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Recommended Books for Year 1

Books for 5 - 6 year olds

Last updated July 9th, 2024

Recommended Books for Year 1 take account of children’s abilities to read more words independently, and many encourage joining in. Our selection includes books for differing levels of reading attainment and interests. Rhyming continues to be important for this age group, but they are longer than those recommended for early years. Illustrations are likely to be more complex,  with plenty of details that enhance the narrative. Our lists are updated regularly. They include new titles as well as well-established classics. Our choices include high-interest themes for this age group to encourage reading for pleasure.

Most of the books in this list have full reviews that you can read for more detailed information and our evaluation.

Individual books and special easy-purchase collections are available from our bookselling partner Best Books for Schools.

The book selection for our recommended reading lists is overseen by Just Imagine Director Nikki Gamble, a former teacher and university lecturer, co-author of Guiding Readers and author of Exploring Children’s Literature. The views of our review panel inform our choices. The panel is convened and reviews are edited by Jo Bowers, a former teacher and university lecturer specialising in literacy and children’s literature.

Our top picks from recent titles

Old Oak and the Wild Flowers

By Elena Mannion. Illustrated by Erin Brown. Published by Pikku Publishing.

Old Oak and his bug friend are worried by the hot, dry summer. The barley in the field is short and thin, and the insects and birds are fewer in number. But the farmer has already had an idea: he will rest the soil and plant a field of glorious wild flowers, bringing back many insects to the field and hedgerow. With fabulous, detailed illustration, there are delights to spot on every page

Our reviewer Jayne Gould writes, ‘The detailed, accurate illustrations, suffused with seasonal colour, are an integral part of the book. Young children can pore over the pictures and with encouragement and a good nature guide can identify the birds, insects, plants and minibeasts depicted. The endpaper maps reflect this change, with the colours of the wildflower meadow added and the renaming of the Barley Field. This is a book for sharing, to help connect children to nature, inviting further discussion and offering the opportunity to explore nature and the importance of biodiversity.’

Read the full review

Clever Crow

By Chros Butterworth. Illustrated by Olivia Lomenech-Gill. Published by Walker Books.

For young bird watchers and enthusiasts of the natural world, this is a unique, surprising, and beautifully illustrated nonfiction picture book about these fascinating birds.
Whatever the changing seasons and evolving world presents to the crow, they use their adaptability, discerning memory and crafty problem-solving techniques to overcome every possible hurdle. Young readers will be bowled over by these unassuming creatures they come across every day, and will find a new-found respect for the birds that are smart, clever, crafty and playful, just like them.

Our reviewer, Jo Bowers, writers. ‘A lovely story. Clever Crow is a book that would appeal to children from 5 years and above, who I am sure will be delighted to find out how crows can be a clever as us, with their observation and problem-solving skills.’

Read the full review

Heavy Metal Badger

By Duncan Beedie. Illustrated by Duncan Beedie. Published by Little Tiger.

Badger is ready to ROCK!

The music inside him is ready to burst out. He just needs to find a band. But the recorder class isn’t right. Neither’s the choir. Nor the marching band! Will Badger ever find his musical tribe? Perhaps it’s been there all along . . .

Our reviewer Eve Bearne writes, ‘Much of the joy of this rhyming tale of Heavy Metal Badger lies in the images and the design of the pages. Badger explodes all over double page spreads while other animals look on with alarm until he finds his real musical outlet,’

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Holey Moley

By Aethan Clarke. Illustrated by Anders Fang. Published by Little Tiger.

An anarchic, hilarious story by exciting debut author Bethan Clarke, illustrated with deadpan humour by rising star Anders Frang. Gus the Goat loves guessing. And he loves rhyming. So, when he meets Mavis Mole, he can’t help himself trying to guess where she lives. Is it in a hole? In a bowl!? In a Sausage ROLL!! No, not quite . . .

Our reviewer, Anne Bradley, writes, ‘Each page is colourful and entertaining. The animals have expressive faces and the goat gets up to some lively antics. On each page there is much to look at and enjoy. The endpapers are charming, and children can study them to spot the forest creatures. Children will enjoy listening to the text, which will provide opportunities to predict rhymes and join in with repetitions. This would be a perfect story to read aloud and children will ask to hear it again and again.’

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The Hoys

By Kes Gray. Illustrated by Mark Chambers. Published by Happy Yak.

Ahoy there! But what is a hoy, and why can Pirate Jake never see one?! No matter how hard he looks, Jake cannot see the mysterious hoys he keeps hearing so much about. How can he ever be a proper pirate if he can’t see a hoy? With his parrot on his shoulder, he walks gloomily across the sand dunes. Until something quite unusual catches his eye.

Our reviewer Eve Bearne writes, ‘There is so much to enjoy in this story of a pirate who feels he is a proper pirate now that he knows what ‘Ahoy there!’ means. Kes Gray’s love of the absurd is matched by Mark Chambers’ busy colourful illustrations.’

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The Princess and the Greedy Pea

By Leigh Hodgkinson. Illustrated by Leigh Hodgkinson. Published by Walker Books.

This little pea is SO hungry! So hungry that he has swallowed a sprout, slurped down some soup, munched all the bread, wolfed down the pie, gobbled the cake, noshed all the pickle, guzzled the cheese (that made him sneeze), drank all the tea, and then, chomped up the table! And after ALL that, he needs to have a rest. But just WHOSE food was he eating? And WHOSE bed is he resting in? Cue … one very grumpy, very hungry princess … with a taste for revenge.

Our reviewer, Carolyn Swain, writes, ‘The Princess and the (Greedy) Pea is a feast for the eyes and the ears, with many avenues that could be explored. Bright, colourful illustrations combine with pleasing rhyme that simply begs to be read aloud.

Read the full review

The Cat at Night

By Tina Oziewicz. Illustrated by Aleksandra Zajac. Published by Pushkin Children's Books.

The cat doesn’t feel like sleeping. Night is the best time of all ― the time when he likes to go exploring.__________ Join the farmer’s cat on his mysterious nighttime journey through fields, farms, forest, and town to see what only he can see after the sun sets.

Who's Afraid of the Light?

By Anna McGregor. Illustrated by Anna McGregor. Published by Scribble UK.

Fergus lives in the deepest, darkest sea and is scared of just one thing … the light! From award-winning creator Anna McGregor (author of Anemone is Not the Enemy) comes this hilarious tale of the deepest of sea creatures. Seamlessly combining humour, narrative, and nonfiction, McGregor introduces young readers to the wonders of the ocean’s ‘midnight zone’, where no sunlight can penetrate. We meet Fergus as he hides from a parade of sea creatures that use bioluminescence to find their way in the dark. At least, we think he is hiding … or is it something else entirely?

Our reviewer, Erin Hamilton, writes, ‘Who’s Afraid of the Light is entertaining, funny and informative – a trio of brilliant reasons to read this book. Perfect for children of 5 years and above.’

Read the full review


By Rob Biddulph. Illustrated by Rob Biddulph. Published by HarperCollins.

Meet Gigantic, the smallest blue whale in the Atlantic. Dwarfed by the other whales, Gigantic keeps to himself, making new friends and perfecting his somersaults and flips in the bay. But one day, when Gigantic’s brother, Titan, gets stuck on the sand, it’s down to Gigantic and his smallest sea creature friends to save the day. Can they show it’s possible to be tiny and tough?

Our reviewer, Claire Tidy, writes, ‘Rob Biddulph has created a picture book with colourful, vibrant images and playful rhyming lyrics. Fans of his draw-along videos will recognise our main character and this would be a lovely activity to do alongside reading the story. ‘

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The Elephant and the Sea

By Ed Vere. Illustrated by Ed Vere. Published by Walker Books.

In a village by the sea, carved into the rockiest edge of the land, where the waves are wild and tumbling, lives an old elephant. Once, he was a young elephant – with a dream of joining the lifeboat crew. But elephants don’t fit in lifeboats. Gabriel is determined, and he is ingenious, and he is brave. So much so that one stormy day he might be the only one who can save the day.

Our reviewer Eve Bearne writes, ‘There is so much to love about this book: the repeated ‘heave ho’ of the seamen; the animals in the harbour, mending nets and building boats; the lifeboat crew and Gabriel depicted in Ed Vere’s characteristic quirky style where somehow their eyes tell it all.

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Let's Build a Dam

By Daniel Fehr. Illustrated by Mariachiara Di Giorgio. Published by North South Books.

Siblings May, Lily, and Noah build a dam. Stone by stone, their dam grows higher and higher, until their creation attracts the attention of fishermen, pirates, and even the King and his fleet. The sky’s the limit, until Noah wants his stone back . . .

Our reviewer, Anne Bradley, writes ‘Mariachiara Di Giorgio’s illustrations are beautiful. Her colour palette is soothing and eye-catching. Each page presents the same background scene as the adventure unfolds and more characters join the dam-building fun. Children can enjoy exploring each double-page spread to see what has changed and who they can spot. Daniel Fehr’s narrative is accessible to young readers and ideal to read aloud with young children.’

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Our Story Starts in Africa

By Atinuke. Illustrated by Jeanetta Gonzales. Published by Walker Books.

When Paloma visits her family in Trinidad, she doesn’t feel she fits in. But Tante Janet has a story to tell her: An ancient story of warrior queens and talking drums, of treasures and tales that span thousands of years… a story that Paloma shares in, because her story starts in Africa, too… Join Tante and her inquisitive niece as they share the story of how her family came to the Caribbean, through the dark days of colonization and slavery, to the emergence of a thriving, contemporary community of many faces, places and successes.

Our reviewer, Suzanne Horton, writes, ‘This book is perfect to read aloud to children in Early Years and KS1, and the colourful illustrations are to be shared. It acts as a starting point for exploring Black history and is suitable for all children keen to learn more about their family and heritage. Our Story Starts in Africa is a ‘must have’ for every classroom and deserves to be shared far and wide!;

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Not So Little Red Riding Hood

By Michael Rosen. Illustrated by David Melling. Published by HarperCollins.

Little Red Riding Hood – who is not-so-little anymore! – is riding her pony through the woods to visit Granny for a picnic and a surprise. Now that she is bigger, she feels much braver than the last time she went. Until . . . what was that? Was it the Big Bad Wolf’ A funny story full of surprises!

Our reviewer, Claire Tidy, writes ‘Not-so-Little-Red Riding Hood is a witty and charming story. The text, together with the illustrations, will make children and families smile and laugh. There is intrigue and wonder at what is going on, what will happen next and what is behind the door at Granny’s house. The ending is delightful and there is the potential for new stories to be created.’

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Bear and Bird: The Picnic and Other Stories

By Jarvis. Illustrated by Jarvis. Published by Walker Books.

Bear and Bird are best friends, and they spend a lot of time together. They don’t always understand each other, but both agree that all they want is for their friend to be happy. So when Bear forgets the most important thing to pack for a picnic (but pretends that he didn’t), Bird doesn’t let on that she knew all along. And when Bird is upset to discover her friend has more of a certain talent than she does, Bear finds a touching way to make her feel better.

Our reviewer, Tracey Evans, writes,  ‘This is the first in a series of books about Bear and Bird and the ups and downs of their friendship. There are humorous misunderstandings between the pair, but fundamentally, they are both really keen to make each other happy. There are some lovely lessons in how to be considerate and kind despite these regular misunderstandings along the way.’

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Snail in Space

By Rachel Bright. Illustrated by Nadia Shireen. Published by Simon & Schuster.

Gail the snail has always been told not to dream too big or reach too far, but Gail is not your average snail, and she has plans to be the first . . . SNAIL IN SPACE! Join Gail on her stellar adventure and discover the magic of reaching for the stars and giving it your all.

Teachers' Treasures

Classic and established favourites

Not Now Bernard

By David McKee. Illustrated by David McKee. Published by Andersen Press.

David McKee’s classic story has an ironic tone which is often lost on younger children, but readers from year 1 upwards may well interpret Bernard and his parents’ actions in various ways. This is a great story to share and allows space for children to express their thoughts. Should Bernard feel cross with his parents? Why are Bernard’s parents always so busy? Is Bernard right to keep asking for their attention? Where did the monster come from? There are, of course, no correct answers to these questions


By Alexis Deacon. Illustrated by Alexis Deacon. Published by Puffin.

Alexis Deacon’s Beegu is one of the most beloved picture books, and with good reason. When a young alien creature lands on Earth, she finds it bewildering, and everyone is too preoccupied to help her except a group of schoolchildren. Beegu’s family find and rescue her, but Beegu will remember the kindness shown to her by the children. A book to provoke discussion about outsiders, belonging, family and home – themes that transcend the story and connect with children’s lives in many ways.

Mister Magnolia

By Quentin Blake. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. Published by Penguin Random House.

Mr Magnolia has only one boot. He has an old trumpet that goes rooty-toot -And two lovely sisters who play on the flute -But Mr Magnolia has only one boot. A highly memorable rhyming story will have children requesting repeated readings and joining in with the refrain ‘But Mr Magnolia has only one boot’. An exhuberant celebration of eccentricity.


By Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Janet Ahlberg. Published by Penguin Random House.

‘On a dark dark hill there was a dark dark town. In the dark dark town there was a dark dark street.’ So begins this classic story.  The skeletons in this story are lovable rather than scary – the perfect comedy duo, with the dog as the supporting act. The patterned text supports children who are learning to read independently. And for Funnybones fans, there are more stories for children to enjoy.

Where the Wild Things Are

By Maurice Sendak. Illustrated by Maurice Sendak. Published by Penguin Random House.

This breakthrough picture book first published in 1963, has inspired and influenced many picture book creators. A perfect emotionally authentic story that acknowledges children’s feelings without judgement. It also celebrates the unconditional love between most parents and their children. The cadences of this poetic text make it highly memorable, like the ebb and flow of the ocean on which Max’s boat floats to the island of the Wild Things.

Lily Takes a Walk

By Satoshi Kitamura. Illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura. Published by Scallywag Press.

When Lily takes a walk with her dog, Nicky, she notices many lovely things. But poor Nicky only sees monsters lurking at every turn. Children love spotting what Lily does not see, but there’s a final twist, and the last laugh may be at Lily’s expense. A reminder for us all to take notice of our surroundings without being preachy.

The Storm Whale

By Benji Davies. Illustrated by Benji Davies. Published by Simon & Schuster.

The Storm Whale series is one of the favourites from our Take One Book resource and training. Noi’s need for company and his connection with the little whale tugs at the heartstrings, but perhaps it is the reconnection with his Dad that has the biggest emotional pull. Humans’ relationship with the natural world is another theme that will generate discussion in the year 1 class.

Amazing Grace

By Mary Hoffman. Illustrated by Caroline Binch. Published by Frances Lincoln.

A groundbreaking book when it was first published, it reminds us how far we have come. But there is no place for complacency. Hopefully, this book will one day become a historical document rather than reflecting any reality in our diverse society.

Pumpkin Soup

By Helen Cooper. Illustrated by Helen Cooper. Published by Penguin Random House.

The warm autumnal tones and appealing characters make this a cosy read. Cat, squirrel and rabbit are good friends, but sharing isn’t always easy. And when you are growing up you strive for independence and some responsibility and sometimes that can cause problems too, The trio find their way through the difficulties – for the time-being at least. A beautifully observed story that speaks to adults and children.

The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch

By Ronda Armitage. Illustrated by David Armitage. Published by Scholastic.

Once there was a lighthouse keeper called Mr Grinling… Mr Grinling LOVES his food… especially his lunch. This story has sparked many a class project over the years with opportunities for investigating pulleys, creating delicious packed lunches, learning about lighthouses – and enjoying the story, of course.

Stick Man

By Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Axel Scheffler. Published by Macmillan.

Every recommended book list for year 1 needs a Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler book. We’ve chosen Stick Man which has that frisson of danger tempered by the reassuring rhyme. Poor Stick Man is subject to the whims of humans and animals who have their own ideas about his use. And just when it looks as though he has met his end, he is saved in the nick of time.

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson's Dairy

By Lynley Dodd. Illustrated by Lynley Dodd. Published by Penguin Random House.

This highly memorable story about Hairy Maclary and his doggy friends has a jaunty, repetitive refrain which will have all the children joining in together. Everyone has their favourite dog. Mine is ‘Muffin Maclay like a bundle of hay’. Lynley Dodd’s other books featuring the neighbourhood dogs and cats are equally good choices for a class read aloud.

Katie Morag Island Stories

By Mairi Hedderwick. Illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick. Published by Penguin Random House.

The Katie Morag stories are gentle depictions of family life on the island of Struay. In the classroom, they can be read as a starting point for comparing life on Katie Morag’s island with the area local to the school. The everyday situations may spark children’s stories about their own families and friends.

Burglar Bill

By Allan Ahlberg. Illustrated by Janet Ahlberg. Published by Penguin Random House.

The story of the burglar who steals a baby, finds love, and learns the error of his ways is highly entertaining. Stories about ‘naughty’ characters help children to feel good about themselves, and they are quick to share their understanding of right and wrong. You might like to have an open discussion with the children about the reasons they think Bill might be stealing things and why he decides to stop.

The Velveteen Rabbit

By Margery Williams. Illustrated by Sarah Massini. Published by Nosy Crow.

This new edition of a much-loved classic story brings it to life for a new generation of children. It’s a longer read than the standard picture book and a good choice to read aloud to the class. It works well alongside other stories about toys, such as Shirley Hughes, Dogger, or David Lucas Lost in the Toy Museum.