What books should I read with my 18-month-old? – The Guardian

I’m not sure what books I should be reading to my 18-month-old son. The Book Trust starter pack was really helpful but I don’t know what to move on to next – a lot of picture books seem to have too many words to hold his attention and some even say on them that they are for age 3+. Any suggestions?

Firstly, you’ve already made a great start by collecting the Book Trust Bookstart pack. It’s a brilliant scheme giving free books to every single baby in the country and is an excellent introduction to books and reading from the earliest days.

At 18 months there are no rules about what your son should or shouldn’t read – it’s all about having fun exploring books (in every possible way if he’s a chomper of pages!) Find a cosy corner in the children’s section of your local library, let him toddle around the low displays and see what he brings back to you to look at.

Toddle waddle
A toddler and his duck (and a few other people and animals) take a trip to the seaside. Photograph: Macmillan

Big bold illustrations will always appeal at that age and you may have already come across the illustrator Nick Sharratt. His series of books for toddlers with Julia Donaldson bring together two absolute masters of this age group. Their brilliant Toddle Waddle, which comes as a board book (still the most robust format for young toddlers like your son) is a colourful follow my leader journey to the seaside with simple rhymes and repetition while Animal Music offers lots of opportunities to point out animals while making lots of (musical) noise. Sharratt’s own Fancy Dress Farmyard is a bright variation on a lift the flap book – turn the cut away page to reveal which farmyard animal is hiding behind a zany disguise, with a rhyme for each character.

If lift the flap books appeal then Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo, in which each flap opens to reveal an animal (don’t forget to give a big ROAR for the lion) is a perennial favourite as are Eric Hill’s classic Spot books, in which a little dog has the sorts of adventures a toddler might experience – going to the park, going to bed, enjoying his first Christmas. Dick Bruna’s Miffy now also comes in a couple of interactive versions – Miffy Look and See is a very simple peep through book that features the iconic little rabbit and some of her friends while the cut-out Miffy’s Word Book is a lovely point-and-find book of simple, bold Miffy pictures and words, organised into activities – Miffy on holiday, Miffy’s birthday and so on.

If your son has nimble fingers then “push and pull” books with sliders are a fun way to interact with books but many are simply not robust enough to cope with enthusiastic toddlers for long. An exception is a new series from Campbell Books. Its push-pull-spin-slide books, such as Hello! Farm, are sturdy volumes of busy pictures packed full of things to look for, point out and discuss, with the added element of “bringing the book to life” through various sliders.

A Bit Lost
Be warned! Chris Haughton’s marvellous A Bit Lost, about a little owl searching for his mummy, may bring a lump to your throat. Photograph: Walker Books

Don’t ignore more traditional paper-based picture books, either. It may just take a little exploring to find the right combination of text and illustration that works for you and your son at this stage. Simplicity is often the key. Chris Haughton is a relative newcomer on the picture book scene who has made a big splash with his absolutely wonderful first three books, Oh No, George!, A Bit Lost and the award-winning Shh! We Have a Plan. He explains in this blog how, with the latter title, it took him two years to write a book with just 103 words and part of the genius of Shh is how the carefully chosen minimal text marries perfectly with Haughton’s distinctive graphic style to create a simple but humorous story that can hold the interest of both toddlers and grown-ups over many, many rereadings. Similarly, Ed Vere’s Max the Brave (soon to be followed up with Max at Night) makes a virtue of simplicity with his striking illustration and delightful story of a brave little kitten who chases mice (if he can work out what that elusive mouse looks like).

Finally, it’s never too early for poetry and a former children’s laureate, Michael Rosen has joined forces with the new children’s laureate, illustrator Chris Riddell, to create a big book of poetry especially for very young children – A Great Big Cuddle. It is indeed great and big in every way – a large format volume with Riddell’s distinctive pictures bursting off the page accompanied by Rosen’s perfectly pitched rhymes.

Please share your recommendations on this theme by emailchildrens.books@theguardian.com or on Twitter @GdnchildrensBks and we’ll add them to this blog. You can also ask the Book Doctor a question using #BookDoctor.