Brilliant Books from the Other Side of the Pond that you Probably Haven’t Heard Of…

So last year a friend and I started a toy and book swap. It was genius. Every two or three weeks we traded a bag of books, games and toys for our then 2 year olds and let them indulge in the glory of all things new until they were bored of them and then traded back. We got all the benefits of variety and novelty without any of the cost and clutter. And thinking about it, it was a great zero-waste technique too.

One thing that really stood out to me though was how different our book collections were.  My children’s books, most of which had been saved from my 8 year old’s toddler days, was largely formed in the UK. My friend’s library was also collated over a number of years partly from her years teaching kindergarten. The only real difference being that it was formed in the US.  Where, movies travel quickly internationally these days it would seem that books are not quite so fluid.

Books, or at least children’s books, seem to form much stronger, more fixed, part of cultural heritage.

Some of the books which are modern classics to me my American friends have never heard of and the books that they grew up with I simply don’t ‘get’; I can’t quite see what all the fuss is about. Dr Suess, for instance, most beloved of American children for generations, leaves me totally baffled…although I have to admit my kids love all things Cat in the Hat.

Nonetheless, this book swap business continues and I relish the chance to open our eyes to new literature and fantastical worlds. Here are some of our favorites from both sides of the pond. I hope you are lucky enough to find them in your local library or can find a friend to trade with too.

And from the US: (with links to

‘Steam Train, Dream Train’ by Sherry Duskey Rinker was one of the first books we bought in the US. It’s a true bedtime story; it has a gentle rhythm, beautiful rhyme and dreamy feel. The illustrations are delightful and it was a fun education for me on the many types of train car that we now see regularly! ‘Goodnight Construction Site’ is similarly popular with the young fans of big vehicles.

‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?‘ by Eric Carle. ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ seems to be popular everywhere but while Carle’s other works utilize the same colorful artwork and style they don’t seem to have travelled as far. “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You see?” is a seamlessly following book which uses simple, repetitive language to introduce children to colors and animals.

‘Pete the Cat: I love My White Shoes by storyteller and musician Eric Litwin and illustrator James Dean took m a while to work out. It’s the first in a series of 40 books about (the later written by Kimberley Dean) the cartoon cat and his many antics. It is only when you listen to the recordings and how they were originally designed to heard that you can really appreciate their charm and popularity. Check out You Tube for a selection of readings.

Pete the Cat

Also head over to to find the readings and songs for ‘The Nuts: Bedtime at the Nut House‘ , ‘The Nuts: Keep Rolling!’ and ‘The Nuts: Sing and Dance in Your Polkadot Pants‘.

‘Dragons Love Tacos’ by Adam Rubin is a newer hit on the children’s literature scene. His hilarious instruction and warnings on what to and what not to feed dragons had us chuckling away for weeks. (Yes, I probably read it 4 times a day for as many weeks.) If you have young fans of this flavorful dinner, or indeed of dragons, it’s well worth hunting down.

‘Hippos Go Berserk’  by Sandra Boynton is a funny talle of a lonely hippos who invites a friend over and ends up with an all night party on his hands. Both my children were charmed by it’s humor, rhyme and use of numbers.  This was actually a book I had found in the UK, wasn’t until we moved to the US that I realized that Boynton has a host of fabulous, colorful books which such rhythm that they are a treat to read as well as listen to. ‘A Barnyard Dance‘ would be high among my favorites but look out for all her gems!

Sandra Boynton

And from the UK: (with links to

Tiddler- The Story Telling Fish’ by Julia Donaldson was possibly my oldest son’s favorite book of his preschool years. I’m pretty sure I can recite it still! The tiny fish of tall tales gets himself into quite a bind but is saved by the power of storytelling.

While the Gruffalo has broken it’s way into US bookstores many of Julia Donaldson’s great works are still unheard of.  The UK’s Children’s laurate has penned more brilliant stories than I can ever reacall in one sitting. They are an essential part of modern British childhood. Some of the favorites are being retitled for sale here -‘What the Ladybird Heard’ has become ‘What the Ladybug Heard’ and ‘Tiddler’ is now ‘The Fish Who Cried Wolf'”. If your children are big fans of the rhyming, creative style these books are a must.

Usbourne Farmyard Tales by Heather Amery, are a series of stories which observe the Boot Family who’s children Poppy and Sam are interested in, like most children, their farm’s animals, tractors and old steam train. They can be found in many different formats – including early readers, touch and feel, sound, and with wind up vehicles. If you don’t won’t to buy though an Usbourne  representative these collections would be a great starting point – ‘The Complete Book of Farmyard Tales’ and ‘The Little Book of Train Stories’.

Usbourne Farmyard Tales

Stanley’s Stick’ by John Hegley is one of my all time favorites. It’s a moving tale of a boy and his stick – or rather his big imagination. There’s a train, the seaside and a stick…what could be better? Having lent it in the book swap I did reread it with fresh eyes and realize just how English the language is, but it is mostly just so beautiful, so poetic. It’s the kind of vocabulary that your children probably won’t learn from every day life and a great chance to widen their horizons.

And as a bonus, (look at me giving way one of my favorite gift combinations), You can pair it with ‘The Stick Book‘ by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield to bring those imaginative play opportunities to life.

‘Amazing Machines’ by Tom Mitten is a fantastic series of jolly rhymes which actually hold a fair amount of detail on what vehicles do and how they are operated. The cartoons are well targeted for the young audience and there is an illustrated glossary n the back of each book to help them to learn ne language and questioning skills. We’ve never owned the CDs but I bet they’d be a great hit on long car journeys if you can find them!

Amazing Machines

‘Jack’s Mega Machines’ by Alison Richie are a series of four cartoon like adventures of a boy and his dog. The pair work in Rally Road Workshop and when they test drive the vehicles that they’ve fixed amazing thigs happen!

Jack’s Mega Machines: Supersonic Submarine‘ is my personal favorite. Like all the books it comes with a fold out paper model the featured vehicles. The other titles include: ‘Jack’s Mega Machines: The Rocket Race Car’, ‘Jack’s Mega Machines: Mighty Monster Machine‘ and ‘Jack’s Mega Machines: The Dinosaur Digger’ which is my son’s favorite.

We’re always on the hunt for great book suggestions from anywhere in the world. I’d love to hear yours…

(Disclosure: Contains affiliate links which allow me to earn a small percentage form qualified purchases. This does not affect the price you pay.)

4 thoughts on “Brilliant Books from the Other Side of the Pond that you Probably Haven’t Heard Of…

Add yours

  1. For the slightly older crowd, my little American is very fond of David Walliams books, which should appeal to Roald Dahl fans, although hardly heard of on this side of the pond. She also likes some classics from my childhood, many of which aren’t known here, such as Tom’s Midnight Garden.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Freddie was a huge fan of Brown Bear when he was little – I think it’s the sound pattern the words form – really catchy. You can’t beat Amazing Machines – we currently have Hovering Helicopters from the library which is read multiple times a day.

    Liked by 1 person

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