Top 10 books for pre-schoolers’ short attention spans

Top 10 books for pre-schoolers by Sompting Abbotts

I’ve taught pre-schoolers for some two decades now and books play a big part in our day. Story books are a brilliant way to inspire young imaginations, teach children about aspects of life and, of course, are wonderful entertainment in themselves!

storytime at sompting abbotts in the pre-prep

I always try to match books to the children’s interests but there’s a few ingredients I think that the best books have to show to really grab the attention of children in the age 2 – 4 year group.

Qualities like great illustrations, predictable patterns, rhyming text, humour and engaging characters are the fun factors that make children want more and more of the wonderful world of books.

So here goes! These are my personal favourites and the ones my class loves most right now. Some of these books are just perfect for reading out aloud and others are ideal for individual exploration. They make great gifts too!

Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell


Rod Campbell's classic lift-the-flap book Dear Zoo has been a firm favourite with toddlers and parents alike ever since it was first published in 1982. I love it because it:

  • Introduces lots of different animals

  • Has lots of humour

  • Makes the perfect starting point to talk about the size and needs of different animals

  • Gets the children all talking about their favourite animals and pets


That’s not my … by Fiona Watt

favourite books for pre-schoolers

There are now 50 of these brightly illustrated books with touchy-feely textures to explore and a simple, repetitive storyline. Everything from That’s not my unicorn to That’s not my dragon to That’s not my monster to That’s not my elephant! They're especially compelling for toddlers. I love them because they’re:

  • All very touchy-feely and a sensory delight

  • Every page is a new surprise

  • Children get to actually feel textures and to talk about them

  • Simple and repetitive so children love them and know what to expect

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

the tiger who came to tea

This is another classic that never fails to entrance. The Tiger Who Came to Tea was published right back in 1968. The doorbell rings just as Sophie and her mummy are sitting down to tea. Who could it possibly be? What they certainly don't expect to see at the door is a big furry, stripy tiger! I love it because:

  • The illustrations are fabulous

  • The characters are wonderful

  • Children are always fascinated by the tiger

  • The naughty tiger gives us a great chance to talk about manners

Postman Bear by Julia Donaldson

postman bear is a favourite pre-schooler book at sompting abbotts preparatory school

Postman Bear is another wonderful lift-the-flap book from Julia Donaldson – a writer who understands children like few others! Bear is writing letters to his friends. But what could his letters be about? Lift the flaps and join Frog, Squirrel and Mole for Bear's special surprise ... I love this one because it is:

  • Especially great for younger children

  • Full of surprises on every page

  • Good for helping little ones understand about letter-writing

  • Has wonderful rhyming couplets


each peach pear plum

Each Peach, Pear, Plum by Janet and Allan Alhberg

Each Peach Pear Plum is another wonderful classic. Each beautifully illustrated page encourages young children to interact with the picture to find the next fairy tale and nursery rhyme character. I love it because it’s:

  • So clever and interactive as the reader has to 'spy' the next character as the book progresses

  • It works well for younger children and bigger ones too

  • Packed with wonderful illustrations which delight little ones

  • Written with an easy rhyme to follow

You Choose by Nick Sharratt

you choose by nick sharratt

You Choose is a book that's such a great talking point and it would be a very good one to take on a long journey or for when you've got time to fill – in the doctor's waiting room for example. There’s not much text; instead, the pages are stuffed to the brim with colourful pictures of every imaginable thing. Imagine you could go anywhere, with anyone and do anything. Where would you live? Where would you sleep? Who would be your friends? Go on ... you choose! I love it because it allows:

  • Children to choose their favourites

  • Learning about categorising things

  • You to provide an endless source of discussion

  • Respite for tired children: they can't help but do the talking!

There’s a few ingredients I think the best books have to really grab the attention of children in the age 2 – 4 year group. Qualities like great illustrations, predictable patterns, rhyming text, humour and engaging characters are the fun factors that make this age group of children want more and more of the wonderful world of books.
— Joanna Carrington, Co-Head of Pre-Prep

Who’s in the Loo? by Jeanne Willis

who's in the loo jeanne willis

This one always gets children giggling – (tame) toilet humour never fails! The story starts when a boy called Harry is at the adventure park and the queue for the loo is really long. He joins the queue with his friend and they are desperate to go to the toilet and so curious to find out who is in the loo. Is it an elephant having a poo? They spend a long time guessing but I don't want to spoil the characters for you so I won't tell you too much!

  • Wonderfully cheeky

  • Got a very funny twist and ending

  • Very clever in its final message which is: ‘always wash your hands’!

The Gingerbread Man: Ladybird Touch and Feel Fairy Tales 

gingerbread man at sompting abbotts prep school is a favourite book

This Ladybird version of the classic The Gingerbread Man is a lovely introduction to fairy tales for toddlers and pre-school children.

We always enjoy reading the simple text together, looking at the bright pictures and feeling the different textures on every page. I love it because:

  • Children love the repetitive refrain

  • It has bright and bold colouring to catch their eyes

  • There's lots of sensory detail

  • They enjoy it despite the Gingerbread Man's fate!




Topsy and Tim books by Jean Adamson and Gareth Adamson

topsy and tim books

These are classics again, first published in 1960 and relaunched in new editions in February 2003. The engaging stories are reassuring for young children having first experiences of their own and pitched just right for them to relate. In Topsy and Tim: The New Baby, for example, the twins' friend Tony has a new baby brother called Jack. At first Tony is a bit jealous of the new baby but he soon learns how to be a helpful big brother. I love them all because:

  • They teach about the real world

  • They have lots of themes with meaning for young children to such as friendships, hospital visits, camping and flying on a plane for the first time

  • The illustrations are so bright and clear

Three Billy Goats Gruff by Nick Sharratt

three billy goats gruff nick sharratt

This is the traditional fairy tale, retold in hilarious contemporary verse. With fun illustrations and flaps to lift on every page, this book always entertains. (It’s part of a series and there are other fairy tales too told in the same way). I love it because:

  • Children never fail to love the Billy Goats Gruff tale

  • It’s been given a modern twist

  • The lift-the-flaps keeps their attention right to the end

  • The rhyming is very compelling

  • It’s just the right length for a story for this age-group

Disco Kitchen by Clare Foges

why we love kitchen disco in the pre prep at sompting abbotts school near worthing

At night when you are sleeping
There's a party in your house, 
It's a pumping, jumping, funky bash
When all the lights go out . . .

When the sun goes down, the Kitchen Disco starts up and all the fruit in the fruit bowl come out to play. There are lemons who break-dance, tangerines who twirl and some very over-excited apples. I love it because it’s:

  • A zany and hilarious rhyming picture book

  • Lots of fun for children and adults alike and great exercise too

  • The children laugh every time they hear me read this!


Happy reading!















Joanna Carrington, Co-Head of Pre-Prep, Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School

Joanna Carrington, Co-Head of Pre-Prep, Sompting Abbotts Preparatory School