Classic children’s books with big birthdays in 2019

There are some stories that speak to all of us and never seem to date, no matter how old they are.

For example, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle was first published in 1969 but has sold more than 46 million copies and wins new fans every day.

We’ve had a copy since Baby Bookworm was born and I credit it with helping him to learn numbers and foods, not to mention an understanding of the life cycle of a caterpillar!

Child reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

We also got him the caterpillar costume for World Book Day this year and he insisted on wearing it for bedtime stories three days in a row.

This classic book turns 50 in May 2019 and is one of a number of ‘must-reads’ for every child which are celebrating important anniversaries this year.

Here are ten stories we think have stood the test of time and are essentials for your nursery bookshelf…

Mum and baby reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

50 YEARS OLD: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. £6.99 (paperback), Puffin

It’s a subject that you might associate with boring school science lessons. Yet the life cycle of the humble caterpillar – from hatching to its final metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly – is the quirky storyline of this beloved book.

The magic lies in Eric Carle’s distinctive, colourful collage illustrations and the little holes in the pages as our hero munches through everything from apples to Swiss cheese.

Thanks to this literary larvae’s insatiable appetite, young readers learn basic numbers, foods and days of the week too. One you’ll definitely read again and again – with your child and your future grandchildren, too. Buy from Amazon

30 YEARS OLD: Elmer by David McKee. £6.99 (paperback), Andersen Press. 

With his patchwork of colours, Elmer is one-of-a-kind and makes all the elephants laugh with joy. But one day he starts to doubt whether being different is right for him and sneaks off to disguise himself behind a mask of grey.

His plan ends up turning into the best joke he has ever played on his herd and the result is a riotous, colourful celebration known as Elmer Day (which you can celebrate yourself on 25 May).

David McKee’s understanding of emotions combined with his bright, psychedelic illustrations ensure this remains a truly joyful read, 30 years on from its original publication. Buy from Amazon

We're Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

30 YEARS OLD: We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. £6.99 (paperback), Walker

Children are natural thrill-seekers and this classic rhyming tale about five siblings setting out to ‘hunt bears’ will appeal to your little one’s spirit of adventure. It’s a perfect read-out-loud (and even act out) book too, thanks to Michael Rosen’s repetitive chants and onomatopoeic descriptions of the terrains they traverse.

This, coupled with Helen Oxenbury’s delicate drawings that switch between black and white sketches and watercolour scenes, are the reasons why it is still a bestseller 30 years after publication. And who can’t help but feel for the poor bear as he trudges home alone at the end? Buy from Amazon

The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen

30 YEARS OLD: The Blue Balloon by Mick Inkpen. £6.99 (paperback), Hachette

This imaginative, interactive picture book about the simple childhood pleasure of playing with a balloon was our first introduction to lovable puppy Kipper.

When a boy and his loyal dog find a mysterious blue balloon apparently left over from his birthday party, they get up to all sorts of exciting thing with it – stretching it, popping it, whacking it with a stick and even flying up to the moon!

Of course, they are back in time for tea and what’s gorgeous about this story is the mixture of adventure and simplicity. The story embraces the idea of playfulness and fun inherent in childhood, and the fold-out pages and pull outs are extremely clever. Buy from Amazon

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlburch

30 YEARS OLD: The Story Of The Little Mole Who Knew It Was None Of His Business by Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlburch. £6.99 (paperback), Pavilion

Poo jokes are tasteless and timeless – and a topic Baby Bookworm always has plenty to say about! So we get a lot of mileage out of this quirky tale which was originally written in German about a mole determined to find out what creature did its business on his bonce.

Aside from the toddler-friendly toilet humour, this book teaches young readers about different animals and their bodily functions, from the neat little rabbit droppings to vast cow pats. There’s easy to follow repetitive language and an hilarious final scene of revenge when our hero tracks down the culprit.

And who says Germans aren’t funny, eh? Buy from Amazon

One Springy Day by Nick Butterworth

30 YEARS OLD: Percy The Park Keeper stories by Nick Butterworth. £12.99 (hardback editions), HarperCollins Children’s

The first story starring Percy and his animal chums came out in 1989 and these charming stories about the genial park keeper have gone on to become classics, even turning into an animated TV series.

To mark the 30th anniversary, special hardback editions are being released, including one of the original book, One Snowy Night, plus a brand new story – One Springy Day. In this witty tale, Percy and pals are playing hide-and-seek when the fox finds a brilliant hiding place in the park keeper’s shed. Or so he thinks.

Because the fox accidentally falls into a pot of extra strong glue, leading to some very sticky situations as his friends try to help him get cleaned up. Buy from Amazon

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

25 YEARS OLD: Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram. £6.99 (board book), Walker

If a book could embody the depth of a parent’s love for their child, this reassuring tale by Sam McBratney would be it.

First published 25 years ago, the simple story sees Little Nutbrown Hare try to demonstrate to his father how much he loves him, only for Big Nutbrown Hare to outdo every stretch and hop.

Illustrator Anita Jeram’s watercolour images have a gentle, pastoral feel that add to the aura of safety and warmth surrounding this bedtime favourite. And the final line as the doting daddy whispers to his sleeping baby “I love you right up to the moon – and back” would melt even the hardest of hearts.

A special anniversary edition will be published in late 2019. Buy from Amazon

So Much! by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury

25 YEARS OLD: So Much! by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury. £6.99 (paperback), Walker

The love and joy that a baby brings to a family is a precious thing, with this fascinating little person becoming a focal point for loved ones. This award-winning and uplifting story captures this sense of adoration perfectly.

As a cast of relatives arrive ready for a surprise party, each one expresses their affect for the child in different ways – hugs, play fights, kisses, games and stories. The language is rich, descriptive and repetitive, with Helen Oxenbury’s bright gouache pictures capturing their energy perfectly.

While the book reflects Trish Cooke’s Afro-Caribbean heritage, the message is universal – and just a joy to share. One of our all-time favourites. Buy from Amazon

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

20 YEARS OLD: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. £6.99 (board book), Macmillan

Size doesn’t matter if you are smart, as the mouse proves when he goes for a walk in the woods and uses his wiles to escape the clutches of the fox, owl and snake. But what will he do when his tall tale about a fearsome creature called The Gruffalo turn out to be true?

This witty and wise rhyming adventure was the first big hit by the Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler dream team and probably remains their all-time best, selling 13 million copies and counting. The 20th anniversary edition includes a pop-out play scene plus a quiz and song lyrics. Buy from Amazon

Julia Donaldson reveals which of her characters is her all-time favourite

That's Not My Puppy

20 YEARS OLD: That’s Not My Puppy by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells. £6.99 (board book), Usborne.

There can’t be a parent or grandparent in the land who hasn’t read a That’s Not My book with their baby. The bestselling touchy-feely books have sold more than 20 million copies over the last 20 years.

These simple sensory reads with their repetitive language, bold illustrations and chunky pages are perfect first books for babies and equally enjoyable for curious toddlers. That’s Not My Puppy was the very first title in 1999 and now there are 55 versions and counting.

To mark the 20th anniversary, Usborne has published a gorgeous celebratory edition of the original title, complete with furry cover, party balloons and a bit of metallic sparkle. Buy from Amazon

You may also like…

Why we love Usborne’s That’s Not My books

Roald Dahl’s Matilda turns 30

60 facts about Paddington Bear on his 60th birthday


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