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Sophie Dahl shares her top 10 children's books

Plus, books for girls and boys who are starting school for the first time

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Ainhoa Barcelona
Content Managing Editor
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Reading is undoubtedly a big part of every child's life, not only for the books they come across at school, but also the stories they devour at bedtime. As part of our Back to School digital issue guest-edited by Giovanna Fletcher, we asked Sophie Dahl – author of Madame Badobedah and yet-to-be-released The Worst Sleepover in the World – to recommend her top ten children's books.

Sophie notes: "The wonderful children's author Katherine Rundell says in her book, 'Why you should read Children's Books, Even though you are so Old and Wise' – 'Ignore those who would call it escapism: it's not escapism: it is findism. Children's books are not a hiding place, they are a seeking place.' Here then are ten of the favourites in our house."

READ: Giovanna Fletcher on mum guilt, meeting Kate Middleton and juggling work with raising her three sons

We've also added some books that are specifically designed for little ones embarking on the school journey for the first time. Happy reading!

sophie dahl author

Copyright: Matt Easton

Sophie Dahl's top ten children's books:

Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Sendak's classic, which so brilliantly captures how your room can turn into a strange place on your imagination's watch, how you can be King of the Wild Things, but still be lonely. You can sail through days and weeks, yet return home, to where someone loves you best of all.

where the wild things are


Pool by JiHyeon Lee

A picture book with no words, two shy children meet at a crowded swimming pool and dive into a fantastical underwater world. With real-life sea creatures, passing deities and expansive use of space, this delight is like a folkloric episode of Blue Planet!

pool book


Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

I couldn't love this book more – it's so clever, breathtakingly illustrated and one of the tenderest portrayals of acceptance and love I've come across. I cry every time I read it to my kids! Jessica Love's illustrations dance off the page, and I want to be in Julian's (and the mermaids'!) world.

julian is a mermaid

My Big Shouting Day by Rebecca Patterson

Bella is having a tough day. Her toothpaste is too minty, ballet is too itchy, and her egg is making her cry. We've all been there. Patterson captures the ups and downs of being a young child, with recognition, empathy and buckets of humour. I love her.

my big shouting day

You Matter by Christian Robinson

Robinson's book is exquisitely illustrated, with a gorgeous, tender message, for people big and small: whoever you are, you matter.

you matter by christian robinson

Zombierella by Joseph Coelho and illustrated by Freya Hartas

A subversive fairy tale with a fantastic, lonely heroine, a hero who *might sleep in a coffin, and an anarchic twist. Ultimately, it's about connection and acceptance. We loved it in our house.


The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

Aiken's book, set in a fictional Georgian Britain, is dark, menacing and atmospheric. It's the story of two plucky cousins, Bonnie and Sylvia, their wicked governess, Miss Slighcarp, and their quest to right her villainy.

wolves of willoughby chase

Ronia The Robber's Daughter by Astrid Lindgren

Lindgren is a master at creating nuanced, fierce female protagonists. Pippi Longstocking is her most famous, but Ronia has my heart equally. Two warring robber clans find themselves as neighbours, and the children of each, find themselves as friends. Much trouble ensues.


Tales of A Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

Judy Blume speaks the language of kids and teenagers like few others. Peter Hatcher is nine years old and tormented by the antics of his little brother Fudge. I read all of Blume's books as a child, and they still feel as fresh and funny today.

tales of a fourth grade

Darcy Burdock by Laura Dockrill

Another writer who nails the voice of a pre-teen is Dockrill. Darcy Burdock is eleven, and dips in and out of school and family life to brilliant fantasy. She's imaginative, curious, and utterly lovable and relatable.

darcy burdock


HELLO!'s top five books for children who are starting school or going to a new school:

Brand New Boy by David Almond

A story about what it is to be human and to live life to the fullest, Brand New Boy tells the tale of new pupil George, who everyone agrees is a little bit odd. He's brilliant at football and loves crisps though, and that's all that matters to Dan and Maxie. But the truth about George is even stranger than anyone could have imagined, and more sinister too… can his new friends help save him?

For readers aged 8+

brand new boy

Take Off Your Brave by Nadim Shamma

This picture book contains a collection of poems written by four-year-old author Nadim and sees the world through his eyes – rainbows, glitter, nursery and cuddles with Mum. Beautifully illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail, it makes for joyful reading.

For readers aged 4+

take off your brave

The Pigeon HAS to Go to School! by Mo Willems

A hilarious book for children who are about to start school, it asks all sorts of questions, like why does the pigeon have to go to school if he already knows everything? And what if his teacher doesn't like him? What if he learns too much at school?!

For readers aged 3+

pigeon book

Let's Get Ready For School by Jane Porter

Marley, Maya, Theo, Akiko, Ella and Zakir are all getting ready to start school, so why not join them and see what it's really like? The perfect book for kids embarking on their new school adventure, Jane Porter's masterpiece reassures little ones about what they'll do at school and what happens if they miss their parents.

For readers aged 3+

jane porter school book

Ten Delicious Teachers by Ross Montgomery

Oh dear! Ten silly teachers have missed the last bus home. But wait, there's a shortcut through the forest. Follow the adults as they traverse the woods, unknowingly stumbling upon a horde of very hungry monsters. A counting book that is gently thrilling and filled with witty and whimsical illustrations.

For readers aged 3+

ten delicious teachers

Sophie Dahl's second book for children, The Worst Sleepover in the World, illustrated by Luciano Lozano, will be published in hardback on 7 October 2021, £12.99 RRP. Madame Badobedah, illustrated by Lauren O'Hara, is available now in paperback, £8.99 RRP.

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