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Books for Toddlers

Based on my own experience with a small child, here is my “top ten” list of good books to read to children under the age of three.

In a departure from my regular book review posts, I thought that I’d compile a list of my favourite children’s books for toddlers, based on my own experience.

A good children’s book should have an enjoyable story, be educational, well written and offer something for the parent who has to read the book over and over again. I’m not especially keen on books that focus heavily on vulgar bodily functions nor the sort that seem to be more about self-affirmation for the parent. Mistakes in grammar are also a problem (The Runaway Hug, I’m looking at you).

With these criteria in mind, I have listed the following books because they meet the above requirements and because my daughter loves them. Here’s my list of “top 10” books for toddlers (between 1 and 3 years)…

10. Who Sank the Boat?

Who Sank the Boat? was first published in 1982 and tells the tale of a cow, donkey, pig, sheep and mouse who decided to set sail in a very small boat. As each gets into the boat, it comes ever closer to sinking. The illustrations are beautiful and the story is beautifully written.

9. The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar was first published in 1969 and has become a global classic. It tells the story of a greedy caterpillar who chomps his way through an excess of food before turning into a butterfly. What truly delights are the small holes punched into the pages to show what he has eaten. This book introduces the concept of counting and features beautiful illustrations.

8. 1 to 20: Animals Aplenty

Katie Viggers’ book 1 to 20: Animals Aplenty was first published in 2012 and is so far the best book I have found to introduce numbers. The artwork is creative and engaging and the rhymes amusing, even for little minds.

7. Wombat Stew

Marcia Vaughan and Pamela Lofts’ Wombat Stew was first published in 1984 and has become an Australian classic, telling the story of a greedy but gullible dingo who plans to cook a wombat for lunch…. until the wombat’s bush friends intervene to save their mate and creatively sabotage the dingo’s efforts. There is song, rhyme and a fun journey as the dingo is tricked out of cooking the wombat.

6. Little Bird’s Day

Little Bird’s Day was first published in 2019 and is written by Sally Morgan with illustrations by Johnny Warrkatja Malibirr. This book tells the universal story of a day in the life of a bird from “waking the lazy sleepers” at dawn to “finding a welcoming tree” at dusk. The illustrations are beautiful and the Australian outback landscapes instantly recognisable. This is a great book for teaching children about time and the cycles of weather and brings some indigenous culture into the library.

5. Happy Hippo

Australian author Charles Santoso’s Happy Hippo was first published in 2020 so it’s brand new, yet it’s made it to number 5 on my list. It tells the story of a hippopotamus who laments his ordinary appearance and is granted nine wishes after he inadvertently rescues a turtle. Hippo is shallow and squanders his wishes as he seeks to make himself more attractive. Santoso’s illustrations are beautiful and the story teaches the value that is in us all, even if we can’t see it at first. A lovely story.

4. Bird on a Wire

Bird on a Wire is written by Australian author Kate Gordon and features illustrations by Nathaniel Eckstrom. First published in 2019, this was an instant hit with my daughter who loved the comedic story of one-upmanship. The book is written as poetry and the illustrations are absolutely beautiful.

3. Possum Magic

Mem Fox’s classic Possum Magic was first published in 1983 and is one of Australia’s most famous children’s books. The book tells the story of Grandma Poss, who uses her bush magic to make granddaughter Hush invisible. But when Hush longs to be able to see herself again, the two possums make their way across Australia to find the magic food that will make Hush visible once more. The story is complimented by Julie Vivas’ watercolour illustrations to make this story a “must read” for all Aussie children.

2. When the Wind Changed

Ruth Park was one of Australia’s most famous authors, but it is Deborah Niland’s illustrations in When the Wind Changed that stuck in my mind as a child. First published in 1980, this book tells the story of Josh who had a propensity for pulling the most hideous of faces. It’s all fun and games until one day the wind really does change and his face is stuck in its repulsive configuration. The prose is witty and whilst it may be a shade wordy for some toddlers, the illustrations are sure to retain your child’s attention. My daughter took an instant liking to this book and I literally laughed out loud when I read it for the first time as an adult.

1. Peepo!

British authors Janet and Allan Ahlberg wrote Peepo in 1981 and it’s still a bestseller all these years later. This poetic book tells the story of a baby in postwar Britain who discovers many interesting things around him in the home and at the park. The illustrations are filled with lots of details but the reader gets a preview of what the baby can see through a hole cut into the pages. I remember my younger sister delighting in this book as a toddler and it’s now regularly pulled off the bookshelf by my daughter when choosing a book to read.

Honourable mentions



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