Classic children’s books with big birthdays in 2020

There’s a special joy in revisiting a favourite book from your own childhood with your little one – and seeing them fall in love with it as much as you did.

For me, it’s the sign of a true classic when the story speaks to each generation afresh and gives them as much pleasure as children who read it when it was published.

There are some all-time bestsellers that are celebrating big birthdays in 2020 and we think every child should have a copy on their bookshelf. How many have you already got?

60 YEARS OLD: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss. £16.99 (hardback slipcase edition) / £6.99 (paperback), Harper Collins Children’s

Did you know that this iconic Dr Seuss book was the result of a bet? The author was challenged by his publisher to create a story with a vocabulary of 50 words – and he succeeded in succinct and silly style, going on to sell eight million copies and counting.

If you are not familiar with the story, it sees Sam-I-Am pestering his friend Guy-Am-I to eat a plate of green eggs and ham. His pal is not keen, no matter which location or dinner guest he suggests dining in. But persistence pays off when Guy-Am-I gives in – and declares he is indeed a fan of green eggs and ham. Phew! Available from Amazon

50 YEARS OLD: Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr. £6.99 (paperback), HarperCollins 

While her picture book debut starred a feline of the enigmatic kind (The Tiger Who Came To Tea) and was based on a story she told her daughter, Judith Kerr’s longest running character was a cat with a tendency for catastrophe and inspired by her own family pet.

Mog’s picture book debut sees the forgetful moggy get into a host of scrapes, much to the frustration of the Thomas family. But one night her escapades make her the heroine of the hour when she catches a burglar breaking in and becomes a rather special ‘guard cat’. It’s funny, sweet and shows children that anyone can come to the rescue, no matter who they are. Available from Amazon

50 YEARS OLD: Mr Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham. £7.99 (paperback), Red Fox

The late, great John Burningham won the second of his Greenaway medals for this charming tale about Mr Gumpy’s boat trip along the river.

One day Mr Gumpy decides to take a trip along the river in his boat but the children, the rabbit, the cat, the pig and lots more friends decide to join him. Everyone’s having a lovely time until the animals start kicking, bleating, hopping and flapping and the boat starts to rock.

Available from Amazon

40 YEARS OLD: Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill. £6.99 (board book), Puffin

The story that introduced generations of children to mischievous puppy Spot is such a classic that it’s often forgotten how groundbreaking this picture book was back in 1980, thanks to its lift-the-flap innovation.

We love helping Spot’s mum Sally hunt for him at teatime, looking under rugs, inside grandfather clocks and under the stairs, to be confronted by an array of animals normally seen at the zoo. A book that every child should own. Available from Amazon

40 YEARS OLD: Peace at Last by Jill Murphy. £6.99 (paperback), Macmillan

Insomnia seems to be a running theme in children’s stories about bears but this book is the original. As the Faithless song goes, Mr Bear can’t get no sleep and to make matters worse, everyone else is snoring like drains.

He ends up trailing from room to room to garden, avoiding ticking clocks and buzzing appliances, desperate to get peace at last.

This Jill Murphy story is both funny and relatable, with lovely dialogue and the cuddliest family of bears that you’ll just want to snuggle up in bed with. Available from Amazon

15 brilliant books about bears

40 YEARS OLD: Funnybones by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. £6.99 (paperback), Puffin

This frightfully funny story about three skeletons and their japes after dark brings back all sorts of memories for me of the animated version back in the early 1990s.

Janet’s illustrations feel more cartoonish than the duo’s other books, probably due to the block colours, and the layout itself has a cartoon strip feel, with boxes and speech bubbles. We love the scene where they put their dog’s bones back together the wrong way and also singing ‘Dem Bones’. Available from Amazon

Allan Ahlberg tells us which of his books are his all-time favourites

40 YEARS OLD: The Twits by Roald Dahl. £5.99 (paperback), Penguin

The Twits are disgusting, inside and out – and two of Roald Dahl’s greatest creations. The book was also the first one of his that I read as a child and the description of Mr Twit’s beard with bits of cornflake and sardine has never left me.

The gruesome twosome keep Muggle-wump the monkey and his family locked in a cage but they will soon get their comeuppance – and your child will delight in hearing how justice takes its course. Available from Amazon

Watch out chiddlers! Here come Roald Dahl books for babies

25 YEARS OLD: Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illustrated by 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.

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.

While the book was actually published in the UK in 1994, it didn’t arrive in America until 1995, which means the anniversary celebrations have continued into this year, including publication of a special edition. Available from Amazon

20 YEARS OLD: I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato by Lauren Child. £6.99 (board book), Orchard

Charlie and his funny little sister Lola are practically royalty in our house, thanks to Lauren Child’s astute observations of children’s conversations and groundbreaking mixed media artwork.

All of their everyday adventures are much loved by Baby Bookworm but their debut story from 2000 about Lola’s stubborn fussy eating – and Charlie’s imaginative ways to get her to try foods she apparently hates – always entertains.

It might be 20 years old but this book is as fresh and relevant as ever, and the start of one of the greatest sibling pairings in picture book history. Available from Amazon

We meet Charlie and Lola creator Lauren Child

15 YEARS OLD: Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. £6.99 (paperback), Macmillan

Not only does Julia Donaldson have a golden ear for a rhyme, she has a way of taking clever and sophisticated storylines and making them utterly accessible for children too.

Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book is one of her many bestselling collaborations with long time illustration partner Axel Scheffler and is a witty, whistlestop journey through a host of different classic stories, woven together by characters all immersing themselves in a good book.

There’s something for everyone – pirates, aliens, queens and nursery rhyme icons – and each page turn brings a thrilling twist in the tale. It’s absolutely genius and a wonderful celebration of the world of stories by the storyteller-in-chief herself. Available from Amazon

Read more…
Classic children’s books with big birthdays in 2019
4 of the best versions of Little Red Riding Hood
10 classic Christmas stories for children

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