What’s your favourite children’s story?


Selection of children's books I got away from work early on Friday, in the hope that I’d beat the weekend exodus from London and get home without spending hours in stationary traffic.

As it happened, road works foiled that plan, but it felt like one of my shortest journeys home thanks to an enjoyable a trip down memory lane, courtesy of Jeremy Vine and his show on Radio 2.

The best children's stories

He announced the results of a survey to find what his listeners think is the best children’s bedtime story ever written. The top three were The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne and, with the most votes, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

These are all books that I have enjoyed reading to my three (now teenaged) children, and the discussion Jeremy had with viewers, poet and author Michael Rosen and Julia, the winning author, reminded me of so many others that have faded into the past.

The joys of bedtime reading
The moments shared with your child at their bedtime can be some of the closest, and reading aloud together is a pleasure I’ve not enjoyed for some years now.

But when Julia started to recite her wonderful story about the little mouse who outwitted the hungry animals in the deep dark wood by inventing a scary monster called the Gruffalo, only to be confronted by his own invention (played by Jeremy Vine on this occasion) it took me back to those special, cosy, cuddly bedtimes.

I love my teenagers and the adult conversations we have now, the conviction and passion that comes from who they are, but I allowed myself a little nostalgia as I enjoyed Julia’s performance.

Re-reading my favourite stories

And when I got home I looked out the box of books I’ve kept. I’m not sure why I’ve kept them – the chance of reading to grandchildren is still years away, so maybe it’s just for me.

I spent Friday afternoon re-reading some of my favourites, and some of those that I still know by heart, so often were they requested by one or other of the children.

Some, like Mick Inkpen’s Lullabyhullaballoo! and Noah’s Ark by Lucy Cousins are falling apart through loving overuse. I’ve always found Dogger by Shirley Hughes the most heart-warming story and it’s still as good as it ever was.

Some of the most frequently asked for books were ‘alternative’ classics – do you know ‘Whiff – or How the beautiful big fat baby (warthog) found a friend’? Billy used to love this mad, rhyming story.

Or how about Norvin the Great White Man-eating Shark?! I’ve added a photo of some the books I re-visited on Friday – is your favourite there?

Are you sitting comfortably?

The craft of telling a story in not so many words, often with rhyme, humour and a message behind the story, is not an easy one. Add the stunning illustrations that children’s books have and we’re spoilt for choice.

The pleasure attached to books can be immense, and I’ve always been a sucker in a bookshop – somehow I just don’t feel guilty when I spend money on books. Spending a few minutes reading aloud to your children or grandchildren at bedtime can sometimes seem like a chore, but the benefits for listener and reader are well worth the effort.

What are your favourite stories?

I’d love to hear whether you or your child has a favourite. Do you agree with the Radio 2 poll and vote The Gruffalo to the top, or have you got your own choice that you’d like to spread the word about? Please tell me – I’d love to hear!

Love Kathy x


  1. Clair November 13, 2009 at 11:47 am -  Reply

    Your update really made me smile!
    I have a 2.5 year old daughter who adores books, we look at books together an awful lot and always have a bedtime story together. Her favourite, and mine too as a child, is Dogger, such a lovely story with beautiful illustrations, as have all of Shirley Hughes books.
    Glad you had an enjoyable afternoon reading the stories! You are welcome to come to sunny devon to read to Eloise if you want to read to a ‘real’ child!

  2. Margaret November 14, 2009 at 6:03 pm -  Reply

    Hi Kathy , I agree with you totally children should always have a good bedtime story, Mine are in their 40s now but I can still remember reading to them every night, I used to sit on the top stair and tell them a differant one every night but they always loved the one about Henny Penny and the sky falling down it did go on a bit though and I can remember if I ad libbed a bit they both used to shout but Mum you didnt say that last time, kids have brilliant memories dont they , managed to get away with it though. We are all avid readers and like you Im in my glory in a good book shop.Save your old childrens books Ive still got some from my childhood and I read them now and again , one of my favourites is The Arabian Nights Entertainments my elder sister used to read it to me and then I started to read it for myself surprisingly its still in good condition.All good wishes , Margaretx.

  3. Denise Cobden November 14, 2009 at 10:04 pm -  Reply

    You made me feel so nostalgic. My daughters and I loved The Bear Hunt and Owl babies. When the mother owl returned we all smiled and sighed with relief every time. It brings a smile to my face even now.

  4. Kerrie November 15, 2009 at 6:27 pm -  Reply

    Hi Kathy!
    I read the presenter blogs often but have never commented on any until now.. Your post really struck a chord with me as I work as a bookseller specialising in children’s books. I don’t have any children myself (yet!)but when I do I really hope they become avid readers and I’m always advocating/preaching to my customers how important it is to ‘start them young’ and read with them. There’s nothing like the sight of a child sat down either at our little table or sometimes even in the middle of the floor really enjoying the story they’ve just plucked off the shelves.
    As for favourites, mine are two by the fabulous Jill Murphy – ‘Whatever Next’ where baby bear flies to the moon in a cardboard box with a colander for a hat and ‘Peace at Last’ where Mr Bear can’t sleep due to Mrs Bear’s snoring and dripping taps and suchlike – both bring back such amazing memories.
    Anyway thank you for sharing your fondness for children’s books Kathy,
    Take care,

  5. Jane Duff November 15, 2009 at 11:00 pm -  Reply

    Dear Kathy
    I enjoyed reading your blog on books very much, don’t you think that part of the enduring quality of a good book apart from its contents are the memories it can evoke.
    I can still remember the anticipation of saving up my 2/6d to go and buy the next book in the series of paperbacks I was reading at the age of about eight.
    One of my earliest memories of actual books was the Little Grey Rabbit series, of which I was an avid collector. I loved the watercolour illustrations as well as the stories themselves. Later I progressed on to Enid Blyton books of which there have been some critics, but I just thought that they were a very good read, and I remember them coming out in paperback too.
    Happy Reading everyone, whatever age you are!

  6. Nicola Rippon November 16, 2009 at 11:29 am -  Reply

    Hi Kathy
    Like Jane one of my all-time favourites were the Little Grey Rabbit books by Allison Uttley (I loved her even more because she came from Derbyshire like me!)
    Other favourites were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory/Great Glass Elevator, the Little Women books of Louisa May Alcott, my grandma’s copy of Alice in Wonderland, Gobolino the Witch’s Cat and the Magic Faraway Tree – if I’m feeling ill I still read them!
    What a lovely bit of nostalgia you have sparked – makes me want to go out and buy Fizzy Spangles!

  7. Jill November 16, 2009 at 2:26 pm -  Reply

    Hi Kathy
    I too have been listening to Jeremy Vine and loving his trawl through the best children’s books. I was never a mum who was good at creative stuff particularly, but the one thing I loved doing with my 3 children was sitting down – at any time of the day – and reading a story to them. Mine loved Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, and I can still remember the look of relief on their little faces when mummy owl came back! As they got older we progressed through to more demanding stories, which I would read a bit at a time. They loved Roald Dahl, Alan Garner and of course JK Rowling. I read to them at night till they were quite old, about 9 or 10. They are 19, 16 and 15 now and enjoy reading still, which is great. But I often miss that special time with them curled up with a good book. Like you, I am keeping some of them for grandchildren, though that will hopefully be a while away!
    Love Jill x

  8. kathy tayler November 16, 2009 at 10:47 pm -  Reply

    Hi Clair
    If I’m planning a trip to Devon I’ll let you know!
    It sounds like Eloise has good literary taste! You’ve lots of happy reading together ahead of you – enjoy it!
    Take care
    Kathy x

  9. kathy tayler November 16, 2009 at 10:52 pm -  Reply

    Hi Margaret
    Sitting on the top stair is a great idea – I often used to lie down on the bed with whichever child I was reading to, and I’d easily fall asleep before them!
    I don’t know The Arabian Nights Entertainment book you mention – but I do have a few of my childhood favourites, including one that I was awarded as a prize at school in 1966 – almost an antique!
    Happy reading
    Kathy x

  10. kathy tayler November 16, 2009 at 10:55 pm -  Reply

    Hi Denise
    Owl babies was one of Billy’s favourites, largely I think because one of the baby owls was called Bill! Also, we hear owls in our garden most nights, but hardly ever see them, so he was always pleased to hear a story about them.
    And The Bear Hunt is one of my favouriters – i just love the rhythm as you recite it.
    Best wishes
    Kathy x

  11. kathy tayler November 16, 2009 at 10:59 pm -  Reply

    Hi Kerrie
    What a lovely job – being surrounded by books all day. I hope you get time to read them!
    I read both the books you mention to all three of my children – Peace at Last was always one to be picked out, such a gentle story.
    I’m glad you took the plunge and posted a comment – it was good to hear from you.
    Take care
    Kathy x

  12. kathy tayler November 16, 2009 at 11:04 pm -  Reply

    Hello Jane
    You’re right about the memories, of course. And our memories are an important part of who we are today.
    I used to read Enid Blyton avidly, and when you think of the pleasure that her books have bought to millions of children I don’t think anyone should knock her writing. I enjoyed all the Secret seven and Famous Five books, and there was also a series by another author, I think called the Lone Pine series, with the main character a girl called Peter and set around the Long Mynd, which I think is in Shropshire. I’ve just dragged that from the bottom of a very cloudy mind, but I’m sure someone will let me know if there was such a series?!
    Happy reading to you, too!
    Best wishes
    Kathy x

  13. Margaret November 17, 2009 at 11:49 am -  Reply

    Hi Kathy ,thought Id just let you know The Arabian Nights Entertainments is a story book with all the stories you will remember Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Aladdin, Sinbad The Sailor etc. told each night to the Sultan to save her life she left the stories open ended so he would spare her till the next story and in the end he fell in love with her and she lived. You know the beautiful music Shaharazade is based on it .I love the Classics and dont think they are read enough today ,tell I am from an older generation but I was always bought a couple for Christmas and thoughly enjoyed them ,comes in handy when we watch quiz shows on the tele if nothing else.

  14. Debbie Greenwood November 18, 2009 at 8:35 am -  Reply

    Hi Kathy
    A book I used to love was ‘The Thirteenth Fairy’. I think my mum passed it down to me. It was about an orphan and it made me cry everytime I read it.
    We always read a lot to the girls and they are now both book worms, so I think you are absolutely right about the importance of bedtime stories.
    I also used to love all the Enid Blyton stories, especially the Mallory Towers series. Funnily enough, at the moment I am reading an Enid Blyton and it’s taking me weeks. It’s called ‘Os Cinco e o Cientista Distraido’.
    I didn’t know she could speak Portuguese, either!!!!!!

  15. Emily Winter December 5, 2009 at 11:59 pm -  Reply

    When my boys were small they chose a story to be read to them every night .My oldest son had a different story usually every night .But my wee one had Billy Goats Gruff , every single night for nearly 2 years he refused to have anything else .The hard part was he knew it off by heart and try as I might to skip a page ,it didn’t happen.He reads with his wee one now .

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