12 “must read” British Children’s Picture Books

This is not a comprehensive list of the best selling British picture books.

This past summer, I returned to Oxford for a brief visit, bringing back with me a suitcase full of books.  I was describing some of my finds to a friend and fellow book lover and Brandi suggested I write a blog about British picture books.  So here is it, Brandi, many months later….

this quote was on a bookbag that was for sale in at Waterman’s, a bookstore in Oxford. … so true!


The books below are just some of my favorites or my children’s favorites when they were little. We spent a year in St Andrews, Scotland when my son was 4 and my daughter was 2. Some of these are books we discovered, read together over and over again and brought back with us to the US. Others I discovered on our recent six month stay in Oxford, England as I browsed the book shops. All the book below are available on my librarything.com account for you to order if you are a family living overseas.

Brambly Hedge books – Autumn Story, Winter Story, Spring Story and Summer Story by Jill Barklem (1999)

Love, love, love these stories, and all the details of imaginary life of mice. Reading these books is like playing with a doll house. Jill Barklem spent five years researching natural history and British rural life and customs before she started to write her stories about the mice of Brambly Hedge. (for ages 3-6)

Snuff by Quentin Blake (1973)

A multi-award winning author, Sir (yes, he was knighted in 2013 for his service to illustration) Quentin Blake is one of Britain’s most loved author-illustrator. He is best known for his illustrations of Roald Dahl’s novels. He has illustrated more than 300 books, and written over 35. He received the Hans Christian Andersen award in 2002. In this book, set in Medieval England, Snuff wants more than anything to become a knight. However, he is constantly making mistakes, until he outwits and catches the boot thief and becomes a hero. You will find humor, creativity, adventure and illustrations to die for. I love all the colorful boots! (for ages 3-7)

Gorilla by Anthony Browne (1983)

Gorilla, first published over 20 years ago and winner of both the Kate Greenaway Medal and the Kurt Maschler Award, has become a classic in Britain. It is the story of a lonely girl who loves gorillas. It’s her birthday and what she wants more than anything else is to go to the zoo and see the gorillas. But her father is sad and appears depressed and seems reluctant to go. As she snuggles in her bed with her stuffed gorilla, she dreams that he comes to life and invites her out for an evening of adventure. (ages 5-8)

Mr. Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham (1970)

I know, I’ve mentioned this one before but I HAVE to include it here. The book begins: “This is Mr. Gumpy. Mr. Gumpy owned a boat and his house was by the river.” When Mr. Gumpy decides to go out in his boat, two children and a whole menagerie of animals ask to come along. He is very agreeable but warns each newcomer in turn: “don’t squabble”, “don’t hop about”, “don’t chase the rabbit”, “don’t tease the cat”, and my favorite “don’t muck about”, etc. Things go smoothly for a little while, but then…. A jolly tale your preschooler will love. Don’t miss John Burningham’s other books including Cannonball Simp and Avocado Baby, or his Little Books perfect for little hands. (for preschool age)

The Treasure Hunt – A Tale from Percy’s Park by Nick Butterworth

I love Percy stories – the animals are sooo adorable and lovable and Percy is so kind – my favorite book is One Snowy Night. Percy is a park keeper – he maintains the park as well as cares for the wild animals that live there. Nick Butterworth is one of those authors that is really popular in Britain, not as well known in the US – my kids loved his books when we spent a year in Scotland. (ages 2-6)

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child (2000)

Lauren Child books are bestsellers in Great Britain. Her Charlie and Lola books have been made into an animated series for television. In this story, Lola is a very fussy eater. One day, after listing all her despised foods, she concludes with: “And I absolutely will never not ever eat a tomato.” Not convinced, Lola’s older brother Charlie comes up with a plan. Lauren Child’s quirky illustrations of Lola and Charlie are created using mixed media from wallpaper to wood, the food are enlarged photographs superimposed and the text is a jumble of sizes and fonts – the result is a feast for the eyes! This book will be your fussy eater’s favorite book.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (1999)

A small carefree mouse (and adorable, I might add) takes a stroll through the woods. There he meets a fox, an owl and then a snake. He announces to each (in case they were thinking of eating him) that he is about to meet with a gruffalo. Perplexed, they ask: “what is a gruffalo?” to which the mouse replies: “He has terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws.” The mouse has nothing to fear. He is safe from predators and there is no such thing as a gruffalo. Or is there? The book has sold over 13 million copies. Be sure to read the sequel The Gruffalo’s Child. (for ages 3-7)

Mr. Bump by Roger Hargreaves (1998)

This is part of a series of Mr. Men and Little Miss books. These books are really popular in Britain. Mr. Bump (the stuffed toy version) was actually used in a sermon, to illustrated a point, at an Anglican church we attended while living in Oxford a few year ago. In this story, Mr. Bump cannot keep a job because of his accident prone, bumbling, stumbling nature. Will he ever find a job that is just right for him? This is a great little book to pull out to calm down a child who has scraped a knee or bumped their head. These colorful and humorous little books are perfect for little hands, and will become favorites. Start collecting them. (for ages 3-7)

Old Bear by Jane Hissey (1986)

Jane Hissey’s world of stuffed animals in a child’s bedroom was inspired by a teddy bear she received as a gift from her grandfather when she was a child. Years later, in her first picture book, Old Bear comes to life again. Old Bear is rescued from a trunk in the attic by Bramwell Bear and the other stuffed animals and becomes the most respected toy in the nursery. He leads them on many adventures. Hissey’s vivid and realistic colored pencil drawings will make this a favorite preschooler’s book. I also recommend Little Bear’s Trousers. (for ages 3-7)

Dogger by Shirley Hughes (1977)

Shirley Hughes, one of Britain’s most beloved authors for young children, captures the simple joys of childhood and family life, in a typical English setting. In this picture book, Dave looses his favorite stuffed dog named Dogger. When the dog turns up the next day, for sale, at the school fair, and is bought by a little girl, Dave is frantic. His sister, Bella comes up with a plan to save the day. A tender story of sibling love.

Don’t miss Shirley Hughes other stories – my favorite’s are Alfie and Annie Rose books. (ages 3-7)

The Tiger who came to Tea – by Judith Kerr (1968)

Who can resist a hungry lion who comes to tea? This modern classic story book is the perfect read aloud for your child’s tea party and quintessentially British. Your preschooler will want to read this over and over. Kerr first invented the story after visiting a zoo with her three-year-old daughter. The Tiger Who Came to Tea is one of the best selling children’s books of all time. (for ages 3-7)

Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn (2010)

Anna McQuinn grew up in a small town in Western Ireland called Castleisland. Her first book Lulu Loves The Library (US version is titled Lola at the Library) was published in 2010. Lulu Loves Stories (or US version Lola Loves Stories) is her second book in this series, about an African American girl who goes to the library with her father, then go home and read the books together. The stories they read inspire her imaginative play all week. First she is a princess, then a tiger, a mother, a builder, a pilot… Great for reading aloud to your preschooler… Soon your child will imitate Lola’s creative play. (for preschool age). Collect all the Lola stories.

A Quiet Night In by Jill Murphy (2006)

A prolific British author, Jill Murphy’s stories are also very popular in Britain. Her most famous book series are The Worst Witch series (easy chapter books) and “the large family” series about a family of elephants. Her picture books are brimming with the humor of everyday family life. In A Quiet Night In, Mr. and Mrs. Large plan an nice evening together after they put all the children to bed, but things don’t exactly turn out the way they planned. (for ages 3-7).


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