Ten best: Books for under-fives

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The Independent Culture

Lousada's photographic albums of baby faces have become a favourite with parents and a hit with the very youngest kind of "reader" - or rather, looker. Her work has been chosen for the £27m government-sponsored Bookstart collection of free books for pre-schoolers. This title also offers engaging rhymes and, at the end, a "mirror" page.

(Macmillan, £3.99)

2. All Fall Down by Helen Oxenbury

This writer's many books for babies combine the warm, beguiling style of a top illustrator with a cheerfully encouraging approach to all sorts of objects and activities. Look out as well for Tickle, Tickle and Say Goodnight, as well as the series that features Helping, Dressing and Playing. Her babies, by the way, are always a happily multiethnic gang.

(Walker, £3.99)

3. 10 Little Rubber Ducks by Eric Carle

Why not give the ubiquitous Hungry Caterpillar a rest and take a trip with the latest creation from this long-standing toddlers' superstar? Swept out to sea after a storm, Carle's toy ducks travel the world. Along the way, they introduce ideas about geography, animals, numbers and more. A vibrant and engrossing journey with one of the great children's artists.

(HarperCollins, £12.99)

4. Goodnight, Poppy Cat by Lara Jones

With Poppy Cat, Lara Jones has added a new feline champion to the young children's hall of fame. Brilliant colours, touchy-feely effects, well-designed flaps and a wealth of careful detail ensure the appeal of a series that covers all the bases. Among its other titles are Zoom, Zoom, Playtime and Yum, Yum, as well as excursions to Poppy Cat's Farm and Play House.

(Macmillan, £3.99)

5. Alfie's Alphabet by Shirley Hughes

Alfie is an enduring character who never overstays his welcome. Hughes' richly textured, affectionate style harks back to the best in Victorian illustration, while she also pioneered the depiction of the gritty urban reality of children's lives today. This alphabet book belongs in a gently instructive batch that includes Numbers and Weather.

(Bodley Head, £3.99)

6. Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Ahlberg

The Ahlbergs' much-loved treasury does more than just introduce a host of favourite nursery-rhyme and fairy-tale characters, from Cinderella and Mother Hubbard to the Three Bears. It invites young children to join a game of hide-and-seek in search of them, and promises the reward of clever and witty illustrations that grown-up readers-aloud will enjoy just as much.

(Viking, £10.99)

7. Baby Brains by Simon James

Baby Brains is the ultimate hothoused infant, mending cars and practising medicine while still in his first few weeks. This award-winning cult success was inspired by the author's ordeal on the receiving end of endless stories about his friends' Einsteins in nappies. It will delight toddlers as well as allow many parents a therapeutic laugh at their own neurotic pushiness.

(Walker, £10.99)

8. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

A classic, and rightly so. Donaldson's words, inventive and poetic, matter as much as Scheffler's pictures of woodland ogres who (like many of their sort) aren't exactly what they seem. The Gruffalo's Child is a worthy sequel, but don't overlook this pair's other triumphs, such as Room on the Broom and The Snail and the Whale.

(Macmillan, £5.99)

9. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

As gripping, ingenious and uplifting as ever, Sendak's story of Max and his glorious monsters keeps all its power to disturb and enchant. Sent to bed with no supper, Max meets terrifying creatures in the jungle of his bedroom - but none is scarier than the tantrum-prone child himself. A shrewd, fierce, healing book.

(Red Fox, £5.99)

10. I am Too Absolutely Small for School by Lauren Child

Child is the Tracey Emin of illustration for young children: provocative, fearless, funny, but full of spirit and warmth. When the fateful first day of school looms, this adventure of twins Charlie and Lola will help to defuse the terrors into laughter and anticipation. Also check out the author's Clarice Bean books.

(Orchard, £5.99)