As part of our #WHSBookmarks focus on children’s books, we took to Facebook and Twitter to ask our followers to recommend the best books for children under 5. The votes came in thick and fast and it became clear pretty quickly that there are a few authors that you have a soft spot for. Take a look at the twenty books that received the most votes below, including the title that you crowned the #1 book for children under 5.
For those of you who have seen the results of your votes for the best books for babies and toddlers, it probably comes as no surprise that we’re kicking off this top 20 with another fantastic book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. The Smartest Giant in Town is another charming story with a great moral lesson, accompanied by the brilliant illustrations of Axel Scheffler.
“#WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s The gruffalo, the gruffalo’s child, room on the broom, a squash and a squeeze and the smartest giant in town! We love Julia Donaldson in our house! My son who is 5 and I love these books” – Laura GibsonWith his patched old gown and brown sandals, George is the scruffiest giant in town and he’s had enough of it. When a shop that sells clothes for giants opens up, George is thrilled and decides to buy himself an entire new suit, including shoes, socks and even a tie! On the way home George bumps into several animals who are all in need of help and ends up giving away all his new clothes to solve their various problems. Back in his old gown and sandals, the grateful animals reward George for being the kindest giant in town. Written in verse but still maintaining some of Julia’s well-loved rhymes, this simple story is perfect for little readers to enjoy right up to the age of 5 and beyond.
Winnie the Witch and her cat Wilbur make a fantastic pair for little ones to read about. The picture books were first published in 1987 and have proven to be as relevant and popular with children today as they were back then. Originally written and illustrated by the talented Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul, the books have been so successful that they’ve even been turned into a young fiction series by Laura Owen, also illustrated by Korky Paul.
“It has to be the gruffalo for me! Altho my daughter loved Winnie the witch #WHSmithbookmarks #booksforU5’s” – Elisa Bray
In the very first book, we meet Winnie and Wilbur in their first mishap as Winnie loses black cat Wilbur against the black decor of her house. But after she turns Wilbur green she then loses him in grass. The only solution seems to be to turn Wilbur a variety of bright colours, but Wilbur does not like his new colourful appearance and Winnie feels sorry for him. To make sure everyone is happy, Winnie changes the inside of her house a spectrum of different colours and Wilbur can return to his usual black cat look.
This classic picture book which was both written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak has been a favourite with children for over 50 years.
“#WHSBookmarks #Booksforu5s Where is the Green Sheep? and Where the Wild Things Are. Two very different but awesome books. They are even my favs.” – Bek Ardrey
The story follows a little boy named Max who is sent to bed without supper after running around the house causing mischief in his wolf costume. Up in his bedroom, Max finds himself in a jungle with a river and a boat, which he sails in to reach an island filled with beasts known as the ‘wild things’. Max dominates the wild things and is crowned king, but after the fun ends and the wild things are all sent to bed, he starts to get lonely and decides that he should go home. Back in his normal bedroom Max is comforted by a hot supper that has been left for him. Interestingly, the book was apparently meant to be called ‘Land of Wild Horses’, but Maurice’s editor persuaded him to change the title after he admitted that he can’t draw horses.
It seems Julia Donaldson is going to be another popular choice for little ones in this top 20 as she makes another appearance at #17 with What the Ladybird Heard. The story is of a little ladybird that makes a huge difference to the farm by foiling the plans of two bad men intent on stealing a prize cow. The ladybird overhears their plans and warns the other animals. The ladybird then comes up with a plan for the animals to swap their traditional noises with each other to confuse the men long enough for the police to show up and arrest them.
“Both of my girls age 5 and 3 love all the Julia Donaldson books (singing mermaid and what the ladybird heard especially) and the apple tree farm books #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s xx” – Natalie Jane Sugden
With the usual rhyming couplet format that parents and children love to read out loud and gorgeous illustrations by Lydia Monks, it’s no wonder that this book is such a big hit with under 5’s.
Husband and wife Janet and Allan Ahlberg have proved to be a popular choice in our best books for babies and toddlers poll, and again they’ve made the top 20 for children under 5. Each Peach Pear Plum includes many well-known children’s characters that little ones adore recognising, and there are clues as to who the next character will be in the illustrations for children to find.
“Each peach pear plum. Peepo #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Sophie Kennett
The rhyme is structured around the characters that our narrator spies and has a bouncy rhythm that is perfect to read aloud together.
A story of a little snail who makes a huge difference, this story by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler has charmed many children and received fantastic critical acclaim. It has been awarded the Early Years Award for best pre-school book, the Blue Peter Award for best book to read aloud and the Giverny Award for best science picture book.
“Anything by julia donalson, particularly the snail and the whale, the gruffalo, and the gruffalos child. #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Ema Coates
When a humpback whale answers a little snail’s advert to see the world, the pair embark on a great adventure seeing sharks, volcanoes and penguins. Seeing the world makes the snail feel very small, but when a distraction causes the whale to get beached it’s down to her to save the day and get help. If you look carefully you may notice a little Gruffalo drawn in the dirt in one of the pictures – a funny idea by Axel Scheffler that has continued in many of their books ever since.
A fun book that teaches little ones about animals, Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo has been a children’s favourite for over 25 years. Within the story we’re offered a number of different zoo animals that might make good pets, but none are appropriate until the most perfect pet is suggested.
“Dear Zoo for my youngest with all the difference creatures and he makes all the animal sounds too” – Helen Tobin-Perry
With a lift-the-flap design, children can interact with this book to discover the animals hiding behind the flaps, producing lots of fun to be enjoyed again and again. Many of us enjoyed reading this classic when we were young, and now enjoy sharing it with our own children too.
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler appear for the third time in this top 20 with their fun story of a witch and her cat who end up in trouble after giving various animals a ride on their broomstick.
“@WHSmith Room On The Broom. It’s been a fave at our house for 15 years. 🙂 #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Bethan
When a storm blows away the witch’s hat, bow and wand, they’re each picked up and returned to her by a frog, bird and dog. In return, the animals ask for a ride on the witch’s broomstick which the kind witch agrees to. But soon there are far too many of them and everything quickly turns to disaster.
Authors Dougie Poynter and Tom Fletcher are better known as members of the popular band McFly, but their series of books about dinosaurs Danny and Dino has shown them to be successful children’s authors too.
“The dinosaur that pooped Christmas xx my little girl loves it. #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Theresa Spraggon
Accompanied by hilarious illustrations by Garry Parsons, The Dinosaur That Pooped the Past, The Dinosaur That Pooped Christmas and The Dinosaur That Pooped a Planet always have children in fits of giggles. The rhyming story is great fun to read aloud together and children love guessing the end of the sentences – especially when those sentences are talking about dinosaurs and poop!
Roald Dahl is still one of the most popular children’s authors today, with stories that children can truly relate to and humour that never patronises. The BFG is now more than 30 years old but kids are still just as captivated by the friendly giant who eats snozzcucumbers instead of children and blows dreams through children’s bedroom windows at night.
“All About My Naughty Little Sister and The BFG” – Christina Upton
When little orphan Sophie meets the BFG and witnesses the awful other giants, she persuades the BFG to speak to the Queen of England about imprisoning them. Whimsical, wondrous and incredibly imaginative, The BFG is a fantastic choice to nurture young children’s interest in reading. If your little ones loves the BFG then keep an eye for Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation, due to be released in 2016.
Judith Kerr’s classic story is one likely to be passed down from generation to generation for years to come, already having been around for nearly 50 years.
“Mine was the tiger who came to tea I loved it grin emoticon#WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Amy Louise Winskill
Perfectly whimsical and a joy to read aloud, children love the story of a tiger who rings the doorbell just as Sophie and her mother are about to sit down for tea. Ultimately the family forgive the tiger for the chaos he causes in their home after they let him in, offering a great moral message for children to read. The colourful illustrations to accompany it make this book one that your child will want to read time after time.
Full of fun sounds to make together and gorgeous illustrations, Jill Murphy’s picture book Peace at Last is perfect for little one to enjoy.
“Jill Murphy Peace At Last, oh the happy memories#WHSBookmarks#BooksForUs” – Julie Scott
“Peace at Last, I loved it as a kid and so did my little boy.#WHSbookmarks #booksforu5s x” – Sara Ainsworth
With Mummy Bear snoring, the tap dripping and the clock ticking, poor Mr Bear can’t get to sleep. A sentiment that we think many parents of children under 5 can relate to! There are plenty of opportunities for theatrics when reading this book so prepare for plenty of audience participation.
We’ve had a lot of golden oldies in this top 20 so far, and while we of course love reading the books we enjoyed when we were young to our own children, sometimes it’s fun to read something fresh that will keep our spirits up when we’re asked to re-read it for the hundredth time.
“@WHSmith #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s “Aliens Love Underpants” Claire Freedman my little #Bookworm adores it! x” – Rebecca Fletcher
Aliens Love Underpants is a mad adventure with plenty of exciting illustrations to engage distracted infants – make sure you keep an eye out for the cat that pops up in most of the pictures. With bouncy rhymes, this is a great book to read aloud together, and the hilarious mischief of the aliens who come to Earth to steal underpants will have you both giggling.
The winner of our best books for babies and toddlers poll, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a classic that children love to read throughout their early years.
“@WHSmith The Very Hungry Caterpillar 🙂 a classic but a firm fave in our house! even I enjoy it teehee 🙂 #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Kirsty Kovacs
Eye-catching with beautifully colourful illustrations and a sweet story, it’s not hard to understand why this book has been a favourite for so many little ones. And with a subtle educational theme, there’s plenty for parents to like about it too. 46 years later and it’s still a hugely popular title with children under 5.
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler have done it again, this time coming in at #6 with Monkey Puzzle. A delightful story of a little monkey who has lost his mum, this clever picture book lets us explore different animals as a helpful butterfly tries to help the little monkey. The butterfly suggests different animals who could be the monkey’s mum but they’re all completely unsuitable suggestions.
“Dear Zoo, Tiddler, Monkey Puzzle, Gruffolo’s child – any Julia Donaldson book #WHSBoomarks #BooksForU5s” – Sarah O’Brien
Once again Axel’s stunning illustrations bring this book to life while Julia’s rhymes and repetition are great fun to read aloud – a perfect recipe for young children.
Now the countdown for the top 5! Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men and Little Miss books are an incredibly popular series, offering a familiar format in each book that little children can get lost in. Everyone has a favourite character – whether it’s poor Mr Bump or the vibrant Little Miss Chatterbox – and we’re sure many of you have been compared to a character once or twice in your time.
“@WHSmith all of the Mr Men books! My little one loves them and is now starting to read them himself 🙂 #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Hertschick
The first book in the series was the wonderfully mischievous Mr Tickle, created back in the 1970’s when Roger Hargreaves’ son asked him what a tickle looks like. Since then the books are proving just as popular with children today and there are now over 80 characters to read about!
Topsy and Tim have helped many children learn about the world and the new experiences they’ll have to get used to as they grow up, including going to the dentist, moving home and even catching lice. The first books were created back in 1959 by husband and wife team Jean and Gareth Adamson. The intention of the pair was to create more realistic characters that children could relate to, and the idea of making their characters twins allowed them to show different reactions to a new situation.
“Topsy & Tim books & Julia Donaldson books #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Vicki Nicholls
Sadly Gareth died in 1982 but Jean is still involved with the Topsy and Tim books of today, working with illustrators to maintain that same feel that has made this series so popular with little ones.
This is possibly one of the most fun and exciting books to read aloud together, as the family make their way through various environments on their hunt to find a bear. With catchy repetition and fun onomatopoeia to join in with, children love shouting out the noises the family make as they squelch and squerch through the mud.
“#WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s firm favourites for us are “Going on a Bear Hunt” and “The Gruffalo” and “The Whale And The Snail” – Sarah Sedge Bell
Charming little ones and getting parents out of their seats to act out the story for more than 25 years, we think this book will continue to be a favourite for many years to come.
In a dark, dark town there was a dark, dark street… we’re betting you can easily finish the next few lines for us. This funny story by Allan and Janet Ahlberg about a family of skeletons is wonderfully unique and fun, and told perfectly with repetition that kids can join in with.
“Vegetable glue, funny bones, Brothers Grimm which my grandchildren love, Aga 6 5 and 3” – Dorabella Grace
The story follows the family as they set out into the night to scare. But when they can’t find anyone that’s awake, not even any animals at the zoo, they end up having lots of fun scaring each other instead. Complete with the fantastic illustrations that Janet Ahlberg is well-loved for, this is one book that is going to get pretty worn out and dog-eared as your little ones pick it from the bookshelf again and again.
And the Best Book for Children Under 5 as Voted by You is…
Yes that’s right, not only have Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler featured four times in this list already (and a fifth time for Julia) you’ve also voted them as the #1 book for children under 5 with their brilliant story The Gruffalo. Arguably their most well-known character, The Gruffalo and the little mouse who tricks him have become favourites for many young children.
“@WHSmith Sure it’s a popular choice but don’t think there are many better than The Gruffalo for the little ones #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Christine Doc
“#WHSBookmarks #BooksforU5s any book by Julia Donaldson she is a master of children books.” – Michelle Gibbons
“My 4 month old loves me reading The Gruffalo to her #WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s” – Cherry May Havard
“Pretty much anything by Julia Donaldson is a hit in our house! Especially the gruffalo and room on a broom! My little girl knows them off by heart and now reads them to me (she’s 4!)” – Michelle Hughes
#WHSBookmarks #BooksForU5s we love anything by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schaefer but especially the gruffalo” – Karen Longley
Once again it’s Julia’s infectious rhymes finished off with Axel’s enchanting illustrations that keeps children engrossed by the story and wanting to read it again and again. Just as popular today as it was 15 years ago, we have a feeling this is going to be a book that generation after generation will enjoy with their little ones.
Take a look through the top 150 books that you recommended as the best books for children under 5 here: