1. We’re going on a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen & Helen Oxenbury
A much-loved spoken-word game for small children evolved into Michael Rosen’s poetic book, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. A father, his four children of various sizes and the family dog are off in search of adventure… and a bear. On a rainy day, this story is a wonderful way of escaping the confines of the sofa, by suggesting the squelching of muddy fields, the crackle of wild woods, and the swirl and bluster of a snowstorm.
Children of all ages enjoy miming their struggle on the journey that finally brings them to the cave where dwells the elusive bear. However, when they get there, the bear’s just a little bit too scary and back they have to rush, retracing their steps in double-quick time.
2. Room On The Broom, by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler
The flame-haired witch and her familiar broom get into all kinds of scrapes in Room On The Broom. Lists, repetition and being pursued as a dragon’s dinner all add to the pure pleasure in storytelling that young children respond to so well. “My starting point,” explains Donaldson, “was that a witch on her broom always has a cat. Well, what if she had other animals on there as well?”
3. Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell
In Dear Zoo, a narrator asks the zoo to send him a pet. However, the zoo keep sending animals which are completely inappropriate – a monkey who is too naughty, a camel who is too grumpy – and each one has to be sent back. As the story progresses, children love the different shaped flaps which represent animal crates or a snake’s basket, until finally the zoo get it right and send our narrator the perfect pet – a loveable puppy!
4. The Tiger Who Came To Tea, by Judith Kerr
Now nearly 40 years old, The Tiger Who Came To Tea feels even older. There is something strangely stylised about this domestic scene of mother and daughter at teatime that has a real Fifties-feel (despite Sophie’s funky spotty tights).
Children love the fun involved when mixing reality with fantasy. They all know what tea-time is, they know what a tiger is, but tea with a tiger is the silliest thing. And because Kerr is a wonderful storyteller, she doesn’t get caught up in the small details, such as why the tiger didn’t bother eating Sophie and mummy. And, the coolest thing is that when daddy comes home, he doesn’t just freak out: he suggests the family eat out instead!
5. Hairy Maclary From Donalson’s Dairy, by Lynley Dodd
Lynley Dodd’s scruffy black mutt Hairy Maclary doesn’t get up to much most of the time – except chewing bones, chasing things and hanging out with his friends. Yet this first, simple rhymer, which introduced small children to Hairy’s array of doggy pals is a rhythmic delight. Dodd’s illustrative style is gentle and almost old-fashioned, but it’s the narrative, where the native New Zealander uses the richest language (“cacophony”, “caterwaul” and “howdedoo” are prime examples) that makes her many follow-up books featuring animals with catchy names such a roaring global success.
6. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter
Originally written as a picture-letter to a sickly five-year-old, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit paved the way for Potter’s series of wildlife stories of naughty bunnies, ill-fated toads and other well-dressed creatures with human traits.
Illustrating her work with a delicate style, Potter brought the wonders of her beloved English countryside to an Edwardian audience who instantly fell in love with her books.
One day, while mother rabbit is out, Peter strays into his neighbour’s garden and proceeds to eat his vegetables, only to be chased away by an angry Mr McGregor. Potter’s writing style has the quaint, mannered charm of its period.
7. The Cat In The Hat, by Dr Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel wrote the vibrant Cat In The Hat as a primer to help children with the 225 words that were vital to ‘new reader’ vocabulary. The cheeky Cat arrives and causes mayhem with his suggested rainy day games in the home of two young children, while their mother is out. Dr Seuss’ poetic pace heaps excitement upon chaos in a story that’s fun as well as educational.
8. Owl Babies, by Patrick Benson
Owl Babies, Sarah, Percy and Bill wake up one night to find their mother isn’t there. Their loneliness makes them anxious and the fluffy white owls begin to fret, but are overcome with relief and joy when mummy owl comes back. A great bedtime read for two-year-olds.
9. Alfie Gets In First, by Shirley Hughes
Once again Hughes’s down-to-earth approach to storytelling stands out in Alfie Gets In First. Little boy Alfie accidentally locks his mother and his baby sister outside. Getting the door open again is a convoluted process involving neighbours and all sorts. A warm and wonderful exploration for preschoolers.
10. Peace At Last, by Jill Murphy
in Peace At Last Mr and Mrs Bear and Baby Bear are going to bed, but Mr Bear can’t sleep because Mrs Bear snores. He tries to get to sleep in Baby Bear’s room and every other room in the house, even the car, but each place is too noisy. Eventually, he notices that all is quiet and he gets back into his own bed to enjoy peace at last… Murphy’s soft illustrations and the comedy found in the domestic scene make this an appealing bedtime read.