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Ten must-reads for children under five

Child reading

About this list

Nothing beats the joy of getting lost in a good book. So this year, the National Literacy Trust is delighted to be partnering with Good Housekeeping to help young readers discover books that they will love. Together, with our panel of judges, we’ve drawn up a list of 50 books we feel all children need in their lives.

Judging Panel

  • Jonathan Douglas CBE is chief executive of the National Literacy Trust
  • Fiona Evans is director of school programmes at the National Literacy Trust
  • Angellica Bell is a presenter and began her career on children’s channel CBBC
  • Gaby Huddart is Good Housekeeping’s editor-in-chief
  • Joanne Finney has been books editor of Good Housekeeping since 2011

Top ten reads for under fives

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The bright colours and simple design of this classic, which was first published in 1969, means it appeals to even the youngest readers.

“The voracious caterpillar’s munching of fruit, Swiss cheese and a cheeky cupcake has delighted generations of children. But as well as irresistible holes to poke tiny fingers through, this book is an early learning delight of tasty words, basic counting, sequencing the days of the week and exploring growing up, from egg, to caterpillar, to glorious butterfly.” Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the National Literacy Trust.

Where The Wilds Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Considered by many to be one of the most original children’s books ever published, the story of Max and his enchanted journey to the Wild Things' kingdom continues to delight 60 years after it was first published.

“The genius of the book is that it recognises the conflicting needs in every very child for wild rumpuses and coming home to someone who loves you best of all. The illustrations offer endless storytelling discussions: In his wolf suit, was Max always a Wild Thing? And just keep an eye on the waxing moon!” Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the National Literacy Trust.

Peepo by Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg

The simple rhythm and detailed illustrations tell the story of a day in the life of a baby in the 1940s, from breakfast to bedtime, with circular cut-outs in the pages adding an extra layer of fun to the reading experience.

“This is a modern classic that has been around for a while but still continues to delight. The rhyming text is cleverly written and lures the audience in by asking, ‘What does the baby see?’ You actually feel like you’re playing a game of hide and seek!” Angellica Bell, TV presenter and guest judge.

So Much by Trish Cookie, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

Aunties, Gran-Gran, Nannie and more come to visit a new baby in this tender, joyful celebration of family life.

“So Much perfectly captures the pure joy of having a new baby in an extended family. All the family members love the baby in their own, unique ways. The exuberance of Trish Cooke’s words are matched by the warmth of Helen Oxenbury’s illustrations. There is nothing saccharine about this book; it is just so much… fun.” Fiona Evans, director of school programmes at the National Literacy Trust.

I Will Never Not Ever Eat A Tomato by Lauren Child

Lots of children will identify with fussy eater Lola whose big brother Charlie finds clever ways to persuade her to try new foods.

“This book tackles a difficult topic in a light-hearted way with funny siblings Charlie and Lola discussing the foods Lola will never ever eat. It’s helpful for parents and also fun for children who may need some encouragement at mealtimes.” Angellica Bell, TV presenter and guest judge.

Barbara Throws A Wobbler by Nadia Shireen

Barbara is having a bad day: first her sock feels weird, then there’s a strange pea at lunch... This poignant, funny book is a wonderful way to help children name their feelings.

“The hilarious words and illustrations make this as much of a joy to read as a grown up as it is to listen to as a child.” Joanne Finney, books editor of Good Housekeeping.

The Smartest Giant In Town by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

This funny, warm-hearted tale about a kindly giant combines Donaldson’s infectious rhymes and Scheffler’s imaginative illustrations.

“I am personally thrilled that the panel voted for this to be in our top 10 for young children - of the many books I read to my daughters when they were little, this is the one that we probably enjoyed the most. Indeed I read it so many times, that I would add in mistakes for them to spot! It’s entertaining, heart-warming and uplifting.” Gaby Huddart, editor-in-chief Good Housekeeping.

Look Up

Look Up by Nathan Bryon, illustrated by Dapo Adeola

Space-obsessed Rocket wants to be an astronaut like her hero Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space.

“This is such an inspiring story for any little girl - or boy - with big dreams.” Joanne Finney, books editor of Good Housekeeping.

Ruby's Worry by Tom Percival

This thoughtful book is a great springboard for encouraging young children to talk about their worries.

“Even very young children will have feelings and thoughts that concern them and this book is a brilliant way of encouraging them to talk about what’s bothering them and to show them that they are not alone - we all have worries and we all need to share them with others. The illustrations are magical, too.” Gaby Huddart, editor-in-chief Good Housekeeping.

We're Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

There’s just enough tension in this classic story to keep children on the edge of their seat and the simple repeated rhymes make it a pleasure to read aloud.

“Michael Rosen’s rhythmic and onomatopoeic words are repeated across generations, on family walks, in homes, in nurseries and in schools everywhere. Helen Oxenbury modelled the illustrations on her own children and dog. Some have seen it as a story about over-coming the inevitable obstacles in life, but it is a fun, read-aloud book to be shared and enjoyed on any level.” Fiona Evans, director of school programmes at the National Literacy Trust.

Going on a bear hunt

Buy one of the books on this list for your child

If you liked the sound of any of the books on this list you can purchase them from the link below.