Between the ages of four and seven - in school terms this is Reception and Key Stage one - is when most children learn to read. For some children this involves starting with basic books with simpler and fewer words; while others take to reading with speedy gusto, zipping through picture books and straight onto chapter books.
It’s important to get books right at this age, while making it all about fun and not about being forced to read. Get this right and you’ll create readers for life, able to banish boredom with a browse of the bookshelf. The ideal book opens up a whole new world to the reader, so we’ve sought out some of the best that do so for this age group, from the “real” world of space exploration to the imaginary world of a braggado pigeon via boogying fruit. Everyone should enjoy these, whether being read to, reading with help or reading alone.
1. Rabbit’s Bad Habits by Julian Gough, illustrated by Jim Field: £5.25, Hachette Children's Group
We would not be surprised if the Rabbit and Bear series is one today’s children buy for their own children and grandchildren for a nostalgia-fest. The topics are age-old – friendship, truth and the quest for knowledge. But the humour, illustrations and poo jokes are bang up to date. Illustrator Jim Field’s website is well worth a visit too, for a look at how the book came to be.
2. Kitchen Disco by Clare Foges, illustrated by Al Murphy: £6.29, Faber & Faber
It’s a fine line between fun and terror when authors bring inanimate objects to life, but the brightly coloured images (including a sparkly glitter ball) and jaunty tune of Kitchen Disco falls firmly on the fun side. According to this book, when you’re sound asleep the fruit in your fruit bowl has a party – an idea that seems to resonate with children whatever their age. So lovely is this book that the Booktrust is gifting a copy to every child in Reception this year, though if your child misses out, it’s well worth investing in a copy. A fab little cartoon of the book can also be found on the Booktrust website and Youtube.
3. Lift the flap: Fairy Tales by Roger Priddy: £7.92, Priddy Books
Although lift the flap books often appeal to younger readers, the beautiful illustrations of classic fairy tales in this book make it a winner with all ages. Beneath each flap is a sentence about the story, so older readers familiar with the originals will be reminded of the tales. Younger readers may need help with this, so adults may want to bone up on their fairy tales first.
4. Snow by Walter de la Mare, illustrated by Carolina Rabei: £6.59 Faber & Faber
Bringing the poetry of English children’s poet Walter de la Mare to new audiences, Faber & Faber’s reissue of his poem Snow, with beautiful wintry illustrations from Carolina Rabei, could well introduce a lifetime love of poetry and language. The series also includes The Ride-by-Nights and Summer Evening, and shows that poetry, even “serious” poetry, needn’t be exclusive.
5. Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst: £6.59 Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
This book is a whistlestop tour of some of the famous women who have changed the world, including the author’s forebear Emmeline Pankhurst, as well as Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks and Coco Chanel. The fun illustrations prove an ideal gateway to the serious topics that come up. This should be required reading for all girls and boys (especially the boys).
6. Thumbelina by Xanthe Gresham, illustrated by Charlotte Gastaut: £5.45, Barefoot Books
Most people know who Thumbelina is, or her size at least, but it’s one of the lesser known fairy tales when it comes to detail. This version, for more confident readers in this age group, both in terms of language and the sense of peril, is beautiful illustrated with a feisty, clever protagonist.
7. George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake: £5.05, Puffin
Everyone has their own favourite Dahl, and many kids will already know his books including Esio Trot and The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me, but for those ready for a bit more excitement and naughtiness, George’s Marvellous Medicine is ideal. Stuck at home with his hideous grandmother, George decides to make her a medicine all by himself, with unintended, though not unwelcome, consequences. Disclaimer: We will not take responsibility for your child trying the same.
8. Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake: £5.45, Gecko Press
Gecko Press is a New Zealand based publisher that brings the best children’s books from around the world to an English speaking audience. Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is a Japanese tale about a friendship between an African Giraffe and his pen friend, a penguin. With beautifully simple illustrations and a hope-filled ending, it is an ideal introduction to Japanese literature.
9. Dave Pigeon by Swapna Haddow, illustrated by Sheena Dempsey: £4.78, Faber & Faber
It seems that pigeons are ‘in’. First we had the success for younger readers of Mo Willems’ Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus, now we have Dave Pigeon, an unlikely hero who tells us of his adventure with Mean Cat, in a laugh-out-loud book that promises to have “no boring bits”, and manages to live up to this claim.
10. Princess Smartypants and the Missing Princes by Babette Cole: £5.49, Hodder Children’s Books
Just because Princess Smartypants doesn’t want a prince of her own it doesn’t mean she’s opposed to them existing at all. The same goes for weddings. So when all the princes go missing instead of turning up to the engagement party she is hosting for her friends, Princess Smarty¬pants goes on a mission. Princess Smartypants first appeared thirty years ago as a picture book character, so if you loved these when younger you’ll also enjoy this great next step to longer fiction.
11. The Usborne Official Astronaut's Handbook, by Louie Stowell, illustrated by Roger Simo: £4.59, Usborne Publishing
Officially for a slightly older age range, it would be a shame not to capitalize on all the work Tim Peake did with British schoolchildren to enthuse them about space, and this book has gone down well with the five and six year olds we’ve tried it out on. Peake has contributed an introduction and the book is full of facts about how space travel works and what to do if you want to be an astronaut yourself.
The Verdict: Books for 4 to 7-year-olds
We love the Walter de la Mare series of poetry books from Faber & Faber, for introducing kids to the stirring in the soul that can come from a moving poem, though our best buy, because they will want to keep this for their own kids, is Hachette Children’s Rabbit's Bad Habits by Julian Gough and Jim Field – a true pleasure.
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