Bedtime Stories: 12 Picture Books for Drifting off to Dreamland
How’ve you been? Me? I’ve been, well, not grand, not lousy. Just all right. OK, some days pretty lousy, walking around dazed, dreamy, forgetting things like keys, pants, my phone number.
Before I go on, Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t had a kid yet and want to keep intact your romanticized notion of babies and parenting, skip the next paragraph and move on to the list of really great books that will lull future baby to sleep.
OK: If you’re a parent, you know the hard truth about baby land. There’s a reason the spoof of Go the F**K to Sleep by Adam Mansback, illustrated by Ricardo Cortes was number one on Amazon’s bestseller list a month before its release. Have a baby and sleep is no longer an uninterrupted love affair. Gone, that long stretch of dreamland. Night and day blur because you find yourself napping whenever you-know-who finally winds down. People will ask, “How’s the sleep thing going?” “Don’t worry, sleep is overrated.” Ha ha ha ha.
As far as I’m concerned, if you have a baby, a toddler, a kid with sleep issues, you can never have enough books that end with the main character falling asleep. “See? The sheep is asleep, and now it’s night night.” “See? The little owl closed its eyes, and now you should too.” “See?”
Here’s a list of recent releases that will, I hope, lull your little one off to dreamland.
Sylvie can’t sleep, so her mother suggests counting sheep in Anna McQuinn and Hannah Shaw’s The Sleep Sheep. But those silly sheep won’t stand still. Wonderfully illustrated, the sheep dance, grab rollerblades and scooters and skateboards and head off over the hill. Sylvie chases them to the beach, where after a bit of fun, they finally fall asleep. She counts and counts “And before she knew it, Sylvie had fallen asleep.” Thank goodness.
Ages 3-5 | Publisher: Scholastic | May 1, 2010
In The Bear in the Book, Kate Banks beautifully weaves together a metafiction story line with the main story. A boy and his mother are reading a book about a bear preparing for a long winter sleep, and you are reading a book about the mother and boy reading this book. “Sleep, big black bear,” said the boy’s mother. “Shh,” said the boy. Snowflakes fall across the pages and the boy tells his mother he likes snow. By blending both story lines, Banks captures the intimate relationship between books and readers, and how books can deeply enter the reader’s imagination. The illustrations are marvelous, inviting you into both worlds—the reading world and the world of the bear.
Ages 3-6 | Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux | October 16, 2012
By Dr. Seuss
I can’t get enough of Dr. Seuss. His love of language, the bouncy and playful feel of his words, his sounds, his rhythms. It’s my belief, wholly unsupported, that reading Dr. Seuss (over and over) is the first step in becoming a writer. In Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Softly Book, one little bug by the name of Van Vleck yawns and that yawn travels across fields and through the sleepy air, “across the whole country toward every-which-where.” The book includes things to touch– a soft blanket, a feather, and the bed of Jedd, which is made from “pom poms he grows on his head.”
Ages 0-3 | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | August 7, 2012
By Diane Muldrow; Illustrated by Jui Ishida
In Somewhere So Sleepy by Diane Muldrow, everyone is winding down, heading to bed—the koala, the baby elephant, the little lion cub. Puppy is fluffing up her bed, and hippo’s eyes are getting very droopy. With each animal, you lift a flap and there is the animal, moving closer to falling asleep. Until finally, “someone—a boy or girl just like you—is going to sleep. Good night, someone, somewhere.”
Ages 0-3 | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | August 10, 2010
Good Night, Little Sea Otter, by Janet Halfmann takes you out to the sea, where a baby sea otter eases into sleep by saying good night to the creatures of the water. Each picture has a lot of color and animal life, so you can linger, pointing to the sea lions, the crabs, the sea slugs and snails. Wish Williams, the illustrator, did a lovely job inviting you and your little one into the world of the sea.
Ages 3-6 | Publisher: Star Bright Books | April 28, 2012
By Helen V. Griffith; Illustrated by Laura Dronzek
Moonlight by Helen V. Griffith, illustrated by Laura Dronzek, plays with the idea of the moon’s light dripping over everything like butter. When that happens, after rabbit goes to sleep in his burrow, the pictures really explode with the moon’s rich yellow beams coloring the sky, the mountains, even rabbit’s dreams.
Ages 4-8 | Publisher: HarperCollins | January 24, 2012
By Susan Gal
Susan Gal takes an innovative approach in Night Lights. Instead of a sleeping owl or kid, she tells the story of a child’s evening routine through all the different lights that shine at night. Moving from the porch light, to firelight, flashlight, moonlight, slowly easing a little one to bed.
Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | November 10, 2009
By Betsy Snyder
Mama bunny tucks little bunny into bed in Sweet Dreams Lullaby by Betsy Snyder. Written in rhyme, the book invites bunny—and your little one—to dream of “clouds like puffy pillows, a canopy of weeping willows,” or “dream of gentle raindrop showers giving drinks to thirsty flowers.” All the dreams invoke some aspect of nature, and the pictures slowly darken until finally the bunny is sound asleep.
Ages 3-7 | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | January 26, 2010
Milo, the elephant, wants to stay up and play with his neighbors, Henry, Hildy and Harriet, who are cats in The Secret Plan, by Julia Sarcone-Roach. They are tired of bedtime interrupting their marshmallow roasts and three-cats-in-a-tree record. They try hiding, but it doesn’t work. They try blending in, wearing disguises—still they are found out. The illustrations are wonderful—rich, deep colors with striking orange and blue tones. When they finally succeed and sneak off in the middle of the night, they meet in the attic. Not much later, they all began to feel sleepy. “I think I’m ready for bed,” Hildy mumbled.
Ages 3-6 | Publisher: Random House Children’s Books | October 13, 2009
This one’s for the family with kids bursting with energy at the end of the day. In Jammy Dance, by Rebecca Janni, illustrated by Tracy Dockray, a brother and sister go through a dance routine, including bath towels and tapping toothbrushes. “Music changes, windin’ down: Slower rhythm, softer sound. Dad is callin’. “Little folks-a, Time to do the p.j. polka.” Even mom and dad (why aren’t they tired?) do a dance in the book.
Ages 2-6 | Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux | February 14, 2012
Margaret Wise Brown, author of Goodnight Moon (a classic in bedtime/sleep books), also has Goodnight Moon ABC: An Alphabet Book. Who knew? But of course she’d offer twenty-six ways different ways to say goodnight. “D is for dreams and the dark wind that blows.” “O is for “Oh!” at the story they read.” She ends on a rather resounding note: “Z is for Zipper. Now zip into bed, not another peep. Go To Sleep!”
Ages 4-5 | Publisher: HarperCollins | July 27, 2010
In Princess Says Goodnight by Naomi Howland, illustrated by David Small, a little girl turns her bedtime ritual into something magical by pretending she’s a princess. She holds a candelabra as she heads up the stairs, drinks a frothy glass of milk with chocolate cream éclairs. And there she is on the last page, eyes closed, head on pillow, snuggling up with her frog and cat.
Ages 4-7 | Publisher: HarperCollins | May 4, 2010
Nina Schulyer‘s first novel, The Painting, was nominated for the Northern California Book Award and was named a ‘Best Book’ by the San Francisco Chronicle. Her new novel, The Translator, will be published by Pegasus Books in July, 2013. She is the fiction editor for www.ablemuse.com and teaches creative writing at the University of San Francisco. For more information, visit: www.ninaschuyler.com.