Brain building happens when you and your little one are interacting with each other. A baby’s brain is wired to grow from birth and during your child’s earliest years, their brain makes 1 million neural connections every single second (NSPCC, 2019). Every time you read aloud to your child and respond positively to their babbles and gestures, those neural connections are being built and strengthened. So when we talk about the best 8 books we’re taking this into consideration.

3.5 words learnt every day

Between the ages of one and five, children learn (on average) approximately 3.5 words everyday (Dickinson et al. 2012). In order for this to happen, children need lots of exposure to language (especially those words they don’t hear in everyday life!) In a previous post ‘The best 2 books for developing language skillswe talked about how to support your child’s language development using repetition. In this post, we review our favourite books for boosting your toddler’s vocabulary.

Have fun bringing the stories to life – use animated voices for the characters, make the sounds of the animals, giggle at the jokes or you could create your own story sacks’.   Abandon your agenda and let your child lead the story, you can read more about the Hanen approach here.

1.The Very Hungry Caterpillar  By Eric Carle

The story follows the journey of a hungry caterpillar as he eats his way through a varied and very large quantity of food until he is full and builds himself a cocoon before emerging as a butterfly. The story is easy to follow for children of any age and it provides opportunity to work on different language skills. It is great for learning new vocabulary of food items, describing words, colours and numbers.

After you have read the book together a couple of times try using OWL  (Observe, Wait, Listen) or leave a gap of 10 seconds for your child to try to fill in the missing word at the end of a sentence. For those children already using sentences, the book can be used to introduce the concept of sequences and talk about the lifecycle of a butterfly – the perfect book for late Spring and Summer to carry on the conversation when playing outside.

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2. The Very Lazy Ladybird By Isobel Finn & Jack Tickle

This picture book tells the story of a ladybird so lazy that she doesn’t know how to fly so she catches a ride on each animal that passes by. This story is perfect for working on action words and describing words as well as the names and sounds for different animals. Once your child is familiar with the story you could copy some of the pictures from the book and take it in turns to describe what is happening.

For single word users, model 2 word phrases (i.e. ‘monkey swinging’) or for those already using short phrases introduce longer sentences (i.e. ‘the monkey is swinging in the tree’). You could turn this activity into a game  using skittles (place the pictures under the skittles and take it in turns to roll the ball), fishing rods or a treasure hunt.

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3. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? By Eric Carle

Children see a variety of animals, each one a different colour and a teacher looking at them. This book’s simple and repetitive language is ideal for working on expanding utterances and using 2 word phrases (i.e. ‘green frog’ or ‘I see’).

Once your child is familiar with the story you could place objects or pictures around your home to reinforce understanding of the subjective pronoun and encourage longer sentences (e.g. ‘I see a green frog’).

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4. Dinosaur Farm By Frann Preston-Gannon

This story describes a day in the life of a farmer and his pet dino-dog on their dinosaur farm.  The farmer has to work hard to take care of his dinosaurs and there is lots to do everyday. The illustrations are perfect for getting little ones involved with the story by encouraging them to describe what they see and what is happening as well as make predictions about what might happen (i.e. ‘Oh no, the farmer forgot to close the gate. What do you think is going to happen next?)

The BookTrust has a fantastic online resource with reading tips and book recommendations for children of all ages. You can search for books by theme so you can find a book your child will love whether they have a special interest in dinosaurs, fairies or penguins.

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5. Dinosaur Roar  By Henrietta & Paul Stickland

This picture book teaches children about all the different types of dinosaurs and uses rhyming text to describe what they look like. This book is perfect for working on adjectives and opposites (i.e. ‘long vs short’ and ‘weak vs strong’).

Leave a gap at the end of the sentence to allow your little one to complete the sentence using a new describing word (i.e. ‘dinosaur spiky, dinosaur …’ The illustrations are ideal for starting conversations and talking introducing the concept of same and different so they can then begin to apply them to other things in their environment (e.g. ‘the tree is tall’).

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6. Bear on a Bike By Hannah Shaw

Rhyme and repetition is used to tell the story of Bear as he tries out different forms of transportation and has an adventure with each one. The illustrations provide plenty of opportunity for your child to initiate and lead conversations about the story and understand and use new vocabulary for transportation, animals and food.

It also allows for you to talk about sequences and the order of events in a story i.e. first bear is on the bike, then the bus etc.

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7. The Tiger Who Came to Tea By Judith Kerr

A girl called Sophie is having tea with her mother in their kitchen when they are joined by a tiger who eats all the food in the house. After your child has become familiar with the story you could create your own afternoon tea or picnic with toy food and drink items from the story and practise re-telling the story.

When you are reading the story and looking at the pictures together you could ask questions about what is happening, guess what the tiger is thinking or make predictions about what the mother or father might say or do.

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8. Wow! Said the Owl  By Tim Hopgood

The story of a curious little owl who wants to see what the world looks like during the day. It is a great story for learning new vocabulary about weather, nature and colours. It is the perfect book for using as inspiration for arts and crafts activities – stick pictures of the owl into different backgrounds and talk about where the owl is and what they can see (e.g. ‘the owl is sitting in the tree/there is lots of clouds in the sky’).

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Written by Aine Barrett, Speech and Language Therapist

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Best two books for language development

How colourful semantics can help with language skills

The colour monster – a great book for teaching emotional awareness