Book Reviews, The Writing Mum

World Book Day 2021: Our Top 21 Picture Books

Our house is bursting with books, many of which are the picture books we have lovingly collected over the last 7 and a half years (and more) as well as others that have come to stay for a short while from the library. We have loved our journey into the magic of picture books, and still do.

So to mark World Book Day 2021 we would like to share our favourites with you. Here are our top 21 picture books: ones that we would 100% recommend to families with little ones. There are 4 of us so we’ve chosen 5 books each, and then all agreed on number 21!

Tough decisions but here goes . . .

Mum’s Top 5:

1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Published by Red Fox

This is a classic and an absolute joy to read out loud, I would even say it’s my favourite picture book of all time. When Max behaves like a wild thing, he’s sent to his room without any supper and there an adventure begins with a forest, and a river, and a boat that carries him to – you guessed it – where the wild things are! We all love the playfulness of this book and have great fun making the sounds of the wild things and pouring over the wonderful pictures. Who wouldn’t love a forest to grow in their room?

2. Whatever Next by Jill Murphy

Macmillan Children’s Books

This has been my most used resource as nursery nurse, storyteller and mum. It’s a simple story of a bear who wants to go to the moon, and does just that with his cardboard box rocket, colander space helmet and wellington space boots. The bear family feature in other books too (Peace at Last and Just One of Those Days) – it’s always a winner when there’s more to collect. A great one to spark imaginative play and to use in space topics.

3. Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Walker Books

This book is a lot of fun, from the illustrations, to the spreads of shouty text and the little monster who just wants to scare the tuna salad out of someone. Poor Leonardo just isn’t scary no matter how hard he tries. Even when he seeks out the most scaredy-cat kid on the planet he fails. But to his surprise there’s something better than scaring. A really fun and hugely heart warming read that we’ve snuggled up with time and again.

4. The Sneetches and other Stories by Dr Seus

Harper Collins Children’s Books

The magnificent Dr Seus is of course a must read but this is by far our favourite because it includes the short story ‘Too Many Daves’. My two have howled laughing at this many times. Its just wonderful silliness and great fun to read out loud. ‘What Was I Scared Of?’, a story about a pair of empty trousers, is also in this one and is wonderfully nuts! Great language and nonsense and all out madness that has us laughing loads!

5. Ravi’s Roar by Tom Percival

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a more recent discovery of ours and it’s a fantastic picture book that really delivers. Part of the author’s big bright feelings series, this story makes space to explore anger and help children validate and work through big emotions. When Ravi’s day just goes from bad to worse something surprising happens and he can suddenly do all the things he couldn’t do before. But he soon discovers it’s not so fun for everyone else and with their love and understanding he is able to apologise and become himself again. A really sweet story that is beautifully told and illustrated.

Dad’s Top 5

6. No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

A simple rhyming picture book from the author of Clip, Clop (a one time booktrust book), this was an absolute favourite of ours when our little girl ‘Bo’ was a baby and toddler. We read it nearly every night and she loved lifting the flaps and searching for the missing ted. We can probably still recite much of it and it went on to be a favourite of our little boy ‘Bilbo’ too. You can’t beat a lift the flap bedtime book!

7. I want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Walker Books

This was ‘Dad’s’ choice of read more often than the kids, I think. He loves the dry humour of it and putting on the voices. Bear has lost his hat and asks the animals of the forest if they have seen it. It’s dialogue based and very dead pan, and when Bear remembers seeing his red hat, someone is in trouble. It’s good fun and uses the illustrations perfectly. One for adults to enjoy, whilst still delighting the kids.

8. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd

Puffin Books

This is a classic and one I read years ago as a nursery nurse and it’s still going. A perfect rhyming story about what the dogs of a neighbourhood get up to and who’s really in charge, all led by the loveable Hairy Maclary who has all whole series of books. It’s simple and has been loved by all the family (and pretty much every child I worked with).

9. The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Macmillan Children’s Books

This is just such a wonderful idea – the tiny snail going off to explore the world on the tail of a whale, and realising how small she is in this vast and wondrous place. But even the smallest of us can make a difference as the snail learns when she must help save the life of the whale. Julia Donaldson at her storytelling best, and this one really sings (as I do every time I read this title thanks to a cd we once had on repeat in the car for MONTHS!). Axel Scheffler’s full spread illustrations wonderfully enhance the tale too.

10. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Harper Collins Children’s Books

Oliver Jeffers has such a simple and playful style and we have enjoyed many of his books, but this has definitely been the favourite. The story of a boy who finds a penguin at his door and decides he must help it. He goes to great lengths to take it back to its home only to find that perhaps that wasn’t what the penguin needed after all. A lovely story about friendship, determination and hope that what is lost can always be found in some way or another.

Bo’s Top 5

11. A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Macmillan Children’s Books

This was bought as a gift when Bo was born because we lived in a tiny terraced house at the time and it was a good fit! 🙂 Based on a folk tale, Julia Donaldson’s first book was originally a song (as many of them are) and it was a big favourite during Bo’s toddler years. I can still hear her little voice finishing the sentence (as you do with a rhyming text) ‘a curious plan’. Take a folktale and make it rhyme – win, win. It’s a great one for making into a story sack too.

12. Counting on Katherine

Macmillan Children’s Books

This is one we found at the beginning of lockdown. The true story of Katherine Johnson who, in the 1960s (when so little was expected of a black American girl), grew up to save lives and make an enormous contribution to society with her wonderfully curious, mathematical mind. We loved how it all began with a little girl who simply loved to count – steps, dishes, anything she could – and it offers such inspiration, as well as a way to begin to start conversations about racial injustice and the importance of anti racism.

13. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson

Walker Books

We made a story sack for this one as it was such a favourite. An early stage book that helps little ones with separation from mum/carer. Many nurseries use it for just that. The story of three sibling owls who wake to find their mother gone. Will she return? A really reassuring text with beautiful illustrations and also a look at the animal world. It would be one to use carefully with children who have lost a parent or perhaps consider alternatives.

14. The Night Pirates by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright

Published by Egmont

Bo dressed up as a Rough, Tough Little Girl Pirate for World Book Day 2017. I mean who doesn’t love the idea of one of those? This is the story of Tom who is woken in the night to find his house is being stolen and carried away by pirates! Little girl pirates in search of treasure. Its a lovely lyrical text and we had the added bonus of buying the pop up version which was a delight! A really simple and fun read.

15. Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman

Macmillan, USA

This is technically a chapter book but Bo really wanted to include it. These short, simple and zen-like stories follow Isabel, an exemplary student of Bunjitsu who understands its philosophy – Bunjitsu is not about kicking, hitting and punching, it’s about finding ways to NOT kick, hit and punch. There’s some real comedy and lots of opportunity for discussion about fairness and friendship, and using our head to solve our problems (not by head-butting open a door, but by thinking carefully and climbing in the window). We enjoyed this as a read-aloud book at first, but when Bo started to read herself these were great manageable stories, and we bought it for all her school friends. There are sequels too!

Bilbo’s Top 5

16. Where’s My Teddy by Jez Alborough

Walker Books

This is a playful rhyming text that tells the story of Eddie who goes into the woods to find his teddy and finds more than he bargained for. I know it word-for-word after both the nursery children I used to work with and then my own two asked for it over and over (as they do). The rhyming is spot on making it a delight to read, and the full spread illustrations really pull you in. It’s also a great one for looking at two sides of a story. Clearly Dad fell in love with it too and there’s a sequel that is just as good – It’s the Bear!

17. Car, Car, Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt

Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This book is pure simplicity – Baa Baa Black Sheep with new vehicle-filled ‘lyrics’. Both Bilbo and Bo asked for this again and again, and we renewed the loan a few times to really get its worth! Joyful illustrations from Nick Sharratt gave us lots to look at, and we were all singing this version around the house before long. It’s a winner this one.

18. Don’t Worry Little Crab by Chris Haughton

Walker Books

This was another library love and oh we loved its simple tale. It’s time for Little Crab to follow Big Crab to experience the sea for the first time. He is so excited at first but sometimes new things can be scary, and Little Crab wants to turn back. A story about how, with a little help, we can face our fears and reap the rewards. This gorgeous book from Chris Haughton was read over and over in our house. The text is really lovely to read, with lots of repetition and some lovely onomatopoeia at play too!

19. The Book With No Pictures by B J Novak

Puffin Books

This came into our lives thanks to Bilbo’s reception class teacher who had him coming home wanting more. They both howl laughing at it still. It’s lots of fun to read – the sole purpose of the text to make the reader say all sorts of nonsense and delight the listeners. Who needs pictures when you can have this much fun with words and imagination? A really intelligent book that is fantastic for showing how much fun books can be!

20. The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Alison Green Books

The third Julia Donaldson book in the list but then she does have a massive corner of the picture book market, and there’s no denying what a fabulous storyteller she is. This one is also illustrated by Axel Scheffler and one that Bilbo insisted was on the list because he is dressed up as the Highway Rat today. It’s his top pick both the book and the TV animation. The story of a Highway Rat who learns it doesn’t pay to be that way, in Donaldson’s winning rhyming style.

And the big number 21, our agreed favourite picture book is . . .

21. Come on Daisy by Jane Simmons

Orchard Books

We have all loved this one. Daisy Duck is a lovely character who features across a few books by Jane Simmons. In this first book, curious Daisy learns the importance of staying close to Mama duck. It uses simple yet beautiful language and really plays with pace and suspense. Even as babies, both Bo and Bilbo adored this as their bedtime read and were always delighted with the ending.

So that’s it! Seven and a half wonderful years of preschool reading captured in a list! Did you spot one of your favourites? Why not add your top 5 in the comments?

Happy World Book Day folks!

May your drink be hot, your seat be comfy and your reading joyous!

Thanks for Reading!

Anna xx

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