Are you aware that the best way to save your town from a swarm of wasps is to bake a vast jelly sandwich? Or that a twig might be a pet? And that cardboard boxes are in fact race cars? This is the way your young child sees the world - at least, in their mind’s eye.
If you could peer inside their growing brains, you’d see a mind fizzing with wonder and ideas.
Happily, there are many ways to nurture your little boy or girl’s imagination – from LEGO brick building to outdoor play. And children’s stories remain a wonderful means to inspire make-believe – as well as moments to cherish as you read and discover together. Here are some of the best books for filling little minds with big ideas…
1. Stuck, by Oliver Jeffers
When Floyd’s kite gets stuck in a tree, he decides to throw something up to knock it down. Except everything gets stuck: from a bucket of paint, to a lighthouse… and even “a curious whale, in the wrong place at the wrong time.” A book that makes the surreal beautiful.
2. The Little Boy Who Lost His Name, by David Cadji-Newby
A voyage of rhyming and illustration, this wonderful, personalized tale sends your child on a journey to find each letter of their name. So a child called Charlie, for example, might meet a Chameleon, Hippo, Aardvark, Robot, Lobster, Imp and Elephant. A enchanting way to introduce a young learner to the alphabet
3. The Book With No Pictures, by B. J. Novak
With no visuals – or indeed story – this ingenious book is unlike any other. It’s all about one thing: making your little one squirm with joy as you’re forced to read the comical text and make a fool of yourself. A laugh-out-loud riot of silly voices, parental humiliation… and the words “Boo Boo Butt”.
4. Harold And The Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson
The classic 1955 story of a young boy on a moonlit walk who uses a magic purple crayon to draw his own adventures. Roads, trees, dragons and finally his own bed emerge from his imagination – daring your own little one to imagine “what if…”
5. Oh The Thinks You Can Think, by Dr. Seuss
“Oh, the Thinks you can think up if only you try!” Published in 1975, this is Dr Seuss at his wackiest – reveling in made-up creatures, lands, odd contraptions and the endless possibilities of imagination. A book encouraging your child to think… about thinking itself.
6. The Mixed Up Chameleon, by Eric Carle
Another animal adventure from the author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, as a bored chameleon visits a zoo. But not just to learn what makes each creature different – this is a book that teaches your child to be happy with who they are.
7. Prudence Wants a Pet, by Cathleen Daly
Prudence wants a pet so much that she adopts a branch, a twig, a tire, and even her little brother to cuddle and pat. But will any of them be enough for her?
8. Look A-likes, by Joan Steiner
Less a story, more intricately-prepared photographs, where everyday objects form incredible 3D scenes. From pistachio shell flowers to bread buildings and Ferris wheels made from scissors – enjoy finding the hidden surprises together, then make your own versions.
9. Press Here, by Hervé Tullet
Who could resist? Push the yellow button on the cover and trigger an award-winning journey of creativity and interactivity. All the wonder of an iPad, somehow transferred to a simple flat page.
10. On the Way Home, by Jill Murphy
Claire has hurt her knee - but on the way home, she tells each friend she meets a different story about how she got her scrape. Was it a slithering snake? Or an enormous dragon? A journey of imagination that every child can relate to.
11. Journey, by Aaron Becker
Another magic crayon book, where a little girl escapes boredom at home by drawing her own adventures – at first with a door leading to a jungle, then via magic carpets to exotic lands. Wordless, vivid and magical, this is imagining at its most pure.
12. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi and Ron Barrett
"There were mustard clouds nearby. Then the wind shifted and brought in baked beans. A drizzle of soda finished off the meal." Welcome to Chewandswallow, a town where delicious food falls from the sky like rain. Just watch out when the portions start getting bigger...
13. Not A Box, by Antoinette Portis
“Why are you sitting in a box?” the book begins. “It’s not a box,” Bunny replies – it’s a race car. Then a mountain. Then a burning building. And so on – in a simple celebration of when pretend becomes reality. And one to try next time you have a large appliance delivered.
14. It Looked Like Spilt Milk, by Charles Green Shaw
“Sometimes it looked like a flower, but it wasn’t a flower.” A tribute to that most childlike of pursuits: gazing at clouds and spotting everyday objects in their shapes – from pigs and sheep to a great owl. Simple, easy to follow – and great inspiration for your next day out.
15. The Giant Jam Sandwich, by Janet Burroway
The bizarre story of how the town of Itching Down solved their wasp problem: by baking a giant, field-sized jelly sandwich to attract them all, of course! Then using flying machines to drop on another slice of extra to catch them. Surreal, fantastical, rhyming fun for all ages.
16. Billy's Bucket, by Kes Gray
Billy loves his new birthday present of a simple bucket: in his mind’s eye, it’s a wondrous receptacle for sharks, submarines and even mermaids. How imaginative, laugh Mom and Dad! Until Dad borrows the bucket to wash his car. Whoops…
17. The Day the Crayons Quit, by Drew Daywalt
Lovingly illustrated by Oliver Jeffers is this story of dissatisfied stationery - from Red (who’s overworked) to Yellow and Orange (fighting over who is the real colour of the sun). Fun, surprising – and will make your little one wonder if inanimate objects are alive...
18. Where The Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
Sent to bed without supper, Max imagines journeying to a strange land and being crowned King of the Wild Things – before realizing his mum loves him best of all. Still a classic tale of child creativity, 50 years after being written.
This Book Just Ate My Dog, by Richard Byrne
"Wanted - Nice reader to show this naughty book who's boss." And what a naughty book: it swallows not just Bella’s dog Ben, but also everyone who tries to help, including the police! Novel and fun – especially when your little one finds themselves the surprise hero.
20. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend, by Dan Santat
Winner of the 2015 Caldecott Medal, this heartwarming tale follows an imaginary friend who sets off to the real world to find a child who will give him a name. Beautifully illustrated with different textures, and guaranteed to inspire new fantasy friendships for your own child.