Recommended books for EYFS are selected for high levels of engagement. We have chosen books that work well when shared with an adult or enjoyed in a group or class; They are often performative and participative with familiar narrative structures. Rhymes and traditional tales are especially important for this age group. We consider representation and inclusivity when making our choices.
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 edited by Jo Bowers, a former teacher and university lecturer specialising in literacy and children’s literature.
Our top picks from recent titles
I Am Hungry
By Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Robert Starling. Published by Walker Books.
Look out, this squirrel is HUNGRY. So hungry it could eat boiled rice, chocolate mice, a gingerbread man … even a frying pan!
This is one book in a series from former Children’s Laureate Michael Rosen that explores with humour the range of common emotions experienced by young children.Robert Starling’s expressive and endearing illustrations, plus the generous use of space, allow very young readers to focus on the most important elements in the story.
Sometimes I Am Furious
By Timothy Knapman. Illustrated by Joe Burger. Published by Macmillan Children's Books.
Life is all fun and games when everything’s going your way. But some days, suddenly, something becomes horribly UNFAIR. A melting ice cream, a too-tight t-shirt, a boy who doesn’t share . . . it’s enough to make you FURIOUS. But, as this little girl discovers, it’s nothing that a deep breath, a happy song and a good cuddle can’t sort out.
This book is included in the Read for Empathy Collection 2023. It is a good discussion opener to talk about the protagonist’s feelings and the impact on those around her.
Lost In The City
By Alice Cortley. Published by Hachette.
Maya loves her small perfect family – it’s just her, Granny and their little kitten Sammy in their perfect peaceful house. So, when Granny announces they are going on a big adventure to the city, Maya is scared. She’s too small for the city, surely? And what about Sam?
There is plenty in this picture book for young children to talk about when sharing a book with an adult. The relationship between the child and grandmother is heart-warming, and it’s great to see an older character with a spirit of adventure. We all need to step out of our comfort zones to experience the joys that life has to offer.
Colours, Colours, Everywhere
By Julia Donaldson. Illustrated by Sharon King-Chai. Published by Macmillan.
Follow a little girl as she paints her own adventure with her bright blue tree frog companion. With luscious green trees to climb and red hot air balloons to sail away in. The story begins with an image of a child’s pair of hands with a paintbrush and tin of paints. There’s an invitation to lift the flap of a notebook which says, ‘I think I’ll start with something blue.’ A die-cut hole anticipates what be on the next page. Here is a great opportunity to play a game of prediction with a young reader before turning the page to reveal if you were right. The rhyming text is pitched perfectly to encourage readers aged 3- 5 to join in. This book is an invitation to spark young children’s creativity. When you finish reading, you will want to get your paints, crayons or pencils out.
Well Done Mummy Penguin
By Chris Haughton. Illustrated by Chris Haughton. Published by Walker Books.
Chris Haughton does here what he always does so well – tell stories for the youngest children that are simple and relatable but profound in their simplicity. Children will enjoy joining in with the repeated refrains and adding dramatic gestures. Endings for stories are so important, and this one is satisfying – hinting that Mummy Penguin’s work may not yet be done.
All the Cats
By Nicola Kent. Illustrated by Nicola Kent. Published by Andersen Press.
Short cats, tall cats, careful-not-to-fall cats. Itchy cats and scratchy cats – can you see the matching cats? A joyful collection of characterful cats with a jaunty text and lots to spot in the pictures making this a book to return to and enjoy with frequent re-readings.
By Mary Murphy. Illustrated by Mary Murphy. Published by Walker Books.
As the last star leaves the night sky and the first light of day appears on the horizon, the birds are waking to greet the dawn. We hear the warble of the Thrush and the tooraloo of the Blackbird from the blackberry bush. As the sun rises, the Finch, Lark and Wren join the chorus, and colour begins to flood the world the dark indigo skies give way to hues of pink. The chorus rises to a crescendo with the Rooster’s rallying call Cock-a-doodle-doo. The day is here. A gloriously bold and bright celebration of the dawn chorus from Mary Murphy, introducing children to the wonders of the natural world and the joy of being able to identify and name individual species. After reading this book, you’ll want to go into the park or garden to listen to the birds.
Planes, Planes, Planes
By Donna David. Illustrated by Nina Pirhonen. Published by Macmillan.
Every early years setting needs a collection of transport and vehicle books, and this bright, colourful rhyming book is bound to be a favourite. The memorable rhyme and attractive pages with details to spot make this a good book for children to return to independently once it has been read aloud. This book is part of the series 50 to Follow and Count.
By Rachel Bright. Illustrated by Rachel Bright. Published by Hachette.
This book was chosen for the Read for Empathy Collection 2023. A good choice for talking about feelings and expanding children’s emotional vocabulary in the early years classroom. This book is one title in the DinoFeelings series.
Ready for Spaghetti
By Michael Rosen. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Published by Walker Books.
This first-class collection of wordplay verses from Michael Rosen catches just the right night for preschool children. Playing with rhyme and experimenting with words while catching the various moods that children experience in everyday situations. There’s a narrative to the collection as we follow four children through their day, and Polly Dunbar develops this in the illustration. Nobody captures a preschool child’s body language, gestures and expressions better than Polly. The images are inclusive too.
By Emma Perry. Illustrated by Emma Perry. Published by Walker Books.
What a delight! This child-centric book reminds us of the pleasures to be had in the simple things in life. It can be easy to stay at home when the rain falls, but getting outside in nature and enjoying the puddles is one of the simple childhood pleasures – and adults can relive their childhood by joining in. Have fun! Where did I put my wellies?
A Best Friend for Bear
By Petr Horacek. Illustrated by Petr Horacek. Published by Walker Books.
Making friends is a concern for many preschool children who are beginning to develop cooperative play. It can be tricky to navigate, so books about making friends provide opportunities to talk about friendship. Petr Horacek does this with humour that will appeal to children and to the adults sharing the book with them. As the two bears search together for their ideal friend, many children will understand before the two bears that they have already found a friend. Pay extra close attention to clues at the beginning of the story, particularly when re-reading.
By Patricia Hegarty. Illustrated by Britta Teckentrup. Published by Little Tiger.
This nonfiction picture book is perfect for inquisitive pre-schoolers, who will enjoy delving into the world of bugs. Peek-through die- cut holes, gentle rhyming text and gorgeous colourful artwork make this a super choice for EYFS. And of course, there’s nothing better to do than follow up with a bug hunt in the park or garden.
By Rshmi Sirdeshpande. Illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane. Published by Andersen Press.
This life-affirming story from Rashmi Sirdeshpande draws on her own experience of growing up in India and her connection with her own grandfather. It acknowledges the sadness of losing a loved grandparent but shows that they continue to be part of our lives even when they are gone. A story to be shared and talked about.
Family and Me
By Michaela Dias-Hayes . Illustrated by Michaela Dias-Hayes . Published by Owlet Press.
As a young girl explores the idea of her family tree, she notices all the beautiful physical features she has inherited from her black and South Asian family lines.
As always, books that present idealised families need careful handling in a school context, with teachers thinking through the context of pupils in their classrooms.
Classic and established favourites
By Giles Andreae. Illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Published by Puffin.
Meet many different animals, people and sometimes objects, each wearing a different kind of pants – every shape, pattern, colour, size and style you can think of. Hilarious fun – even the word pants will have your three and four-year-olds rolling on the floor with laughter. Infectiously memorable rhyme and Nick Sharratt’s characteristic flat, bright colours make this unmissable.
By Pat Hutchins. Illustrated by Pat Hutchins. Published by Puffin.
The classic story of Rosie, the hen who leads the wily fox a merry dance around the farmyard. Lots of opportunities to practise prepositions, but more importantly, children will gasp in anticipation as they predict the mishaps that befall the hapless fox.
The Snowy Day
By Ezra Jack Keats. Illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. Published by Puffing.
It seems unbelievable that Ezra Jack Keats Caldecott-winning classic was published in 1962. And it is shocking to think that it was banned in the US for depicting a black child as the main character. Times have changed and continue to change – this book serves as an important reminder. Beyond that, it is the most delightful story of a young boy stepping out to experience the magic of snow. A timeless subject and a timeless book.
By Ed Vere. Illustrated by Ed Vere. Published by Puffin.
A masterclass in how words and images combine to tell stories, Vere has pared back the text to just two essential words. Read this with children, and you could discover that the first word they learn to recognise is banana! Which, of course, is a great encouragement when you can read the entire text. This is also a lovely book for recently arrived children to share with non-English speaking parents without them feeling awkward.
Shark in the Park
By Nick Sharratt. Illustrated by Nick Sharratt. Published by Corgi.
Shark in the Park is a long-established favourite with the Just Imagine team. We love the performative quality of this book. Get the children to roll up a piece of paper like a telescope and add a ‘Jaws-like’ soundtrack before turning the page to heighten the excitement. Novelty die-cut pages add to the children’s delight. Altogether now… ‘Timothy Pope, Timothy Pope…’
There was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly
By Pam Adams. Illustrated by Pam Adams. Published by Child's Play.
Pam Adams brought fresh life to this nursery rhyme 40 years ago, and her book has stood the test of time. Die-cut holes and the turn of the page reveal each of the creatures that the old woman swallows. This is still the best way to introduce this nursery rhyme to children in EYFS – do seek out a musical version and sing it too.
By Rod Campbell. Illustrated by Rod Campbell. Published by Macmillan.
A young boy writes to the zoo asking for the perfect pet, but they send him something inappropriate each time. There are clues to each animal before a flap is lifted to confirm the guess. Clear text on the page is great for young children learning the concepts of print. And there are lots of opportunities for prediction and for joining in. Children will quickly learn that the lion is too fierce – so stop to let them supply the word. Simply but perfectly designed for pre-school children.
Meg and Mog
By Helen Nicoll. Illustrated by Jan Pienkowski. Published by Puffin.
The idea of a spell going wrong delights young children – even adults get it wrong sometimes. Pienkowski’s bold illustrations on flat-coloured backgrounds are instantly recognisable. Meg and Mog are likeable characters, and there are more adventures to explore.
The Very hungry Caterpillar
By Eric Carle. Illustrated by Eric Carle. Published by Puffin.
This could well be the most-read book in the EYFS or KS1 classroom. Eric Carle had a brilliant way of taking a concept and making it relatable to young children. In this story, the hungry caterpillar eats its way through copious amounts of food before turning into a cocoon and then metamorphosing into a butterfly. Die-cut pages and a final colourful spread add to the delight. It’s a lovely story for enacting in the classroom too.
By Nick Butterworth. Illustrated by Mick Inkpen. Published by Hachette.
Young children love Jasper – he’s full of life and well-intentioned but sometimes things don’t work out the way he planned. A repetitive structure and lots of white space for the text, and big characterful illustrations make it was for young readers to focus on what is most important to the story.
Lost and Found
By Oliver Jeffers. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Published by HarperCollins.
One of Jeffers’ earliest picture books, this story quickly became an established favourite for reading at home and school. The book’s emotional tone is perfectly pitched, evoking empathy without tipping into the saccharine. There are many opportunities for creative work and finding places on the globe or world map.
Monkey and me
By Emily Gravett. Illustrated by Emily Gravett. Published by Macmillan.
Some of the best picture books for young children blur the boundaries between the world of the book and the world of play. This is one of them. It’s an invitation to children and adults to take on the roles of the animals, moving like an elephant, a penguin, a kangaroo and inventing their own movements for their favourite animals.
Good Night Gorilla
By Peggy Rathmann. Illustrated by Peggy Rathman. Published by HarperCollins.
Like Rosie’s Walk and Handa’s Surprise, the pleasure in this book comes from the reader seeing what the zoo keeper is oblivious to. A lovely story to share and a perfect book for bedtime routines too.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear
By Bill Martin Jnr. Illustrated by Eric Carle. Published by Puffin.
A well-loved classic book with a strong rhythm and repeated refrain that encourages children to join in. Each spread leads seamlessly into the next. Eric Carle’s characteristic collaged illustrations are impactful. A lovely book for a class or group read-along and for learning about colours.
By Polly Dunbar. Illustrated by Polly Dunbar. Published by Walker Books.
Polly Dunbar reigns supreme in her depiction of early childhood. Her observations of movement and expression and her ability to convey a range of emotions are stunning. This is one of our favourite books for preschool children of all time. We are sure it will delight many generations of children to come.