The best children's books: 2-4 year-olds
Goodnight Moon: Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
A pyjama'd rabbit tries to delay lights-out by bidding goodnight to everything in his room. The story unspools in soft, sleepy half-rhymes: "a little toy house and a young mouse"; "a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush". A bedtime classic (brace yourself for the inevitable "what's mush?").
The Elephant and the Bad Baby: Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs
A larcenous elephant and his diminutive passenger gambol down a high street, merrily shoplifting as they go, and collect a train of fist-waving vendors in their wake. Briggs' airy illustrations perfectly balance the clatter of the pair as they go "rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta, all down the road".
The Snail and the Whale: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Forget the Gruffalo. The finest book to emerge from the pens of Team Donaldson-Scheffler is this rich, rewarding tale of a snail with wanderlust and the whale who takes her on a round-the-world cruise. Size isn't everything, the message goes: when the whale is beached, the tiny snail saves the day.
My Friend Harry: Kim Lewis
James takes his elephant, Harry, everywhere: on holiday, on the farm, into bed. As Harry grows more battered, James simply grows – until he has to leave Harry behind and go to school. Lewis smartly underplays the scene when James's mother waves him off at the school gate, but it's a subtle tearjerker.
Where The Wild Things Are: Maurice Sendak
Sendak's classic fantasy sees Max, sent to his room for "making mischief", imagining his way into the kingdom of the Wild Things: twisted, toothy and strange. He leads them in glorious "wild rumpus", but tires of rebellion and goes home to find supper waiting for him, "still hot".
Dogger: Shirley Hughes
When Dave's beloved toy dog goes missing, there seems little hope of recovering him – until he turns up at the school fair and big sister Bella helps reunite them. This simple lost-and-found story is deeply satisfying – and Hughes' comfortable, chaotic sketches of late-70s family life will hook parents who lived it first-hand.
Not Now, Bernard: David McKee
The only person who pays attention to Bernard is the monster in the garden – who eats him up, "every bit". Unfortunately, when the monster goes inside, Bernard's parents ignore him, too. The image of the chastened monster plodding glumly up to bed, trailing Bernard's teddy bear behind him, is priceless.
Gorilla: Anthony Browne
The children's laureate's deepest, most yielding book, about a lonely girl's consolatory fantasies. Hannah's father is depressed and withdrawn, so one night she dreams up a gorilla to take his place and escort her to the zoo. Artful references to Magritte and King Kong vitalise the backdrops, and the ending is delicately ambiguous.
Once There Were Giants: Martin Waddell and Penny Dale
This beautiful book tells the story of a little girl surrounded by giants – father, mother, uncle, siblings. She ages through the pages until she too has a daughter, and realises she has crossed over into gianthood herself. Warning: do NOT attempt to read without a tissue to hand.