6 best ways to read to your toddler – and the books to help

Reading aloud to your child can be so much fun while helping your child learn to read – especially with the right books


1 Singing and grinning

It’s time to throw away any inhibitions or phobias about singing and doing silly voices in public. Instead you need to dust down your acting skills, says Sue Palmer, literacy expert and author of Toxic Childhood. “Singing tunes will get your child into rhythms and patterns. Try nursery rhymes, making eye contact and grinning. The more time you can spend doing this, the more your child will tune into language.”


“One of our family favourites,” recalls MFM editor Susie Boone, “was Anthony Browne’s I Like Books. Our children still talk about the actions we did for ‘fat books, thin books’. It also opens their minds to the range of things you can read.”

No need for funny voices with Hug

2 Don’t get stressed out about the funny voices

Not everyone feels comfy putting lots of expression into reading. If you’re a bit reluctant to let yourself go at story time, Lucy Noguera of reading resource Brilliant Monsters http://en-gb.facebook.com/brilliantmonsters suggests a book called Hug by Jez Alborough. She explains, “It doesn’t have any other word in it than ‘hug’, but it’s full of detail so you can talk about the expressions on the characters’ faces and how they’re feeling. It’s a simple idea, but it gets the reader talking because there are no words to hide behind – you’ve got to make something up.”

A toy croc makes a great prop

3 Use toys as props

“To engage a child, it’s got to feel fun,” says Lucy Noguera. “Using toys as props can help, so if you’re reading a book about crocodiles, find one of your toddler’s plastic crocodiles. She can hold it so it gives her something to fiddle with but it keeps her concentration on the story. Try and bring it to life, rather than just sitting there and reading each page.” A great book to bring to life with a toy crocodile (and other animal toys if you have them) is Here Comes The Crocodile by Kathryn White

Take your child on their own bear hunt…

4 Act out the story

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen is a great story to act out while you tell it – whether with one child or more. Tell your child you’re going on an adventure together, and first of all you may want to work out what you’re going to wear, and then put on the clothes (imaginary clothes are fine!). Then act out the actions on each page – swishing through the long grass, squelching through mud, etc. This really helps to bring the story to life. 

Dress up the red dragon in weird and wonderful disguises

5 Use interactive books

Books with flaps, pop-ups, 3D foldouts, dials, levers and hidden pockets are fantastic fun. Be aware that little hands may rip off some of the flaps, so buy the strong board versions for toddlers, and save the more delicate pop-ups for more careful hands. One of the very best early lift-the-flap books is Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo, which you can now buy in a number of versions. For pre-schoolers, try the pop-out dressing-up in disguise fun of Steven Wyllie’s The Red Dragon, the wonderfully imaginative Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Jan Pienkowski’s incredible pop-up art in Dinnertime.

A fantastic unexpected ending – just watch your child’s reaction

6 Find some twists in the tale

There are so many different types of stories you can enjoy with your child – funny ones, sad, fantasy, silly, rhyming, counting, ones about things that happen in a child’s life (arrival of a new baby, starting nursery) and more. But the ones that may make the biggest impression are those with surprise endings. Some of our favourites in the MFM office (we won’t spoil them by giving away the endings) are:   I’m Coming To Get You by Tony Ross, David McKee’s Not Now Bernard and Hilda Offen’s Nice Work, Little Wolf


MFM tip: Don’t feel you have to buy lots of books to help your child read – make the most of your local library, as these will be filled with lots of brilliant picture books. 

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