

Telling the story of a boy’s first trip to the airport, the chunky pages are packed full of details about what can be found in the terminal and all the places you can fly to.

However, the real bonus is that each spread features an embedded track – simply wind up the plane, place it on the page and off it goes. Great fun and educational, too. Others in the range include Noisy Wind-up Fire Engine and Wind-up Racing Cars, which features 2 competing vehicles.

Available from: Usborne, Wordery and Amazon

5. My First Gruffalo: Can You See? Jigsaw Book, £6.99 – best for toddlers

Age: 0-3

It’s never too soon to introduce Julia Donaldson’s wonderful monster and Axel Scheffler’s classic illustrations to your child, and this board/jigsaw book features a different character from the celebrated story on every spread.

Each page features a rhyming section of text alongside a framed chunky 4-piece jigsaw puzzle. Youngsters will have great fun fixing the shapes together, while at the same time giving their fine motor skills a bit of a workout.

For an extra learning challenge, there is also a different colour to spot on each section once the jigsaw is complete. The series also includes a numbers edition.

For convenience the pieces are all stored within the book.

Available from: Gruffalo Shop, Hive and Amazon

6. Little Scholastic: Old MacDonald Hand-Puppet Board Book, £9.99 – best for babies

Age: 0-2

This puppet and storybook featuring the popular nursery song offers a range of sensory stimulation to aid your child’s development.

The velvet glove boasts 5 finger-top farm animals so parents can show off their best moos, quacks and woofs as they recount the song of Old MacDonald and his farm.

The story book itself is housed within the palm of the glove, encased in a soft, Velcro-fixed cover. Its board book pages are easy for little hands to turn (once they are able) as they listen. A lovely addition to your baby’s first library.

Available from: Book Depository, Amazon and Wordery

7. Convertible Playbook Airport, £14.99 – best for imaginative play

Age: 3+

Created by the same team behind the Convertible vehicle range, this product turns from a book into a playmat before transforming into a 3D model of an airport, complete with car park, departure building and runway.

The easy-to-follow narrative – ideal for preschool children – explains what and who you might find at the airport. This book is great for prompting imaginative play as children can create a busy world of passengers, pilots and other airport staff.

The pages pop into position easily, although some adult help will be needed, while the generously sized planes and characters are easy enough for little ones to manoeuvre. As soon as the games are over, it might be a good idea to fold the model pages back down into the book, to avoid accidental knocks or tears.

Available from: Books2door and WHSmith

8. Ghostbusters Ectomobile: Race Against Slime, £25 – best for movie fans

Age: 5+

Coming complete with Ectomobile and more than 10 feet of built-in track, Race Against Slime will keep fans of the spooky slime-fest busy for hours.

Suitable for 5 years and up, the story is based on the classic film (a sequel is out in 2020), and requires readers to solve mysteries across Manhattan as they bid to rid the city of the bothersome ghouls.

As the track is embedded there is nothing to tidy away and the wind-up vehicle also slots into the cover of the 10-page board book. This is a super-colourful, fun product with great illustrations and interactive elements.

Available from: Amazon, Blackwells and WHSmith

9. Stuffed Fables – An Adventure Book Game, £64.63 – best for older kids

Age: 7+

Stuffed Fables is a new fantasy quest/board game that puts the book at the heart of the game. In fact, not only does the book frame the various plots (there are multiple stories), but it also acts as a rules reference point and board game base. 

In a bid to protect the little girl that loves them, a group of cuddly toys turn combatants as they are forced to save her from the Fall – a scary land which is ruled over by the Crepitus, the Nightmare King. (Obviously, if your child has trouble sleeping or is worried about the prospect of toys coming to life, this is not for them.)

The kit includes counters, characters, cards, dice and so on. Although this game carries a hefty price tag, it offers hours of play, encouraging your child to think for themselves and evaluate possibilities, plus it reinforces the idea of protecting those you love.

Available from: Amazon and Wayland Games

10. Usborne Press-out Paper Town, £12.99 – best for busy hands

Age: 7+

This pop-up and put-together paper town enables children to create their own story as they make the four beautifully designed shops and buildings, including a town hall, an old-fashioned sweet shop, a flower shop full of beautiful blooms and even an ice-cream stall. There are plenty of people, too.

The pieces can simply be pushed out from the pages – there’s no need for scissors or glue and then the sections slot together with foldable tabs. It is all quite straightforward but there are detailed instructions too, so you can leave your child to it.

This is a lovely holiday project that will inspire children not only to get hands-on creatively, but to develop their imaginations and story-telling abilities.

Available from: Usborne, BrightMinds and Amazon

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