My very first experience of blogging came a few months ago.

It was when ELT trainer and author, Lindsay Clandfield, invited me to do a 'guest spot' on teaching young learners on his blog 'Six things - A miscellany of English language'. Lindsay's blog is a varied collection of interesting, surprising and often amusing things about teaching and learning. The only proviso is that every posting comes in a list of six. 

Given my love of literature and storytelling, it's probably no surprise that I chose to write about my six favourite illustrated story books to use with children. The reason for reproducing my original posting on Lindsay's blog and list here is that, following the discussion we have had so far with contributions from so many different countries and cultures, it would be wonderful to hear about your favourite story books too! 

Here's what I wrote:

In more than 25 years of teaching, I’ve used many different picture books with children aged 3 – 12 and have a precious collection of well-thumbed favourites. In the 1980s, picture books closest to my heart included classics such as The Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle), Where’s Spot? (Eric Hill), Meg and Mog (Helen Nicoll & Jan Pienkowski) as well as more challenging titles such as Where the wild things are (Maurice Sendak) and Gorilla (Anthony Browne). I still love these books and have found it an almost impossible task to reduce my collection of favourites to a list of six. I’ve therefore decided to choose six picture books which i) I’ve used recently and ii) have produced the most enthusiastic responses in the groups of children that I’ve shared them with. They are in no particular order as follows:

1 Giraffes can’t dance  (Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees)

This picture book in rhyming verses tells of Gerald the giraffe’s anguish at being mocked by all the other animals for his lack of dancing skills at the Jungle Dance.

We follow Gerald’s touching learning journey from his loss of self-esteem to becoming the object of admiration of all the animals. In terms of significant issues, the story touches on believing in yourself and discovering your own personal strengths. Two features are the strong beat of the rhyming verses which makes the language highly memorable, and the expressive illustrations of Gerald both when he’s sad and as he entrances the animals with his elegant dancing at the end of the story.

2 I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato (Lauren Child)

In I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato Charlie plays a series of imaginative and amusing tricks on his little sister, Lola, who is a very fussy eater, to get her to eat her dinner. The story is predominantly told using direct speech from Charlie’s point of view. Charlie and Lola are drawn in bold lines with large eyes and expressive mouths that clearly convey their every feeling. Lauren Child also uses a combination of photos, collage and computer-generated backgrounds, as well as a variety of fonts and sizes in the text. These add to the appeal and humour and emphasise how Lola really hates eating vegetables. This story is ideal as part of a unit of work on food and, if children enjoy Charlie and Lola, there are many more stories in the series as well.

3 Mr Wolf’s week (Colin Hawkins)

The appeal of Mr Wolf’s week seems to lie in the fact that it is an ordinary, everyday story about the routine of a normal, inoffensive wolf, in contrast to the villainous character children associate with traditional stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood. For language classes, the story helpfully focusses on lexical sets typically found in children’s coursebooks: days of the week, weather, clothes and everyday actions. The charm of the story lies in the delightful pictures of Mr Wolf and the simplicity of the repeated language pattern for each day: Monday is … (weather). Mr Wolf puts on his … (clothes) and …. (what he does). This also makes it an ideal model for children’s own attempts at writing a story. 

4 Something Else (Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddell)

Something Else is a moving story about differences, and the agony and isolation of being an outsider. Something Else wants to be like the other creatures but they won’t accept him. Then one day a strange creature comes to Something Else’s house and wants to be friends. Something Else almost rejects him but is reminded of his own experience just in time. Embedded in this beautifully illustrated and apparently simple story are themes of racism and intolerance. Whenever I share this story with children in upper primary, I never fail to be impressed by their mature response and ability to talk openly about issues that adults often shy away from. Something Else makes me think how often we underestimate children, and also that picture books should not only be for them.

5 Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)

Dear Zoo is a classic ‘flap’ picture book that never fails to appeal to very young learners. If possible, it’s best to use the ‘big book’ version which makes it easy to see with large groups and more fun to open the ‘flaps’. The concept of writing to the zoo to ask for a pet is brilliantly simple, and the repetitive language pattern, combined with different size coloured boxes and animals on each double spread, engages the rapt attention of little ones, even those with the shortest concentration spans. As the different animals on each page get sent back to the zoo because they are not suitable, the animal on the last page of the story is ‘perfect’.

6 Lost and Found (Oliver Jeffers)

Lost and Found is a touching story about a penguin and the boy who helps him. Behind its apparent simplicity resonate themes of loneliness, friendship and the value of kindness. As the boy and the penguin set off to the South Pole, their tiny boat contrasts with the vastness of the blue and green-toned sea and the waves as big as mountains. Many children worry when the boy realises his mistake in leaving the penguin at the South Pole, and their reunion hug on the penultimate page needs no words. This is a picture book children will ask you to read again for sheer pleasure and, in my view, it’s best to let the magical words and illustrations speak for themselves.

I'm really looking forward to hearing about your favourite story books to use with children now too! Please feel free to write about one or more - it's entirely up to you - and in as much detail as you like in order to convey to others why the book(s) is/are so special. My hope is that by the end we will have the most fantastic collaborative list of story book recommendations. Please do join in and share!



I'm afraid I'm going to be very predictable Carol and plump for one you mentioned, The Very Hungry Caterpillar! It's the only book I was read at school that I've also read as a teacher, which means that it's been around quite some time...A couple of years ago I was asked to cover a class I'd not taught before, and decided to use it. I did a quick google to see if there were any ideas I could use and was amazed to find how many related materials are now available - the last time I'd used it had been about 8 or 9 years earlier. Despite its age it's still obviously very popular.Actually, thinking about it now I probably chose it because I remember it was one of my favourite stories at school - even now I can remember where we were read stories, the teacher that read them... I think I'm getting a bit nostalgic!

I'm also a fan of the hungry caterpillar, mainly for the fantastic illustration. I don't remember much of my time at primary school but one thing I do remember is at the end of certain days the teacher would read a chunk of 'Danny the Champion of the world' by Roald Dahl. She didn't do anything else as far as I can remember she simply read it aloud to the class, and I was absolutely fascinated.  I think it is fair to say that the simple exposure to the story stimulated my interest in literature and led to me reading a great deal outside of the classroom. Whether this would transfer to the second language classroom I'm not sure.

Dear Carol,
These are just 3 of my many favourite books. As you can see I am a fan of Julia Donaldson. These two a some of her lesser known books and both great fun to use.
Conjuror Cow  Julia Donaldson  Illustrator Nick Sharratt - Puffin Come to the theatre and join the animal audience whilst they wait for the curtains to open. There’s Conjuror Cow with wand in hand, wearing a conical hat and cape ready to get on with the show.Abracadabra and Rat-a-tat-tat! I can make a white rabbit come out of this hat!  But, oh dear, something else comes out of the hat. Excuse my mistake, I’ll make a white rabbit come out of this cake. Another mistake, but never mind everyone in the audience gets a piece of the delicious cake and the show goes on. 5-6 year olds I worked with loved this story, which is easy to read aloud as the half pages between each spread give you a chance to add suspense as you wait to see if the trick has worked.
Kids soon pick up the final words in the rhyming text and join in tapping out the Abracadabras , Rat-a-tat-tat and Brocoli Broth, especially if you make wands with them. We made conical hats and I got them to bring some material for their cape and they put on their own shows. With a group of 7 year olds I made some smaller editions of the simple novelty book and let them draw their own pictures and stick in the text I had typed out for them. By the end of the fun experience, most of them, boys and girls, knew the whole text by heart and were ‘reading’ it with great pride. Of course they took their books home to read to the family, which added to the success of the experience. Many of the phrases in the text can be transferred to other situations.
Rosie’s Hat  Julia Donaldson and Anna Currey Macmillan with CDA wonderful join-in rhyming text follows what happens to Rosie’s blue hat blown off by the wind as she goes for a walk by the sea. Pastel coloured, detailed illustrations took children aged 7 to 8 to every place on the hat’s journey, whilst a type of chorus accompanies the short descriptive text on every page.
A fisherman has caught the hat, BOTHER, BOTHER, DRAT, DRAT.Some boys build castles with the hat,SCOOP, SCOOP, PAT, PAT. Until The hat is tossed into a tree,ONE, TWO, THREE, WHEE. This makes an ideal break in the quite long story as the then next section begins:Years go by and little RoseGrows, grows, grows and grows getting married and becoming a firewoman. One day the fire station is called as a cat is stuck in a tree. Guess what! The firewoman who climbs up the tree is Rose and FANCY THAT! IT’S ROSIE’S HATHere’s a feather – stick it in!SAY CHEESE! GRIN, GRIN!  and, whilst they take a photo, the wind blows off a little boy’s red baseball hat. It’s fun to make a series of little pictures inventing an imaginary journey for the boy’s red hat. I made cards for the chorus and some children made up their own games matching the cards to the main text. There is a CD with this book.
Silly Suzy Goose Petr Horacek  DVDThis is one of the many stories about feeling you want to be different. I wish I could be different thought Suzy Goose. If I was a bat, I could hang upside down and FLAP my wings. If I was a Penguin, I could slip and SLIDE… and gradually you are introduced to many of the common zoo animals and what they can do. But when Suzy met a lion she was silly and the lion started to chase Suzy. Suzy ran as fast as she could and yelled and swam and jumped and splashed and slid and flapped all the way back to the others. Just in time! She was happy to be back and thought it better to be just like everyone else, ...but not all the time. What do 7 and 8 year olds think? This generally gives rise to an emotional discussion in home language! Beautiful illustrations transfer the emotions. There is a DVD to go with this book.

I'm another fan of The very hungry caterpillar. My photo here was taken by my son's teacher while I was reading the big book version of this classic to 50 five-year-olds. They loved it. Another favourite is The Gruffalo (Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler). Lots of repetition and rhymes to chant along with. The pictures explain the text and kids just love the sound of the story. It includes animal vocab (and children can make the animal noises), food vocab (e.g., owl ice-cream!), parts of the body and colours. I love Doctor Dog (Babette Cole). This is the story of a dog, who is also a doctor, and his ailing family of humans. Children love it because it's a bit rude and deals with things like nose picking, nits and breaking wind. This is one that is probably more suited to certain cultures than others. A big hit with Spanish/Catalan children.

Hi RobMany thanks for this - and for choosing such a wonderful, all-time classic! I also read somewhere that it's been translated into more languages than the Bible which, by any standards, is quite an achievement for a children's picture book!How interesting that you have had both the experience of having it read to you at school and reading it to children yourself. I can imagine that your affectionate nostalgia for the story must have influenced and enhanced your telling of it - I think it always comes across to children when we genuinely love a story ourselves.You're so right about its popularity being so enduring and the range of related materials there are to use with it including an enchanting DVD. It's also a brilliant story to link to cross-curricular learning about the life cycle of the butterfly - with the real life proviso of course that caterpillars don't eat lollipops and everything else he munches through on his week-long growth binge!

Hi DuncanGreat to hear about another Very Hungry Caterpillar fan and totally agree with you about Eric Carle's fantastic illustrations. I love the style in all his books - and The Very Hungry Ladybird and The Tiny Seed are also two other favourites of mine.Thank you so much also for making the point about the teacher simply reading aloud to the class and how this drew you into reading yourself. I think this raises a very important issue - as teachers we have to be very careful not to kill the sheer pleasure and joy of a story by turning it into what the children perceive as yet another vehicle for getting them to do boring language exercises. I know that this is also a point that Opal feels passionately about and comes through very strongly when you read her compelling articles in the issues of RealBook News. I think there is a place for such an approach in the second language classroom and that reading a story together not only develops a love of literature for its own sake but is also a wonderfully bonding communal experience.

Hi OpalThank you so much for your detailed and delightful description of these three favourite story books and explaining some of the things that children did with them which really speak for themselves!It's very interesting that two of the books you've chosen have rhyming text and the third has a repetitive narrative pattern, at least until we get to the bit about the lion. As I realize you'll know, there has been quite a lot of research which shows that these two features can be key in helping children to develop language and literacy e.g. see Caroline Linse's article in ELTJ (sorry I don't have the full reference to hand). I love your third choice for another reason too - and that is that in the context of a story language structures like conditional tenses present no difficulty at all for the children to comprehend.I completely agree with you about Julia Donaldson - and the Gruffalo and Monkey Puzzle are also two other of my favourites by her. 

Many thanks for your contribution, Sally. Great to hear about another The Very Hungry Caterpillar fan and many thanks for sharing this lovely photo - 50 five-year-olds sounds quite a challenge to me but can imagine they loved it!I completely agree with you about The Gruffalo and in fact mentioned it in earlier reply before I'd read your message. Children also love the rhymthic refrain in the story 'Ho, ho, ho, there is no gruffalo' and I've sometimes done a simplified version of the Gruffalo play at the back of the book which works wonderfully well too.Thank you also for mentioning Doctor Dog which is not one I know - although I do love Babette Cole's work and in particular her spoof fairy tale stories such as Princess Smartypants and Prince Cinders which children in upper primary - at least here in Spain - find hilarious and are really good for addressing equal opportunities and gender education in an amusing and 'light' way.

Lovely to read everyone's favourite!  Thanks for sharing. I recently collected a list of favourite picture books from teachers and The Hungry Caterpillar was top there too, alongside Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see. I tried posting last week and for some reason couldn't, but I wanted to share my favourite titles … well some of them! I love so many.    These two titles are for smaller children 3 - 6 years old. Hooray for Fish By Lucy Cousins.  Hooray for fish is an exuberantly illustrated depiction of life under the sea.  Lucy Cousins' well-known style of thick brushwork and bright colours takes us on a visual journey through diversity.  Together we swim with Little Fish meeting his fishy friends and discovering that the underwater world is made of weird and wonderful creatures, and they are all friends. The rhyming words matches the boldly depicted fish illustrations, providing a very supportive context for concept learning as well as identifying colours, counting and opposites. Children will love meeting the invented creatures ele-fish and the shelly fish as well as using giggle-worthy descriptions like, 'twin fin-fin fish' and  'curly whirly, twisty twirly'.   And of course the most important fish of all is Mummy - Hooray for fish! There's a version of the book with a DVD, which brings the underwater world to life, with Little Fish swimming in and out of the screen. The words are read by Emilia Fox and the calypso like music has been written specially, with changing tempos according to the different fishy friends Little Fish meets: the grumpy fish is slow and mournful and the ele-fish is hailed with trumpets.  An adapted version is available on YouTube, without the voice of Emilia Fox.  Not as good, but still useable.  I have to mention Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, which has become such an important book for me, as I'm using it in my PhD research.  A wonderful title which I discovered in 2005, and haven't stopped using it since. It's longer than the usual picture book, as it has 40 pages, and won several awards shortly after its publication in the early 90’s. Horn Book Magazine (1995) gave it a starred review, The many amusing, small well as the tranquil tone of the story make this an outstanding picture book." Of the seventeen double page spreads, seven are wordless.  It's special because of the magical way the words and illustrations show and tell us different things.  The words take us on the evening rounds with the zookeeper, who calmly says “Good Night” to his animals, and makes his way home, gets into bed, says a final “Good night” to his wife, rolls over and goes to sleep.  The illustrations show us a gorilla taking the zookeeper's keys and opening all the cages. The zoo animals follow the zookeeper home, walk into his house and settle down to sleep in his bedroom, much to his wife’s dislike.   When she realises they are in her bedroom, she takes them all back to the zoo.  The twist to the story is the gorilla, who is allowed to return home, snuggle into bed and sleep between the zookeeper and his wife!  There are dozens of extra details to see in the illustrations, including a mouse and a banana, miniature stuffed toys of all the animals in their cages, keys which match the colours of the cages, photographs on walls, a and floating pink balloon. This next title is for older children (7 - 9 year olds) One is a snail, ten in a crab. by April Pulley Sayre & Jeff Sayre The book starts with a lovely bright illustrations of a snail and a boy, and the words say, One is a snail, and two is a person.  What are we counting?  Feet! Yep!  All my 8 and 9 year olds love the humourous way simple counting and multiplication is presented on each page. Together we count people, dogs, insects, spiders and crabs - moving from 1 through 2, 4, 6, 8 then 10, then multiplications of.  And there really are 100 snails on the last double page spread, I've counted them dozens of times with groups of kids

Sorry about the funny name.  At the moment I'm signed in [plug plug] as part of the UK ELT Research project on this same site.
My all time winner is Elmer the Elephant by David McKee.  It, too is a nice take on being different but it shouldn't matter.  In the story it is Elmer the Patchwork Elephant [green purple pink orange etc. Great for colours obviously] who is different as the only patchwork elephant in his family of greys.  They all love him, and it is Elmer who one day gets a bit bored with being different so he goes off into the jungle [past a line of familiar animals - more useful language- who all say 'Good morning'] until he finds a grey berry tree  and  [can you predict?  ]  At the end, the other elephants' reaction when the diguised Elmer returns to the herd, shortly to have his new grey coat washed off by the rain is to [ can you predict?]  inaugurate an annual Elmer day when all ordinary elephants paint themselves in dazzling patterns [great for art work follow up] and Elmer paints himself grey again.  So if you ever see a solitary grey elephant, it could be Elmer on Elmer day!
This book has large clear - and highly attractive pictures - and is great for showing to the class as you do 'half and half' telling and reading aloud parts of the text. This technique is very helpful for when some parts of a text may need to be simplified a bit for the class.
PS This book is much loved in UK primary schools and my favourite part of the Autumn term is when the Reception teacher in the school I go to helps the children make their own Elmers out of cut down plastic milk containers with added ears, tails and colours [The handle makes the elephant's trunk and the body of the container is just elephant body shape!
I hope those who don't know Elmer will seek and try!
Best wishes to all
Shelagh  Rixon


Add new comment

Log in or register to post comments