The best children’s books are doorways to information, delight, engagement and empathy. Exposing children to a variety of different books will teach, inspire and encourage them to be the best version of themselves. From how to be confident when going to preschool or toilet training to teaching children about their diverse and beautiful communities, there are tonnes of books on the market.
As well as daring young readers to picture wondrous lands, there are many authors who write about harder topics including emotions, equality, family, love, bullying and acceptance. There are also books encouraging children to explore their passions, whether these are dinosaurs, science or art.
The best part is that children’s books can be for adults too. There are some books that just stand the test of time. A book we may remember reading as children can now be re-read to our children and enjoyed by all parties.
It’s hard to pick just one children’s book, as there are so many great ones available. So, we’ve reviewed some of the best titles around, listing our favourites in a roundup below. We’ve also provided a brief guide on what to look for when shopping around for books for your little ones, and what children’s book authors are offering.
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Best children’s books: At a glance
How to choose the best children’s books
When should a child start to read?
A child’s early experience of language is fundamental to their growth and success: it’s never too early to break out the books. From six to nine months old, babies can begin exploring, looking and touching. And from 12 months, they can start to respond to simple questions such as ‘where are the birds?’ Up until around 18 months, board books (typically made with thick, cardboard pages) are great for little hands to explore, either alone or with their adult.
From 18 months to 2 years old, you can start to help your little one with longer story books, and even ones with paper pages or without illustrations. Don’t worry if your toddler runs away while you’re reading. Instead, keep reading to encourage them to come back, and always try to make your reading as animated as possible – humour is a big selling point for kids. From 2 to 3 years old, children are much more inquisitive so you may notice that they’re interested in non-fiction books too. When reading, try asking your child questions too, as this can help them make connections with what’s being read and to keep them engaged.
Children from 3-4 years old can really start to use their imagination and explore longer books without as many pictures. From 5-11 years old, your child should have a clearer understanding of topics they enjoy reading about and will be able to read alone. Keep encouraging a variety of topics for them to indulge in to keep them engaged with reading but also to help them learn more about the world around them.
What are the benefits of reading to my baby?
Reading with your baby is a great bonding experience, allowing you to be close to your little one. But it’s beneficial in many other ways too: it helps set a foundation for early learning and skill developments, so immerse your little one in sounds and rhythms while reading to them. Children who are introduced to reading earlier are also more likely to read earlier themselves, and reading helps kids explore numbers, shapes, letters and to express emotions in a healthy manner.
How do I keep up with modern ebooks, audiobooks and other media?
Your baby’s favourite thing is your voice and they want to be close to you. So, to this extent, reading to your baby from an ebook will be the same as reading from a printed book. Bear in mind that some printed books for kids may have all manner of bells and whistles attached such as pop-up flaps and sensory patches, not to mention vibrant illustrations, to make reading a fully immersive experience (which is very important early on). Audiobooks are, however, very useful to listen to in the car to keep little ones entertained and occupied.
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The best children’s books you can buy in 2022
1. Dear Zoo, by Rod Campbell: The best children’s preschool board book
Price: £4 (Board book) | Buy now from Amazon
This is the 40-year anniversary special edition of the classic children’s book, Dear Zoo. When little ones are just starting out in life, the bold artwork makes it fun to flick through and meet all the animals at the zoo.
Featuring a lion, a monkey and an elephant, to name just a few animals, there’s even more fun to be had if you use your imagination and make the animal noises while reading this with your tot. Go through all the animals and have fun watching your child’s face as they open the flaps to discover which animal could make the “perfect pet”.
Key details – Publisher: Pan Macmillan; Age: 1-3; Themes: Touch and feel, zoo animals, pets; Format: Board book; Number of pages: 24
2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle: The best classic children’s book
Price: £4 (Board Book) | Buy now from Amazon
This colourful classic tale is about a caterpillar that bites off more than it can chew. The titular greedy little caterpillar is probably one of the most favourite to ever exist on anyone’s bookshelf. The basic premise is that the caterpillar eats one thing every day, preparing itself to become a beautiful butterfly.
It’s a fun way to speak to your little one about why a variety of food and a healthy diet are the way forward, and that it’s ok to have a treat every now and again. We also love teaching our babies how to count with this book too.
Key details – Publisher: Penguin Random House Children’s UK; Age: 1-3; Themes: Imaginative, counting; Format: Board book, Kindle, paperback, CD audiobook; Number of pages: 24
3. A is for Awesome! 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World, by Eva Chen: The best children’s book about female empowerment
Price: £7 (Board Book) | Buy now from Amazon
This is an alphabet board book depicting some of the most iconic women, all of whom have made a significant impact on the world we live in today. It’s a colourful book made to inspire our children and to pay homage to those inspirational women in history.
It’s an exceptional read for all children and will particularly make little girls feel like they can succeed, achieve and conquer anything in their lives. It makes for a great book to gift to friends’ children too.
Key details – Publisher: St Martin’s Press; Age: 1-3; Themes: Female empowerment and feminism; Format: Board book, Kindle; Number of pages: 32
4. Love Makes a Family, by Sophie Beer: The best children’s book representing diverse family structures
Price: £6 (Board Book) | Buy now from Amazon
Though it doesn’t have a real storyline, Love Makes a Family is a beautifully colourful book that makes it easy and enjoyable for younger readers to flick through and explore. There are illustrations on every page, portraying different family structures and teaching children the fundamentals of diverse family units.
The crux of the book is to demonstrate the role that love plays in a family. No matter whether a child has one parent, two dads, two mums or one of each, it teaches children that the most important thing in each family structure is the love they have for each other.
Key details – Publisher: Little Tiger Press Group; Age: 1-5; Themes: Family, love, diversity; Format: Board book; Number of pages: 24
5. The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson: The best rhyming children’s book
Price: £6 (Paperback) | Buy now from Amazon
Julia Donaldson has created a series of children’s books that will have you wanting to collect the whole lot. The Gruffalo is a fantasy creature, thought up by a little brown mouse to save himself from predators including a fox, a snake and an owl. It rhymes beautifully, Axel Scheffler’s illustrations are stunning, and there are also plenty of Gruffalo activities to do once the pages are closed – such as the many ‘Gruffalo Trails’ available to visit around the UK.
Some parents have also explored the local park pretending to look for the Gruffalo, while others have taken their children to see The Gruffalo as a theatre production. There is endless fun to be had with this book, and with all of Donaldson’s works. If you (and, importantly, your child) like the Gruffalo, give Zog and Zog and The Flying Doctors a go too.
Key details – Publisher: Pan Macmillan; Age: 2-4; Themes: Witty, rhyming; Format: Paperback, board book, CD audiobook, Audible; Number of pages: 32
6. It’s OK to be Different, by Sharon Purtill and Saha Sujata: The best children’s book on diversity
Price: £8 (Paperback) | Buy now from Amazon
This is a brilliant book to celebrate every child’s differences. With its many fun illustrations, it’s an easy-to-read book and helps create visual opportunities to discuss things like race and disabilities.
As its title suggests, it teaches children that it’s okay to be different and that it’s important to accept each other, irrespective of background. We also love that it rhymes, ticking another literacy learning box on our children’s reading journey. Another great read about diversity and acceptance is All Are Welcome Here, by Alexandra Penfold.
Key details – Publisher: Dunhill Clare Publishing; Age: 2-5; Themes: Diversity, equality, individuality; Format: Paperback, hardcover, Kindle, Audible; Number of pages: 30
7. The Colour Monster, by Anna Llenas: The best children’s book about emotions
Price: £6 (Paperback) | Buy now from Amazon
A simple, yet effective picture book to teach little ones about their emotions, The Colour Monster travels through angry, happy, calm, scared and sad, with each emotion being depicted by a single colour. These colours are a great way for tots, especially at the early stage of toddlerhood, to identify how they’re feeling.
This book can also help adults guide their toddlers into an early habit of describing how they feel. We love that this book not only teaches children about what one emotion can feel and “look” like, but that we as humans can have multiple feelings at once.
Key details – Publisher: Templar Publishing; Age: 2-5; Themes: Regulating and understanding emotions; Format: Paperback, board book; Number of pages: 48
8. I Will Not Ever Never Ever Eat a Tomato, by Lauren Child: The best children’s book about fussy eaters
Price: £6 (Paperback) | Buy now from Amazon
In this cute book, big brother Charlie uses his clever imagination to encourage his little sister Lola to eat foods such as peas, carrots, mushrooms, eggs, sausages, tomatoes and more. While Lola is adamant she doesn’t eat these foods, Charlie uses fun scenarios including calling tomatoes ‘moon squirters’ to witness Lola chomp away.
Charlie and Lola are classic characters and we love this instalment of their latest adventure to help ‘talk to’ any fussy eaters out there. While it may not be as easy in real life to tackle fussy eating, author Lauren Child definitely puts a fun perspective on things.
Key details – Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group; Age: 3-5; Themes: Fussy eating, picture book; Format: Paperback, board book, Kindle; Number of pages: 32
9. An ABC of Equality, by Chana Ginelle Ewing and Paulina Morgan: The best children’s book on equality
Price: £6 (Paperback) | Buy now from Amazon
This A to Z book helps children learn and ask questions about a range of backgrounds, ethnicities and abilities. Its colourful illustrations feature alongside bite-sized bits of text, to introduce conversations about equality.
On the right-hand side there’s a brightly decorated letter with the word it stands for. For example, L is for LGBTQIA+, B is for Belief, and X is for Xenophobia. It’s a very informative book and most certainly a brilliant one to start reading before your tot starts primary school.
Key details – Publisher: Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd; Age: 3-6; Themes: Equality, social justice, empowerment; Format: Paperback, board book, Kindle; Number of pages: 56
10. The Boy at the Back of the Class, by Onjali Rauf: The best thought-provoking children’s book
Price: £4 (Paperback) | Buy now from Amazon
This book tells the story of a new boy in class, Ahmet: a refugee who has been separated from his family. It’s an amazing story about friendship and how a group of friends break down barriers that grown ups try to build around them.
It will bring you to tears but at the same time inspire you and your children to practice kindness, to have hope and to be fearless when it comes to sticking up for their friends in the name of justice. It shows children examples of humility through stories of the lives and dilemmas faced by refugees.
Key details – Publisher: Hachette Children’s Group; Age: 8-10; Theme: Friendship kindness, hope, bullying; Format: Paperback, CD audiobook, Audible, Kindle; Number of pages: 320
11. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney: The best children’s book for humour
Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon
This is the first book in a series of Wimpy Kid novels that sees character Greg Heffley thrust into a new school with a bunch of kids who are much taller and meaner. Greg and his friend Rowley desperately want to become more mature and their funny, friendly adventure unfolds with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is written in a journal format, with lots of fun illustrations, and plenty of parents have praised this “corker” for being easy to read, claiming that their children couldn’t put it down.
Key details – Publisher: Penguin Random House Children’s UK; Age: 8-10; Themes: Friendship, bullying, acceptance of others and oneself; Format: Paperback, Kindle, CD audiobook, Audible; Number of pages: 224