Bedtime. It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. A central part of most bedtime routines is the bedtime story. But finding the right story is tricky – too boring and they lose interest, to exciting and they don’t sleep. So what makes a good bedtime story?
To help us uncover the formula for the perfect bedtime story, I’ve got some examples that don’t work so well. We do not usually focus on negative reviews, we try to just point out the things we do like, the things that have worked. So it’s not that these are inherently bad books, but they do have aspects which make them less desirable for a good bedtime read.
Down in the Woods at Sleepytime by Carole Lexa Schaefer
Down in the Woods at Sleepytime was given to us as a present. It might as well be called “Top excuses you can use to not go to bed“, as it follows a group of baby animals in a wood telling their mummies why they are not going to sleep. Eventually an owl turns up and tells them a story, and they fall asleep – but the seed of rebellion has been planted. A bedtime book that has so many perfect excuses for not going to sleep is far from ideal.
I want a snack. That rabbits got a snack. Can I have a snack?
Rule #1 : not going to sleep is not a lifestyle choice or situation that should be given any mention!
WOW! said the owl by Tim Hopgood
In the first example, the owl saved the day and got all the babies to sleep. So are owls the perfect sleepy time companions? No!
Wow! Said the Owl is a lovely book, featuring an owl that is amazed at the wonderful colours around us. It’s great for learning the names of colours, and just for generally stoking the fires of amazement that burn so bright in toddlers.
But – the owl only sees these thing BY NOT GOING TO SLEEP! A story which is fundamentally based on someone not going to sleep at the proper time and then having an amazing life changing experience does not make for good bedtime reading! I’m not owlist – I’d avoid all books prominently featuring nocturnal animals, they just don’t play by the rules.
Daddy, I want to be an owl, I am a night time creature too
Rule #2 : A good bedtime book should end with people going to bed, preferably at the right time.
Another great book, but awful for bedtime is Hamilton’s Hats. It’s so long, even with my specially edited cut (sorry crocodile, you’re out!) it takes a good ten minutes to read.
If it’s a fantastic book, teaching the importance of many virtues, through the medium of hats. A great way to talk about different personality traits, and how they are all important for being a nice person. The illustrations are great too, as they are done by the same man who drew The Gruffalo.
But it’s too long for bed. It’s too long to memorise, so it’s not great for reading in a dimly lit bedroom.
Rule #3 : you’ve got to be able to memorise it
So what is the perfect bed time story?
Well, by far the best we’ve found is Goodnight Digger by Michelle Robinson. Its a short story, written in lovely rhyming prose, of a boy saying good night to all his toys before finally saying “Goodnight digger” and going to sleep himself. It satisfies all our rules for a perfect bedtime story, and it has quickly become one of our favourites to read.
It’s not a boring book, but it’s not too exciting – everyone in the story, and I mean everyone, is going to bed. If your child like diggers, tractors, trams or vans they will love this book. Its simple structure, also lends it well to being a book that your child can start to read (or at least say) along with you.
And if your child has a liking for tractors, there is also Goodnight Tractor which has a similar style, but features more farmyard animals and equipment.
Do you have a favourite bedtime story? Let us know in the comments!