Once Upon A Time: The First Books We Remember Reading

Once upon a time, we all read our first book or even had our first book read to us. For many, that would start with the very hungry caterpillar, graduating to wizards, big-friendly-giants and adventures with between five and seven friends. But what are the first books we remember flicking the pages of?

Here at The Works, we’d always encourage a bedtime story, and across generations of the UK we’ve seen new favourites go on to be loved, with the likes of The Gruffalo being just as much of a classic today as Spot the Dog or the tales of Enid Blyton’s characters, many inspiring us to become bookworms for life.

With new children’s books released on a weekly basis, we decided to do a bit of digging and survey the nation to uncover what are the first books they remember reading, as well as the first book parents today are reading to their children…


Three Points For Gryffindor: The First Books We Remember…

Despite only being released in 1997, Harry Potter is the first book the nation remembers reading. Around 5% of the population cite one of the J.K. Rowling books as the first they remember reading, or having read to them, which means 1 in 20 people you meet on the street is likely a Potterhead. 

The second book on the list is Enid Blyton’s The Faraway. Enid Blyton’s books have clearly resonated with people with 1 in 7 people choosing the author's books as the first they remember reading. Interestingly, only 1% of parents read an Enid Blyton book to their children as their first book, which may mean that they won’t stand the test of time as people get older.

As you might expect, books by Roald Dahl featured heavily in the top 10, with The BFG, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory all making the list. Books written by the author proved to be incredibly popular, with 13% of the respondents choosing something that was written by him. Unfortunately, the popularity of the author appears to be waning a little bit, with no Roald Dahl book featured in the top 10 books we’re most likely to read children first today.

There is one author that does dominate in that category, though, engaging the nation’s young. 

Step forward, Julia Donaldson

List of first books we remember reading

The Gruffalo was released in 1999, just two years after the first Harry Potter book and has gone on to sell well over 13 million copies. And it turns out many of those copies will have been the first book a parent ever read to their child. 

A standout in the survey, one in eight children choose to read The Gruffalo as their first book, while almost 20 percent of parents will read a Julia Donaldson book to their child as a first book, with titles such as Room On The Broom, Zog and A Squash And A Squeeze also popular.

The That’s Not My series, written by Fiona Watt is also hugely popular with bedtime storytellers, with titles such as That’s Not My Dog and That’s Not My Rocket among the favourites. Meanwhile, sentimentality is clearly strong with Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney in the top five most frequently read books, almost 30 years following its release.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the only book to feature in the top five of both the most frequently read first book we remember reading and the first book we have read to our children, having sold over 50 million copies since its first release in 1969. Even today, only The Gruffalo is a more favoured first read for parents than the caterpillar, that likes to munch on everything from chocolate cake to sausages.


How Likely Are We To Read Our First Book To Our Children?


Within the top 10 most read books, both that we remember reading or being read and what we read to our children, Spot by Eric Hill, Harry Potter and the classic A.A. Milne Winnie the Pooh books featured in both lists. 

However, only 8% of parents have read the same book they remember reading first to their children as their first. Of that 8%, it’s a rather holy and traditional affair, with the Bible most likely to be read as a first in both categories.

That doesn’t mean parents don’t read their first books to their children. In fact, 50% of parents have already read the first book in their lives to their children, just more often than not, it is not the first one off the bookshelf.

What’s more, 40% of parents admit they would like to read their first book to their children, with only 10% stating they wouldn’t ever read the first book they read to their kids.

Stats on the survey of the first books read

And When Will We Read It To Them?

For adults today, the first book they remember reading falls around the beginning of primary school, with 56% of people estimating they were between the ages of four and seven when they remembered their first book. 

Naturally, it is no surprise to see Roderick Hunt’s Biff, Chip and Kipper series make an appearance within the survey, with around two percent of the population citing those books as the first they remember.

Concerningly, one in 10 people don't remember reading a book until after the age of 12, with a large portion of those citing Harry Potter as the book they remember reading.

While it might be that we don’t remember our first book until we get beyond the toddler age, many parents are reading books to their children from birth, according to the study, even in the age of the tablet and Netflix.

44% of parents read to their children from birth, with a further 27% doing so once their child hits the age of one, naturally beginning with baby books and board books before moving on to the likes of Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson and Enid Blyton as they get older.


Pages Around The Country: First Book By Region

First Books We Remember By Region

While Harry Potter is overall the most remembered first book, it’s only in the South East and London where it was the number one, finishing a close second and third in many other regions. 

Enid Blyton's books were prominent, with The Famous Five being the first book remembered in Northern Ireland, Wales and the West Midlands, while The Faraway Tree series is a hit in the North East and neighbouring Yorkshire and Humber. 

Eric Hill’s Spot the Dog takes the top spot among our first remembered books in the North West and East Midlands, while the Bible is the best remembered first book in the South West. 

When it comes to the first book we remember reading to our children, it’s fair to say The Gruffalo has invaded the country. The Julia Donaldson book is the most popular book in all but four regions, featuring in the top three in each of those.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the only other book to be a favourite regionally, being the most popular first book to read to a child in the North West, London, Wales and the West Midlands. 

Outside of the top five overall results when it comes to the first book we read to children, there were some books that are particularly popular in certain regions. Scottish parents are among the most likely to read The Cat in the Hat to their children, while Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit books are among the favourites in the North East, Wales and the South West.


Looking For A Book To Read To Your Child?


Here at The Works, we have a huge range of children’s books, perfect for bedtime stories. From extensive children’s book collections to early reader and primary school titles, we have something for every age and every reading ability.

Head over to our Children’s Books range to find the perfect first book for your little ones…


About The Study


The Works commissioned a survey of 2,000 parents across the UK to uncover the books we first remember reading alongside the books we first remember reading to our own children.

Participants were asked for book titles, as well as further information around the ages they were when they remember their first book and the age of their child when they first read to them. 

The survey was undertaken in April 2023.


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