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At this time of year it is always a challenge for aunties and uncles and grannies and grandpas to choose the ideal gift for the littler members of the family.

With electronics and expensive toys at the top of Father Christmas’s list, books rarely feature any more. However, research is showing that the more your read to your children the more it stimulates their imagination, increases their understanding of the world and develops language and listening skills. This December I recommend three books that will do just that.

The collection of children’s stories in The Big Book of Animal Stories (Struik Children) is definitely a highlight of the year. It is a collection of stories by different authors and they all have distinctive main characters. It is superb for parents as the stories are relatively short, so you don't have to read the whole book at once.


The stories all have good morals and learning opportunities, from a little elephant who believes she is not good at anything but turns out to be an excellent firefighter, a nervous hedgehog who is concerned how he will fit in at big school, and a little boy who realises that being himself is better than wanting to be someone else.

The story that stood out the most for us was Be Careful Barney, by Lucy Barnard, as she clearly also has a 4-year-old. It is all about Barney the fox cub who doesn't listen and almost gets himself into trouble. This went down particularly well in our house as the moral was clearly driven home. As a parent, I enjoyed this book as much as my son did.

If you are looking for a book that helps expand your children's English skills then A Huddle of Hippos by Julia Richman (Two Pups) is the book to get. It's about Sam and his parents on their safari adventure.

The author uses animals, fun and rhyme to teach the oddities of language in an engaging way, by having Sam narrate the discovery of these animals while introducing their collective nouns.


Each page has two to three collective nouns accompanied by lovely illustrations. “The cackle of hyenas” laughing at the “sounder of dirty warthogs” or warning the “stand of flamingos” to watch out for the hungry “float of crocodiles” are just a few clever ways they are entwined into the story.

The watercolour illustrations are easy on the eye and complement the story nicely. Soft, calming colours are exactly what a busy mom needs when reading bedtime stories. Overall, this is an entertaining read for kids and demonstrates that learning English doesn't need to be a chore.

The last of my recommendations is My Great Expedition by Justin Fox (Bumble Books).

If anyone has been lucky enough to travel through Europe as a child, then this book will bring back your dusty memories. The author, Justin Fox, clearly did and was able to elicit all my fond, and not-so-fond, moments from travelling with my parents. What he does so well is to perfectly capture all those wondrous moments of discovery, from tall men with furry hats in London to the flipping of coins into the beautiful Roman fountains.


The story is about a 6-year old boy who travels with his parents, and toy “Liony Whiny” to Europe to explore London, Germany, Italy and Greece, while meeting up with his siblings along the way who are clearly in their “gap year”.

The essence of each country is captured perfectly, using poetic language and native words. The illustrations complement the graphic nature of the story. A special mention goes to Lucy Stuart-Clark who uses a technique called gouache-resist in combination with photo collage. She also cleverly inserts familiar images linked to each country. While reading about the Champs-Élysées, see if you can spot Tin Tin and The Little Prince.

This book is a very real account of the travels of a little boy referring to Mozart as a “little blond boy with a silly wig and boring violin”, and “my legs are shot from too much ruin” is a hilarious dig at being dragged around too many ruins. Something I remember well!

A great way to engage your children’s minds and imaginations, this book is for children 6 years and up.