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Once upon a time there were stories … the wonder of sharing picture books with young children

Published on: 16/10/2019

Reading together is a great opportunity for cosying up and bonding with a young child. The rhythm of a familiar voice will develop listening skills and interacting with pictures will stimulate an interest in sounds and images. What is happening here between parent and child is that a vital connection is made between the things your baby loves most; your presence, closeness and voice and books. This communicates in a deep way that reading is enjoyable and important well before your child will follow a story.

Babies will explore books using all their senses which is why the best loved baby books will often have teeth marks, unidentifiable stains and missing lift the flaps. As children grow and develop they will become involved and immersed in stories and easily and naturally the child’s vocabulary will build, communication will fire and imagination blossom. This will happen if the emphasis is on the pleasure of reading rather than prematurely teaching sounds and letters, getting more joy from the book.

Stories also provide a context for social and emotional development, a safe way for children to deal with difficult emotions of fear (like the Owl Babies) anger (like Max in the Wild Things) loss (like Dogger) shyness (like in Alfie lends a hand). These everyday emotional experiences are very significant for the child, and a story provides reassurance and resolution: the Owl mother returns, Max’s supper is waiting for him, Min overcomes her shyness.

Older children who can read by themselves will still enjoy being read to especially when they are tired or in need of closeness or comfort. A report from Oxford University Press documented that 44% of parents stop reading to children once the child reaches seven. The report was led by James Clements, a former leader at an outstanding inner city primary school. Clements said: “With all the research proving that reading for pleasure is inextricably linked to attainment and benefits all aspects of children’s lives, parents need to understand the huge impact reading with their children can make and how vital it is that reading for pleasure doesn’t stop at the school gate but is continued at home.”

Author Shirley Hughes also reminds us about the impact of technology on children’s reading lives and the importance of interaction with the natural world for children’s development:

“I do very much want to encourage children to look out, away from all the very powerful electronic stimulation which is coming at them, to enjoy the sky, the moon, leaves, stones, because wherever you live it’s fabulously beautiful out there.”

So take a tip from our Early Years staff team out there and share a favourite book with a child you love.


Early Years Top 10 Children’s Picture Books

  1. ‘Owl Babies’ by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
  2. ‘Through My Window’ by Tony Bradman and Eileen Browne
  3. ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak
  4. ‘Not Now Bernard’ by David Mc Kee
  5. ‘A Nice Walk in the Jungle’ by Nan Bodsworth
  6. ‘Dogger’ by Shirley Hughes
  7. ‘So Much’ by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury
  8. ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ by Judith Kerr
  9. ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
  10. ‘The Paper Bag Princess’ by Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko


  • Interview with Shirley Hughes, Flic Everett, The Guardian, Saturday 9 February 2013
  • Books Beyond Bedtime, Clements, J , Oxford University Press 2013

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