10 Storytelling Books for Children 6 and under
I am an avid reader.
Our son is now almost 5 years old, and I don’t think there were many days without us reading books or telling stories to him. When he was just a baby, I made up little stories for him. It was all about hearing my voice and just being together. I don’t have the illusion that he remembers those tales 😉
Telling stories is our little ritual. Every evening after dinner we sit together and explore the stories. Storytelling is about using your imagination and creating magic and a sense of wonder in the world. It started out with very simple and short stories that I told over and over (and over, and over) again. I can still tell these stories without having to look at the books. One of the most popular stories was Nijntje Pluis, called Miffy in English.
As he grows older, the stories become more elaborate. My range as a storytelling actor has expanded, and I can now easily play a cast of 5 characters with their own voices.
We always like to take elements of stories and build our own stories from them. He comes up with the hero and the cast of characters (usually plush animals), and then we think about the build-up, the challenge that the hero has to solve, and how it all comes together in the end. It’s amazing to see how creative kids are, and how his children’s logic leads to fantastical stories.
The most beautiful part is that these stories aren’t “just” stories. They give a peek into his mind and let him playfully express his emotions.
I hope that I’ve instilled a fondness for storytelling in him too, that will last a lifetime. For now, I cherish our travels into these fantastical worlds. I think I’ll have a tough time when he says: “Dad, I can read these books by myself”.
Why is storytelling so important?
Telling stories is one of the oldest forms of teaching. In caves around the world, we can see storytelling paintings that are from the time we were still hunting Mammoths. Stories bond humans, they define us, shape us and make us. Every single culture in the world tells stories to teach us about love, life, ourselves, and those around us. It’s how we learn to understand the world.
“If you want your children to be smart, tell them fairy tales. If you want them to be brilliant, tell them more fairy tales.“ – Albert Einstein
Science shows us that storytelling is more than just a fun pastime. Storytelling has a positive effect on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children. Young children enjoy reading, writing, and listening to stories, and from the stories, they are able to understand more about society and life in general.
Did you know that science shows storytelling and story reading helps young children with:
- Improving language acquisition (Lucarevschi, 2016; Miller & Pennycuff, 2008; Speaker et al., 2004)
- Improve their oral or spoken language (Cooper, 2009; Cremin et al., 2018; Isbell et al., 2004; Typadi & Hayon, 2010)
- Develop reading comprehension (Craig et al., 2001; Haven & Ducey, 2007)
- Make sense of basic mathematics (Casey et al., 2008; Goral & Gnadinger, 2006; Pramling & Samuelsson, 2008)
- Explain science (Hu et al., 2020; Preradovic et al., 2016; Valkanova & Watts, 2007; Walan, 2019)
- Prepare for school (Nicolopoulou et al., 2015)
- Communicate effectively (Sundin et al., 2018)
- Help children to learn and appreciate their world (Cremin et al., 2018; Vélez & Prieto, 2018)
- Improve cross-cultural communication (Al-Jafar & Buzzelli, 2004)
- Promote moral and social development (Bailey et al., 2006; Burns & Rathbone, 2010; Thambu, 2017).
Pretty impressive, huh?
Children’s brains are like little sponges. They absorb the words and sentences, equipping them with the vocabulary to articulate thoughts and experiences. When they are able to express their needs and emotions better, it develops their social skills and self-confidence. Through stories, they also become aware of the emotions of others and learn to be empathetic.
Stories and fables show little ones commonly accepted cultural ways and norms. But not just from books. Grandparents narrating stories from their childhood, or sharing funny memories of the child’s mother or father teach the child about ways and norms.
I am always impressed by the breadth and depth of the vocabulary my son already has. I’m certain that, at least part of it, is from the many books and stories we’ve read. Hearing a four-year-old saying he finds something “mildly amusing” is hilarious to me.
How to become a great storyteller
Everyone has it in them to become a great storyteller. I’ll share a few learning that I’ve had in my four-year journey as a dad. One stands out before all others: Don’t read a book to them, read it with them. That doesn’t mean you have to be together, but you do want to make a connection. Look at them (or the camera) when you read, talk to them and ask them questions. Reading is about making a connection and exploring this magical world together.
Make sure they’re settled in, for instance, cozy on the couch. We love reading in front of the fireplace, a small fire crackling in the hearth. Create a bit of anticipation before you start: “Ooh, I can’t wait to find out what happens to the little owl”. This sets the stage for a great story.
Read a lot
Get into the habit of telling stories often. For young kids, simple stories of one minute are fine. As they get older, the stories can get longer. If they can talk or point, you can also let them pick a book they love. But be prepared, kids usually love hearing the same story a billion times.
If you’re using an app like Peekabond to read stories, you’re in luck. Record it once, and they can rewatch it a billion times 😉
Be fun and playful
A great storyteller is a playful storyteller. Use your whole acting repertoire to make a story fun and engaging. Read with fun in your voice, and add quirky sound effects for extra effect. You can even sing a book if you want. And don’t forget your facial expressions. It’s not about the words, but how you tell them.
Is there a monster around the corner? Slow down, bring your voice down to a whisper and bring the listener to the edge of their seat. Is the monster talking? Talk in a growl. Or, for comedic effect, make it sound silly. You’re the storyteller, make it come alive!
There is more to a story than it seems at the surface. Ask the kid questions about the story, or the meaning of specific words. Engage them in the story: “Do you think that is smart? What would you do?” Trigger their imagination. You can also point out pictures, or ask them to point them out. I always enjoy asking my son to read a story back to me. He can’t read yet, but hearing him tell the story in his own words is often surprising and fun.
Something that is very helpful in understanding their own emotions and how others are feeling, is talking about the emotions of the characters. You can ask questions like: “How do you think the fox is feeling? Is he angry?”. You can also relate it to their own life: “have you ever been angry?” This is a great way to talk about emotions together.
My Top 10 storytelling books
We have A LOT of children’s books, so it was hard to pick a top 10. So I tried to think back on the stories that we told the most, the ones that he still picks even though we’ve told them a million times.
And of course, they’re stories that I like to tell. So without further ado, here is my top 10 in no particular order.
Little Owl Lost
Uh-oh! Little Owl has fallen from his nest and landed with a whump on the ground. Now he is lost, and his mommy is nowhere to be seen! With the earnest help of his new friend Squirrel, Little Owl goes in search of animals that fit his description of Mommy Owl.
Why I picked this book: It was the first story I read to my son. The artwork is beautiful and the story is funny and lovely. We still pick it up from time to time.
Pluck has a little red tow truck. He drives it all over town looking for a place to live. Pluck makes lots more friends and solves all kinds of problems.
Why I picked this book: This book is a Dutch classic. I read it as a child, and it’s still being read in classes today. The characters are great and the story is very compelling.
The Greedy Goat
A very greedy goat wreaks havoc in the barnyard in an entertaining cautionary tale from Petr Horacek.Goat is tired of always eating herbs and grass. She wants to try something new! So one day she embarks on a tasting spree, trying the dog’s food, the pig’s potato peels, and more, with the farmer’s underpants topping off a massive meal.
Why I picked this book: Not my personal favorite, but my son loves it. Especially the goat eating the farmers underpants (bleh!)
The Lion Inside
A rhyming story about one little mouse trying to make himself heard and discovering along the way that even the smallest of us has the heart of a lion.
Why I picked this book: The moral of this story is a very positive one (you don’t have to be strong to be brave), and the rhyme makes it a lot of fun to read.
One sunny Sunday, the caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry. On Monday, he ate through one apple; on Tuesday, he ate through three plums–and still he was hungry. When full at last, he made a cocoon around himself and went to sleep, to wake up a few weeks later wonderfully transformed into a butterfly!
Why I picked this book: It’s an all time classic. The artwork is beautiful and it gives an amazing insight into one of the marvels of nature, the metamorphosis of the butterfly.
This is a rhyming story of a mouse and a monster. Little mouse goes for a walk in a dangerous forest. To scare off his enemies he invents tales of a fantastical creature called the Gruffalo. So imagine his surprise when he meets the real Gruffalo.
Why I picked this book: It’s about a witty mouse. Like the “Lion Inside”, it shows a child that it’s better to be smart than to be strong. I love doing the voices of the enemies and the Gruffalo.
Where the Wild Things Are
Max, a wild and naughty boy, is sent to bed without his supper by his exhausted mother. In his room, he imagines sailing far away to a land of Wild Things. Instead of eating him, the Wild Things make Max their king.
Why I picked this book: This book is all about imagination. And for kids, seeing a naughty boy like Max is very interesting. The artwork is timeless, and Alt-J used the story in their song Breezeblocks.
The Tortoise and the Hare
Tortoise proves he is a formidable opponent in this comic adaptation of a classic tale.
Why I picked this book: Again a classic. It teaches kids that arrogance doesn’t pay, and it’s a funny story.
Winnie the Pooh
The adventures of Christopher Robin and his friends in which Pooh Bear uses a balloon to get honey, Piglet meets a Heffalump, and Eeyore has a birthday.
Why I picked this book: My son loves the stories. I like how the stories show a variety of emotions through the characters. Eeyore is always sad, and Pooh is sometimes quite egocentric. Even with their differences, they get along.
BONUS: Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 tales of extraordinary women
What if the princess didn’t marry Prince Charming but instead went on to be an astronaut? What if the jealous step sisters were supportive and kind? And what if the queen was the one really in charge of the kingdom? Empowering, moving and inspirational, these are true fairy tales for heroines who definitely don’t need rescuing
Why I picked this book: Stories define how children see the world. This is a great book that’s not just for rebel girls, but also for boys. Children’s books should reflect and celebrate the diversity in our world, and these stories are a great addition.
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