Raising a Reader

These are the highlights of my son Sam’s reading journey so far: his favourite books, our trips to the library, author encounters, and book-related play.

The Pre-School Reader (Sam aged 3 & 4)

I decided that I wanted to familiarise Sam with the characters, settings and structures of traditional tales. They’re such a big part of our shared literary culture and they influence, or are referenced in, lots of other books that he’s likely to read as he grows up. Up to this point, we hadn’t read that many fairy tales so we had quite a lot to choose from at the library. I deliberately avoided the fairy tales where women are rescued by men because I want my son to understand that women and girls are strong and capable. So no Cinderella, Snow White or Sleeping Beauty for us. Particular favourites of Sam’s were: Jack and the Beanstalk, The Three Billy Goats Gruff and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. 


Sam (and Mommy) have also enjoyed Bethan Woollvin’s re-workings of traditional tales. She’s created fierce, independent females who are perfectly capable of looking after themselves.


Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin


Toddler Tales (Sam aged 1 & 2)

Sam’s love of reading continues to grow. We are so lucky because we receive lots of amazing book post from many generous publishers and Sam is almost as excited as me when the postman arrives with our book parcels. Thanks very much to everyone who has been kind enough to send us review copies. They really do make our day. 😊

a7a168ae-b66d-4ff0-b3d7-430749ea3ad9We are still frequent visitors to the library and have started to join in with some organised bookish activities there too. As a single parent with limited disposable income, I really appreciate these activities as they are usually free or very cheap to attend. They are also a great way to be part of our local community and for both Mommy and Sam to meet people. First, there was the teddy bears’ book picnic: books and food – a winning combination! Sam also had the chance to make a teddy bear mask and decorate a teddy bear cake.


Sam particularly enjoyed the bug hunt in the library garden too. 🕷 🐛 🐜 This was an activity organised in collaboration with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust during October half term. After the bug hunt, the children decorated cardboard spiders. They added pipe cleaner legs, googly eyes and sparkly gems. These were then used in a fabulous spooky display in the library. I was super proud to see Sam’s art work on the wall.



07D8CF93-4C99-47D4-ABE2-8BEA8D0ACEC9We moved house in 2018 to Kings Heath in Birmingham and one of our top priorities was registering at our new library. As you can see, Sam settled in straight away.

Sam has experienced some bookish ‘firsts’ as a toddler: his first theatre trip (to see the stage adaptation of one of our favourite books), his first book festival, and his first author event at a bookshop.

Aside from all this being immensely enjoyable for Sam and me, I see lots of other fabulous benefits from our time with books. Sam’s vocabulary has been wonderfully  enriched. I frequently hear him using words he’s heard in books in his everyday conversation: he’s described his bath toys as ‘bobbing’ in the bath and his toy dinosaurs as ‘stomping’ across the floor. Sharing a story together has provided comfort to Sam when he’s been ill, and soothed a tantrum or two. He incorporates stories we’ve read together into his play. We built a den in the living room and he said it was the little pig’s straw house. We then re-enacted the story together, taking it in turns to play the big bad wolf and each of the pigs and we used the story language too! And most exciting of all, he’s becoming a reader! He has favourite books, recognises books by their spine or their cover, knows their titles, and is able to join in with the rhymes and refrains and even recite whole sections. He read Dig and Tip, a very simple repetitive book, all by himself. Admittedly, he drew lots on the picture cues and the same sentence was used on each page with just one word changing but, hey, that’s how reading starts!


Monkey Do! by Allan Ahlberg & André Amstutz

Sam’s favourite toy is his Monkey (pictured) and so we’re always drawn to books about monkeys. We loved the rhyme and repetition in this book and Sam was quickly able to join in with the refrain. In the story Monkey escapes from the zoo and spends the day among the residents of the local town. He helps deliver the milk and the post, joins in with the Biggins family and their school run, and then spends a day in class. He even manages to assist the fire brigade with a rescue. Sam loved all the fun things that the mischievous Monkey gets up to and there was so much for him to look at in the pictures.

Published by Walker Books, 1998.


Beep, Beep, Let’s Go! by Eleanor Taylor

We have read this over and over! For Sam, I think its appeal was twofold: the lovely onomatopoeic language and the fact that it’s packed full of vehicles.

Published by Bloomsbury, 2005.


A day with the Animal Railway by Sharon Rentta

The perfect choice for a train journey.

This is a firm favourite. Sam loves trains and travelling by train. When we made our first intercity train journey, he made sure we packed Animal Railway in our bag. The text is a little wordy for Sam so Mommy paraphrases and summarises. He gets lots of enjoyment from looking at the illustrations and talking about all the different things he can see going on. The pictures are really packed with detail and we love all the different animal characters.

Published by Alison Green Books, an imprint of Scholastic, 2017.


DK Children’s Encyclopedia


My Digger is Bigger by Lou Kuenzler & Dan Taylor

Published by Scholastic, 2017.


Look and Say What You See on the Farm


199 Things that go



Red Car, Red Bus by Susan Steggall

Sam and I have read this book together so many times! We’ve renewed it from the library again and again. We initially chose it because Sam loves spotting and naming the different vehicles that we see when we’re out and about. He was certainly drawn to all the familiar buses, trucks, cars and motorbikes in the book. The text is very simple: lists of vehicles with their colours. The real richness is in the illustrations. They tell separate stories to the words and this is why we love Red Car, Red Bus so much. There’s so much happening on each page; the street scenes are packed with life. There are characters and plots to follow from page to page. You choose who or what to follow and you create the narrative. The book can be different each time you read. We certainly noticed new things every time.

Published by Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2012.


A Recipe for Bedtime by Peter Bently & Sarah Massini

I chose this book for us to read together at bedtime because the little curly haired blonde boy in the story looks just like Sam! A Recipe for Bedtime soon became one of Sam’s favourite bedtime books. The similarity between our bedtime routine and that in the book really helped. Sam clearly identified with what was going on. Sarah Massini’s illustrations are gorgeous.

Published by Hodder Children’s Books, 2014.





Let’s Look at Buildings by Britta Teckentrup


Published by Boxer Books, 2015.


Wow! What a Body Can Do by Kathy Henderson & Paul Howard

Sam absolutely loves looking at all the different babies in this book. He’s fascinated by what they’re doing. It helps that everything is so familiar: bath time, meal times, crawling, smiling, giggling. The short sentences, rhymes and onomatopoeia made the text really accessible and appealing to him. The questions encouraged him to interact. The language is rich and was a pleasure to share.

Published by Walker Books, 2006.

Sam’s First Year as a Reader


I always knew I wanted to raise a reader. I read to Sam when he was in the womb and I enrolled him at the library when he was six weeks old. Our trips to the library during the first months of his life were a lifeline – a welcome break from the four walls of our home and much-needed adult interaction for Mommy! Our local libraries (we were lucky enough to have two within walking distance) were regular pit stops on our daily walk with the pram. Most weeks I think we went to the library at least twice. The librarians started to recognise us and we would get a warm welcome. We always had the maximum amount of books on loan and some favourites got renewed again and again. Sam started collecting his Book Trust certificates and we enjoyed completing the Roald Dahl summer reading challenge.





365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental & Joëlle Jolivet

Published by Abrams, 2006.


Garden Sounds by Sam Taplin & Federica Iossa

This is the first book to become Sam’s favourite. It’s the one he chooses above all others on his bookshelf. He will happily sit and read it to himself and spends ages looking through the pages. He’s learnt to press the sound buttons and I think that, for him, this is a big part of the book’s appeal. He also loves the touchy-feely elements; the pages are die cut and provide loads of tactile interest.

Published by Usborne, 2016.


Baby Sparkle: Things That Go

Sam loves this book and returns to it time and time again. It’s the first book he actually chose to read rather than chew!

He likes looking at the different vehicles; his favourite is the truck. He enjoys listening to the onomatopoeic words, in particular the ‘Clickety-clack! Clickety-clack!’ for the steam train. The glittery pages that pages glisten and sparkle when they catch the light have caught his attention too.

It’s been a real hit and I can’t quite bring myself to return it to the library just yet.

Published by Dorling Kindersley, 2015.


Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett

Sam and I have read this book many times since borrowing it from the library. He seems to have really taken a shine to it. It helps that the text is beautifully simple: two words per double page – a colour and an object – making it just right for his current attention span.

Emily Gravett’s illustrations are stunning and gave us lots of interesting things to look at and talk about. We really liked how, on each double page, Chameleon had changed to a different colour and shape. There were lovely patterns to look at too.

Published by Macmillan Children’s Books, 2010.


Animal Opposites by Nicola Killen

This is a gorgeous board book that Sam enjoyed a lot. He particularly liked the fold out pages and watching how they made the pictures bigger. The onomatopoeic words on each page (whoosh, stomp, flip flap…) made him smile too. It was like having sound effects as I read the book aloud and it really helped to bring the story alive.

The illustrations are beautiful and we liked the range of animals included in the story. We were particularly pleased to see the penguins as Sam has lots of toy penguins in his room and he really likes them. We thought this was a super book and a lovely introduction to opposites.

Published by Egmont, 2013.


Funny Bunnies Up and Down by David Melling

This is a terrific board book full of bunnies on pogo sticks! It’s a humorous tale of opposites where the bunnies get into all sorts of scrapes. It’s told simply, with lots of repetition. The story also rhymes which makes it fun to read aloud. Sam definitely enjoyed listening to this book and we read it several times before returning it to the library.

Published by Hodder Children’s Books, 2014.


This Rabbit, That Rabbit by Jane Porter

This was Sam’s Easter book from the library and we read it several times over the Easter bank holiday weekend. He enjoyed the sturdy board book format and, now that he’s getting better at holding things, he reached out to grab and touch the pages. The book further helped his sensory development because this is a shiny touch book where the pictures are high gloss and feel nice to the touch. I really liked the rhymes in the book (lovely to listen to and great for developing Sam’s phonic awareness). We really enjoyed reading the story – the bunnies were fun and full of personality.

Published by Walker Books, 2013.


Betty goes bananas by Steve Antony

Sam was transfixed listening to this book. I think that the large illustrations of black and white Betty against the colourful backgrounds really stood out and caught his attention. I’m sure it’ll be a book that we return to as he gets older; the repetitive storyline and language are perfect for sharing with young readers and, of course, the topic of toddler tantrums will no doubt start to ring true.

Published by Oxford University Press, 2014.


Big and Small by Britta Teckentrup

This is a beautifully simple book with one word per page. It’s a book of contrasts: the mountain and the snowflake; the tree and the acorn; the bird and the worm. The colourful illustrations were eye catching and appealed to baby Sam. He particularly enjoyed the double page with the shark and the fish, perhaps because his nursery has an under the sea theme. The book lent itself to plenty of book talk, for example I used the pictures to explain the link between an apple and a seed, and a sunflower and a bee. Big and Small, the first book Sam ever read, was definitely a big hit with this small baby!

Published by Barefoot Books, 2013.