If you’re looking for some screen-free alternatives to keep kids of all ages occupied – whether it’s for some down-time between racing around, during long car journeys or when the weather isn’t playing ball – you really can’t beat a colouring book.
Much has been made of the mindful benefits of adult colouring books, but the effects on children are even more impressive, with colouring books praised for helping with everything from developing fine motor skills, to encouraging patience and relaxation.
Our testers – aged two, five and eight – put a number of colouring books through their paces for over a month, to help us create our round-up of the best colouring books for kids you can buy today.
When it comes to buying a colouring book your kids will enjoy, you need to pick something age-appropriate (some of the simpler designs held no interest for our oldest tester) and with a theme they’ll engage with, whether that’s animals, fashion, space or something entirely different.
Today, colouring books offer a lot more than just the challenge of staying inside the lines. Many of the books we tested included extras such as sticker sheets, facts, learning activities and handwriting practice – and these helped keep the kids interested and engaged for longer.
Paper quality and design are so important when picking the best colouring books, but, ultimately, it was the illustrations – and whether they had that essential kid-appeal – which gave these colouring books the thumbs-up across the board.
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These are the best kids’ colouring books for 2021:
- Best overall – Unicorns, Narwhals and More colouring book: £3:50, Hobbycraft.co.uk
- Best for younger children – Orchard Toys Outer Space colouring book: £3, Orchardtoys.com
- Best for imaginative play – Olli Ella playpa paper roll: £15, Kidly.co.uk
- Best for educational fun – The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s nature sticker & colouring book: £5.99, Jojomamanbebe.co.uk
- Best for creative kids – Squibbles by Jay Stansfield: £8, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for toddlers – Crayola Peppa Pig colour wonder mess-free colouring: £7.44, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for celebrating diversity – Little People, Big Dreams colouring book: £5.95, Grumpykid.co.uk
- Best for hours of fun – Papercraft fashion parade: £12, Learningresources.co.uk
- Best for animal fans – Wonderous Animals from Around the World colouring book: £3.95, Blackandwhitebookproject.com
- Best for on-the-go – Tiny Tinc’s colouring book: £7.50, Tinc.co.uk
Unicorns, Narwhals and More colouring book
This bumper colouring book offers great value for money, with 100 pages of fun illustrations as well as 50 stickers and five unicorn-shaped crayons. The cute factor is strong here. All of our testers were immediately drawn to this colouring book – the crayons have fantastic novelty value – but what impressed us was how long they played with it and how often they came back to it. High praise indeed, especially for a fickle five-year-old!
The A4 illustrations include everything from astronauts and toucans, to repeat patterns of flowers and fruit (complete with smiley faces), so there’s a good mix of intricacy to keep all levels of “colourer” entertained.
It’s worth noting, that while the unicorn crayons did a decent job of colouring the bigger illustrations, you’d be better off digging out some extra crayons or colouring pencils to do the job properly and to hold your child’s attention for longer. An excellent rainy-day saviour.
Orchard Toys outer space colouring book
Best: For younger children
Orchard Toys know what they’re doing when it comes to combining education with fun. This space-themed colouring book is a perfect choice for preschoolers or those who’ve just started school – our reception-age tester was a huge fan. As well as simple, easy-to-colour illustrations on each page, this colouring book features dotted-line words to help practise handwriting and pen control, stickers to add to every page, dot-to-dot games and spot the difference. There’s not enough here to hold the attention of an older child, but for little kids, you really can’t go wrong.
Olli Ella playpa paper roll
Best: For imaginative play
Not your typical colouring book, this paper roll has eight metres of illustrations ready to keep the little ones busy – and we found it a total gamechanger. Rolled out across the kitchen table, or on the floor, this was a kid magnet and kept our testers busy for almost an hour – absolutely unheard of when they usually lose interest after 10 minutes!
We love the creative possibilities with this paper roll, and it was fascinating to watch the different ways our testers used it, with some colouring in the designs, others adding their own pictures to the scenes and one grabbing their toy cars and driving them along the illustrated road.
It’s more expensive than the others in our round-up, but the playpa paper roll is worth every penny, as our testers all happily sat alongside each other, immersed in their own imaginative world on their own little stretch of paper.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s nature sticker & colouring book
Best: For educational fun
This colouring and activity book, based on the iconic children’s story The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is packed with learning opportunities about the seasons, nature, counting and colours. Fans of the book will love this, but there’s plenty here to keep kids of different ages engaged.
It’s fair to say the amazing stickers, featuring the late Eric Carle’s unmistakable illustrations, are the stars of the show here, and perhaps it’s more of a sticker book than a colouring book, but with a large, intricate butterfly, caterpillar, bee, ladybird and rainbow to colour in, there’s plenty of opportunity to get creative with crayons or pencils.
Squibbles by Jay Stansfield
Best: For creative kids
This quirky colouring journal is the perfect antidote to those cries of “I’m bored!”. Featuring artist Jay Stansfield’s cute and quirky illustrations – we’re talking all manner of sea creatures, monsters, robots and more – there’s space for kids to add their own thoughts, as well as plenty of room for their own hand-drawn creations.
Our testers, especially the older ones, loved the weird and wonderful characters that fill this book, and even tried to copy the pictures themselves on the blank facing pages. It’s fun without being “babyish”, there’s plenty of scope for individual creativity, there’s lots to keep them busy, and it was declared “the coolest colouring book ever” by one of our “colourers”. A hit all round.
Crayola Peppa Pig colour wonder mess-free colouring
Best: For toddlers
Colouring in, minus any mess? We’re sold! The genius colour wonder range includes five special markers that only show up on the pages, leaving clothes, tables and fingers all mark-free. Each pack includes 18 colouring pages featuring popular children’s characters – we tried out the Peppa Pig themed pack, but you can choose from all sorts of designs, from Baby Shark to Disney Princesses.
It takes a couple of seconds for the colour to appear when using the markers and our younger testers were hooked by the “magic” of it all. A great choice for travelling or as a mess-free (and screen-free) way to keep the kids entertained when out for a meal.
Little People, Big Dreams colouring book
Best: For celebrating diversity
Based on the hugely popular series of kid-friendly biographies, the Little People, Big Dreams colouring book celebrates some of the most inspirational figures through history and the present day. Including trailblazers such as Muhammad Ali, Frida Kahlo, Maya Angelou and Greta Thunberg, the book features a full-page illustration of each iconic figure, alongside the story of their life – all written in an accessible way for children to understand and engage with.
Our five-year-old tester is already a big fan of the books and was equally taken with this colouring-in version, while our older tester really enjoyed getting stuck into the detailed illustrations. We found this not only an excellent colouring book, but also a great opportunity to open up conversations about how these icons made such an impact on the world.
Papercraft fashion parade
Best: For hours of fun
Essentially a modern update of the traditional dress-up paper dolls, this colouring kit has plenty to keep the kids engrossed during the school holidays. To start with, there are 24 dolls and 160 outfit stickers to colour in, then there’s the chance to get creative and dress up the dolls using the stickers. We loved that the stickers were easy enough to stick and unstick – perfect for when our testers inevitably changed their mind about what to stick where.
It’s pricier than your typical colouring book, but there are so many ways to use it – plus the quality is excellent – that we feel it more than justifies the cost. A word of warning though, the nostalgic appeal is strong here and there’s every chance your child won’t get a look in once you’ve had a go yourself…
Wonderous Animals From Around The World colouring book
Best: For animal fans
With the aim of introducing young children to a wide range of animals, this charming colouring book features bold line drawings of the recognisable – think kangaroo, hedgehog, snake – to the more unusual, like the cassowary and pangolin. The clear designs grabbed our younger testers’ attention immediately and they loved colouring in the animals and their background habitat – as well as asking lots of questions about the ones they’d not heard of before.
It’s smaller in size than the other colouring books we tested, but we found this really handy for popping in our bag, along with a pack of crayons, as an emergency distraction when out.
Another thing that gets the thumbs-up is the brand’s eco-credentials, with a dedication to using FSC certified and recycled paper, plastic-free packaging, as well as donating 25 per cent of profits to wildlife charities.
Tiny Tinc’s colouring book
Best: For on-the-go
With everything in one place, this colouring set from the kids’ stationery brand Tinc is the perfect choice for holidays or car journeys. Inside the ziplock silicone carry case there’s a 50-page colouring book and a pack of six chunky crayons, so your little artists can get to work straightaway.
Featuring a mix of animals, crazy creatures and cute characters, there’s plenty to appeal to kids of all ages. We liked how some of the illustrations were simple enough for our two-year-old tester to colour/scribble in, while others were more detailed, giving our older testers something to concentrate on for more than five minutes.
Everything from the paper to crayons impressed on quality, and the case will definitely be useful long after the book has been completely coloured in.
The verdict: Kids’ colouring books
We were won over by Unicorns, Narwals and More – with pages and pages of cute illustrations, as well as the added bonus of crayons and stickers, it offers amazing value for money and kept all of our testers busy. A special mention must go to the playpa paper roll, which seriously impressed with all of its different creative play possibilities.
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