As the mother of four children currently ranging in age from two to eleven, I’m no stranger to bedtime stories. I know well the joy of laughing and snuggling with small people as we gently wind down the day together, turning the pages of the books I love best.
I also know the pain of being begged to read books that I don’t actually enjoy seventeen gazillion times in a row, because once is never enough, apparently.
But whatever. It’s all for a good cause, right? Anything that helps the little darlings settle down and go straight to sleep is fine with me.
Except when it doesn’t. It’s entirely possible, after all, that a bedtime story session can leave children more energized and awake than they were before. Add in too much Dav Pilkey, and there’s a good chance they’ll be bouncing off the walls as enthusiastically as if they’d all been dosed with bedtime cans of Mello Yello. That’s why we parents need a winning strategy for bedtime reading.
To help you plan a successful evening story time, here are five kinds of books to consider including in your bedtime lineup:
1. The Silly One
It’s always best to start story time with something seriously silly. If you’re going to convince them to put down their toys and tablets and join you on the couch, you’ll need to tempt them with a book that’s so entertaining they’ll be laughing hysterically by the end of it.
This is when you want to pull out Dav Pilkey, if you happen to have one (or ten) of his books lying around. Bink and Gollie and The Book with No Pictures also work well.
I find Kristin Roskifte’s Animal Beauty particularly good for this. There’s something about the mascara’d mouse and the shaved monkey that they just can’t resist.
2. The One They Love (and You Don’t)
There’s always that one book. The one you can’t stand. The one you don’t remember buying for them. Who knows when or how it entered your home?
The one they adore.
In our house, for a long time, the book that seemed to show up at every storytime was Barbie in a Mermaid Tale 2: 8 x 8 Sticker Story, but there have been many others along the way.
You know this book is coming — you can’t hide it behind the couch cushions forever — so you might as well get it out of the way early. It will also help keep their little bottoms firmly planted on the sofa even after The Silly One is over.
3. The One with the Epic Illustrations
To deftly handle the turning point from “fun time” to “quiet time,” you’ll need something that’s utterly engrossing but not rowdy. For this, I recommend The One with the Epic Illustrations. Think Graeme Base’s Animalia, Steven Kellogg’s Paul Bunyan, David Wiesner’s Tuesday, or anything illustrated by Melissa Sweet.
This is the book that makes their eyes go wide and their bodies stop wiggling. It’s the one that has them pointing at miniscule details and asking, “Will you turn the page back for a second?” This is the one that they’ll sneak off to bed with later to pore over under the covers with a flashlight.
4. The Soothing One
You’re rounding the corner into the homestretch now. It’s time to bring out The Soothing One. This is a book that isn’t explicitly about bedtime (no need to show your hand just yet), but it will get them feeling calm and cozy and just the tiniest bit sleepy all the same.
You might rely here on a classic like Guess How Much I Love You or Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, but I can think of no better book for this purpose than Sarah Bee’s The Yes. The text reads like a babbling brook of gentle empowerment, and when we come to the end, their faces seem to glow with a peaceful happiness. It’s a wonderful way to end the day.
5. The One That Is Actually about Bedtime
Here, at the end of all things, it’s finally time to bring out a book that mentions the b-word explicitly. They know what’s coming next, and they’re now to a point where they’re almost okay with it. But please — first — just one more book?
Now’s the time for Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night, Moon or Mem Fox’s Time for Bed, if you have one of them close at hand.
Of course, if you want something a little more whimsical (and I nearly always do), you might also try Helga Bansch’s At Night, a new book from Eerdmans that quietly turns bedtime on its head. I can’t wait to add it to our bedtime lineup next month.
Good luck, tired parents. I wish you well. Happy bedtime, and sweet dreams.
About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.