Best bedtime books

There’s a lot I’m not sure about when it comes to parenting, but I do have one belief that has yet to be shaken: a good bedtime reading session covers a multitude of sins. Here are six books to help you out with that…

First, an introduction of sorts…

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.”

That’s right. I just started this column with a quote from You’ve Got Mail. But you know what? Every word of that statement Written by the late, great Nora Ephron) is true. As a former 5th grade reading and writing teacher, and as a current parent to a blossoming bibliophile of my own, I know firsthand how true it is. It’s also why I’m here today.

What you’re reading right this very minute is a new, maybe-regular column here on RVANews where I’ll be talking about one of the greatest loves of my life: books for kids. I say “books for kids” because although my family’s reading repertoire is picture book-heavy at the moment (our son isn’t quite four), my love for young adult fiction also runs very, very deep.

My hope is to use this space to talk about old favorites, introduce you to some lesser-known gems, and even offer up some suggestions to help you and your kids work through whatever challenges or hiccups life might be throwing at you. I also hope you’ll share your favorites (and new finds) with me as well.

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There’s a lot I’m not sure about when it comes to parenting, but I do have one belief that has yet to be shaken: a good bedtime reading session covers a multitude of sins.

No matter how utterly horrific our day might have been, my son JR and I typically manage to pull it together when it comes time for him to go to bed. It’s when we regroup and reconnect (and sometimes repent) before closing out another day together. Sometimes we talk; sometimes we sing; but we always, always read. Reading together is how JR and I best enjoy each other, and it brings us back to a place of love and calmness faster than anything else—which is exactly where we need to be for what will likely be our last interaction until the following morning.

As far as I’m concerned, any book both you and your child like is great to read before bed; lately JR and I have spent most evenings poring over the most recent issue of Ranger Rick. But, if given the opportunity, I like to close with a standard bedtime story. You know, books with a “sleepytime” feel that inspires you and your child to settle into each other for one final (and probably much-needed) snuggle before your little one drifts off to sleep.

The books I’ve listed below represent our go-to bedtime favorites. I hope you’ll add them to your family’s rotation–and be sure to tell me what’s missing from ours.

1. Snoozers: 7 Short Short Bedtime Stories for Lively Little Kids

Written and illustrated by Sandra Boyton

I first came across Snoozers back when I worked as a nanny (for a child who turned 12 this month, AUGH), and I couldn’t wait to share it with my future children. In fact, I think this was the first book I actually bought for JR, back when he was a giant baby still in my belly. Snoozers is a quick and fun read comprised of seven very short bedtime stories organized by a tabbed table of contents, allowing the kids to choose which story to read and what order (our favorites are “Pajamas” and “Night Sounds”). Each story showcases Boyton’s trademark animals and bouncy rhymes that are sure to get suck in everyone’s heads in no time—and you won’t mind one bit.

2. How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

Written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Mark Teague

This utterly fantastic book from versatile author Jane Yolen works from the perspective that sometimes the easiest way to encourage good behavior from your kids is to point out the downright silliness of bad behavior. The point of the book is, of course, “Hey, kid, just go the eff to sleep,” but Yolen’s lilting rhymes and Mark Teague’s rich illustrations of dinosaurs engaged in various (and surely familiar) anti-bedtime antics keep it good-natured and fun. And for those young readers looking to get a little something extra out of the book, in each illustration Teague hid the name of the featured dinosaur somewhere on the page; see if your little ones can find (and learn) them all.

3. Where the Wild Things Are

Written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

I know, I know, a totally obvious choice. But it’s The Children’s Book. What’s more, you all know it is, and if I were to leave it out this post would be flooded with comments like “Um, am I missing something? What about Where the Wild Things Are? #youredoingitwrong.” The illustrations are enough to completely mesmerize most children (and adults, really), but I think the magic of this book really lies in Sendak’s deceptively simple text. It’s forty-eight pages of mostly run-on sentences that give you no choice but to float through the story, bobbing right alongside Max as he journeys from his bedroom to where the wild things are and back home again where someone loves him best of all. It’s just…it’s perfection.

4. Wynken, Blynken, and Nod

Written by Eugene W. Field; illustrated by David McPhail

In this adaptation of Eugene Field’s 1889 poem, artist David McPhail tells the story of “the fishermen three” (portrayed as bunnies in this telling) through beautiful illustrations that feel like a throwback to classics like Beatrix Potter. And even though Field first published Wynken, Blynken, and Nod almost 130 years ago, kids today will still appreciate its sing-song pace and magical premise. I mean, come on! Sailing through the stars in a wooden shoe? Talking to the moon? That’s some excellent inspiration for some truly sweet dreams right there.

5. Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late

Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

The Catrow Family celebrates Mo Willems’s entire collection, but this one is my current favorite. It follows the same premise as its predecessor, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, but this time that kooky bird is doing absolutely everything he can to put off bedtime. Willems’s drawings are simple but expressive, and your kids will get a good laugh at (and relate to) the pigeon’s endless excuses as to why he’s just not ready to go to sleep. But don’t worry: even though the book is hilarious, it’s not going to riling anyone up. Turns out, yawns are just as contagious when they come from an illustrated bird. As the pigeon finally tuckers himself out by the last page, I bet you’ll look down and see your little one sporting some seriously droopy eyelids.

6. Goodnight, Little Bear

Written by Patricia Scarry; illustrated by Richard Scarry

When I think about my son reading my favorite story out of my childhood copy of Richard Scarry’s Best Story Book Ever…well, let’s just say it involves lots of feelings and cry flapping. But really, you don’t need a 30-year history with this story to love it. Going along with the ever-popular theme of a child’s efforts to avoid bedtime, Goodnight, Little Bear follows Father Bear on his “search” for Little Bear after he’s “forgotten” the cub is sitting right on his shoulders. Little ones will love the story for its delightfully simple text and colorful illustrations—but what’ll really charm them is the fact that they get to be in on the joke. Awww, Baby’s First Dramatic Irony!

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

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