The best parenting books for 2021

Worried about weaning, too much kiddie screen time or issues about raising girls? Journalist Oliver Keens surveys the best parenting books to help you get it right, whatever the issue.

Whether you’re a new parent, or one facing the complications of guiding older children through life, there’s no shortage of books to help you navigate the issues and complexities. Here, Oliver Keen casts a parental eye over the best parenting books on the market, written from a rich range of perspectives. With advice on nutrition, joyful play, instilling resilience – and making sure your own relationships stay on track – here is his pick of the very best parenting books out there in 2021. 

Congratulations! You are considering cloning your DNA! Now what? Well the good news is that kids are brilliant, resilient creatures. Soon, all the millions of totally understandable worries you have on an hourly basis will disappear into the distance, like a precious baby toy accidentally left on a train pulling out of a station (it happens).

The bad news is that advice will henceforth be heaped on you, from all quarters, for the rest of your life. What cuts through the noisy mess of well-meaning but often contradictory dialogues about parenthood? A book you trust. A good book about parenthood really does become part of the family. It’s always there – maybe a bit crumpled and smeared in Sudocrem – but there nonetheless, just an arm’s length away. Here are just some that deserve that special place in the furniture of your family. 

Nobody Tells You

by Becca Maberly

Book cover for Nobody Tells You

Whether encouraged or not, pregnancy and parenthood often makes you a lightning rod for unsolicited advice. Some people delight in it, while others understandably blanch from being bombarded with unsolicited advice and maybe the odd horror story. 

Adding context to the weight of random things you hear about parenthood is paramount, and that’s where Becca Maberly’s Nobody Tells You comes in. 

As an accomplished pregnancy and postnatal expert (who works under the banner of ‘no agenda, no judgement, no BS’), Maberly and her father (eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist Roger Marwood) have assembled and curated 100 stories that are counterweighted with reassuring advice from experts. 

The honest, wide-ranging stories from, amongst others, journalist Molly Gunn and author and psychotherapist Anna Mathur, cover areas like postnatal recovery, C-sections and feeling out of step with breastfeeding. They are delivered without shock or sugar-coating and are informed by Maberly’s own frustration with not having access to honest information. That changes with this book – just don’t say nobody told you…

Where's My Happy Ending?

by Anna Whitehouse, Matt Farquharson

Book cover for Where's My Happy Ending?

Few authors give it to readers rawer than Mother Pukka (aka writer Anna Whitehouse) and Papa Pukka (journalist Matt Farquharson). 

They’re a couple, they’re parents (to ‘the urchin,’ as their young daughter is referred to on their influential website and Instagram), and they’re a pair of powerhouse thinkers who have built on the success of Sunday Times bestseller Parenting The Shit Out of Life with their latest book. 

Couples meet, they get married and have kids. Then what? If society states that the wedding day is the happiest day in a couple’s life, well, where do we all go from there? 

Their parent-focused approaches on modern love and relationships include everything from whether phones kill romance, to salary imbalance and even porn, and take in delicately woven-in viewpoints garnered from interviews with a huge range of people – from celibate monks to neurologists to members of a free love commune. 

Spilt between their two distinct voices – to give a playful duality to the subjects under discussion – the project comes together as a whole remarkably and entertainingly well. 

Great Family Days In

by Claire Balkind

Book cover for Great Family Days In

After the intensity of lockdowns and school closures during the Covid pandemic, surely no parent will want to ever be unprepared for a day inside again. 

Kids can voraciously crave activities like a cat sniffing around a packet of Dreamies. Even the most energetic and imaginative parent imaginable can still find it hard to lead their kids into constructive play. But help is at hand. 

This excellent book by Claire Balkind, known as The What Now Mum online (and a mother and secondary school teacher offline) will help any parent harness their restless charges during that next day in. 

What makes it an ace is the ease with which a family can go from idle to idea, or from sofa to – ahem – so fun! All 75 of the activities, games, crafts, science and arts projects are quick to follow and don’t require a trip to a craft megastore to get underway (Balkind provides a handy list of some basic resources). And rest assured that Balkind also flags up when a project is going to be particularly messy (oh hello melted crayons!). 

Perfect for the next wet weekend, half-term or indeed the next global pandemic. You got this. 

Wean in 15

by Joe Wicks

Book cover for Wean in 15

Few things are more joyful to parents than seeing their offspring grappling with food for the first few times. Spoiler alert to newbies: it’s far from guaranteed that all premature babies will instantly take to the taste thrills and physical sensations of food, so be prepared to try a wide variety of foods before your future chomper gives you a big wet chef’s kiss. 

Helping you be a weaner and a winner is Joe Wicks, whose Wean in 15 book offers 100 tasty recipes for a range of different ages. There are also tips on prep, storage, when and how to start weaning, plus accompanying expert advice on nutrients and allergies. For families who are breastfeeding, weaning represents a stage where other family members are able to get more involved in feeding. Joe’s learnings in this book, based on weaning his young daughter Indie, will inspire parents to join in their child’s weaning adventure. 

Real Food Kids Will Love

by Annabel Karmel

Book cover for Real Food Kids Will Love

In a career spanning four decades, Annabel Karmen has inspired more parents to make delicious hot dinners than I’ve had, well, hot dinners. 

Cooking healthy meals that work for the whole family – low in salts and sugars yet still with enough adult tastes and flavours – is both really hard to get right and so vital. Nothing quite deflates like spending 45 minutes on a meal that only gets 45 seconds of interest from your kids. Thankfully Karmel is a master at both imaginative cuisine that works for toddlers and beyond, and at breaking down a meal with easy-to-follow recipes and inspirational photography that will make kids’ tummies rumble with every page. 

Inside Out Parenting

by Dr Holan Liang

Book cover for Inside Out Parenting

Dr Holan Liang is a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at Great Ormond Street Hospital. She’s also a mother of two and honest to the core, which is what makes Inside Out Parenting an empowering and holistic resource for parents. 

It’s a funny, wry, straight-forward and very relatable memoir-cum-manual, which draws as much on Liang’s own experience as a parent as it does on her medical expertise. Knowingly turning the idea of tiger mothering on its head, Liang’s key thesis is rooted in the importance of building up your child’s self-esteem – to raise robust and resilient children and help guard against mental health issues down the line. 

The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play

by Laura Brand 

Book cover for The Joy Journal for Magical Everyday Play

Resisting the omnipresence of screens in a child’s life is a driving force behind The Joy Journal, written and illustrated by Laura Brand. 

In her foreword to the book, Fearne Cotton describes craft and creativity as ‘our 6 am go to when I can’t take another episode of Paw Patrol.’ It’s a sentiment most parents, even before the screen-heavy rigours of lockdown home-schooling, can appreciate. 

Using a strictly accessible selection of household and everyday items, Brand’s imaginative yet achievable ideas for her young family are relayed with tons of fun, inspiration, clarity and honesty. For example, as opposed to fellow joy-specialist Marie Kondo, Brand is keen for readers to sometimes ‘embrace the mess’!

The First Breath

by Olivia Gordon

Book cover for The First Breath

For the vast majority of women, exposure to the workings of fetal and neonatal intensive care units and resuscitation rooms are mercifully rare. Few experience what happens when a pregnancy, or the first few weeks of a baby’s life, don’t go to plan. But in this moving, often very personal book, Olivia Gordon details how babies are saved by medicine. 

The First Breath dives deeply into the processes at some of the world’s foremost children’s hospitals for an incisive and riveting examination of the relationship between mothers and medical history. Modern science saved Gordon’s son’s life. The love and fear engendered by such an experience is relayed in a unique and eye-opening way in The First Breath

Brown Baby

by Nikesh Shukla

Book cover for Brown Baby

In the slightly elusive field of great modern books about fatherhood, Nikesh Shulka’s Brown Baby truly demands your time and attention. The author of previous bestseller The Good Immigrant has crafted a memoir that takes in some of the biggest, darkest issues in the minds of parents today – like how to find joy and optimism in a world beset by racism and sexism, a world facing climate crisis. 

Shulka’s honest ruminations on this, his family, plus his relationship with the UK, food and his young daughters fill those outside of the South Asian experience with plenty of insights on allyship. And to any reader, parent or not, Shulka’s words serve as an honest, funny, punchy and personal memoir of note. 

Weaning Made Simple

by Annabel Karmel 

Book cover for Weaning Made Simple

Another valuable resource in the field of children’s nutrition from Annabel Karmel MBE, this time focused on weaning babies onto solid foods. 

Weaning is one of the biggest leaps in a kid’s life, one that can cause stress  in a parent’s life too. Luckily, Karmel reassures from every conceivable angle – advising when a baby is ready, what to try and eventually how to judge when the time is right to begin reducing milk feeding. And as with any Annabel Karmel book, there are also 100 different recipe ideas, from purées to casseroles to finger-food for your tiny-fingered friends. 

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The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds

by Teresa Watkins

Book cover for The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds

In this official companion to the award-winning Channel 4 show, written by Executive Producer, Teresa Watkins and neuroscientist Paul Howard-Jones, we relive some of its funniest, most touching moments and explore what's going on in the heads of little people when big people aren't around. It turns out that we can learn a huge amount from them.

Full of amazing moments, sharp insights and fascinating science and full of beautiful photography, this is a celebration of the extraordinary lives of children and a reminder that we are all closely connected to our four-year-old selves.

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)

by Philippa Perry

Book cover for The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did)

In The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read, leading psychotherapist Philippa Perry reveals the vital do's and don'ts of relationships. 

Whether you're looking to understand how your upbringing has shaped you, curious about how to handle your child's feelings, or hoping to better support your partner, Philippa Perry's sane, sage and judgment-free advice is an essential resource on how to have the best possible relationships with the people who matter to you most.