Most children’s novels contain at least one scene with the child in bed and an adult, often a parent or grandparent, by the bedside comforting, reading or telling a story, saying a prayer or listening to the child’s confessions. … Sleep is… in children’s novels, as much a social activity as food.
– The Rhetoric of Character In Children’s Literature by Maria Nikolajeva
just go to bed by mercer mayer
Little Critter is told to get ready for bed, but gets distracted at each point. Mercer Mayer’s books are so appealing because they’re so realistic. This is exactly what happens if you tell a toddler to get ready for bed. Of course books of this kind must end with the critter/animal/child in bed asleep. This one is no exception.
Where’s My Mummy? By Carolyn Crimi
The picture on the front cover tells us that the ‘mummy’ is the Egyptian kind, wrappped in bandages, but the play on words is that the baby mummy has lost it’s mummy (named ‘mama’ to avoid confusion). The mummies live in a graveyard, and as the baby mummy wanders about looking for its mother it comes across all sorts of creepy (but comical) characters who are going through their bedtime routines. (Gargling with goo, cleaning long pointy ears etc.) Eventually baby mummy finds its mother and goes safely to bed.
Wake Up! By Katie Cleminson
This doesn’t sound much like a going to bed book, but it begins with a boy waking up, takes us onomatopoeically through his daily routine, focusing on different verbs. He ends up in bed, which is why it could be effective as a bedtime story.
Where Does Thursday Go? By Janeen Brian
A bear and a bird (Splodge and Humbug) wonder what happens to each day after the sun goes down so they get out of bed after they’re tucked in and go look for it. They come to the conclusion that Thursday is ‘the moon’, because it disappears slowly behind a cloud. They retire to bed for the rest of the night until the sun brings Friday.
ONE SNOWY NIGHT BY NICK BUTTERWORTH
A procession of forest animals turn up on Percy’s doorstep because it’s snowing and they want a warm bed for the night.
The storyline reminds me a bit of that song that goes, ‘There were three in the bed and the little one said Roll Over! Roll Over!”
But if after reading this you’re stuck with Men At Work singing “Who can it be now?” as an earworm, don’t say you weren’t warned.
MOST LOVED MONSTER BY LYNN DOWNEY
The characters are friendly monsters behaving like a human family, which would reassure young children who have a tendency to see creepy crawlers in the dark.
A mother monster has four youngsters, who each ask her as they’re tucked in, ‘Who do you love the most?’ Each time the mother says she loves them all equally but she also mentions the special quality each of them has. (Sense of humour, creativity etc.) The little monsters wait until their mother is asleep then they get out of bed and make the most of their special gifts – the creative one bakes his most creative recipe yet, for instance. In the morning the mother monster gets up and if other readers are anything like me, they’ll be expecting the mother monster to be very angry, because the little monsters got out of bed when they shouldn’t have and made a big mess. But the mother monster is delighted. She’s especially delighted that they’ve written ‘Mama we love you the most’ in red, right across the cave walls. (I wasn’t sure whether I should categorise this as a ‘mawkish book’, but there is plenty of humour in this book as well, since the monsters do monstery things like floss their fangs.)
TELL ME SOMETHING HAPPY BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP BY JOYCE DUNBAR
The characters in this one are rabbits who behave like human children. Two rabbits sleep on a bunk bed. The smaller one is worried and can’t sleep, so the bigger one takes the smaller one around the house and shows it all the reasons to be happy: chicken slippers waiting to be worn, a jumpsuit waiting to be put on tomorrow, oats, milk and apples waiting to be eaten for breakfast etc. They end up back in bed. The little rabbit is happy now and falls asleep.
GOODNIGHT TIPTOE – A TILLY AND FRIENDS BOOK BY POLLY DUNBAR
Polly Dunbar is the daughter of Joyce Dunbar, above.
There are no adults in this one. Instead a little girl takes the parental role and gets her toys ready for bed. She gives the elephant a bath, brushes their teeth and tucks them in. Once in bed herself, she wonders who’s going to tuck her in. Tiptoe must be her favourite toy – he is still up, so does the job for her. This story would perhaps help a toddler to consider the going-to-bed routine a game of imagination. By encouraging the child to take the parental role, a reluctant sleeper might be thus coerced.
GOOD KNIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT BY DAVID MELLING
This story is a little strange, in that the event which starts the rest of the story is simply that a little boy goes in search of pillow stuffing for his little sister. In the boy’s head (or perhaps in the world of the story) the family live in a castle, so the little boy finds things such as wolf hair and feathers off ‘feather trees’. The feathers off these trees prove a hit, the baby sister stops crying and the royal family is able to get a good night’s sleep.
LITTLE HOOT BY AMY KROUSE ROSENTHAL
It’s hard to write a going to bed book with an original twist, but this book achieves it by turning the usual reluctance to go to bed on its head: Little Owl desperately wants to go to bed but his night-owl parents make him stay up and play. Eventually, of course, he has played enough to satisfy them and he is grateful for the opportunity to sleep.
GO THE F**K TO SLEEP
DON’T LET THE PIGEON STAY UP LATE BY MO WILLEMS
I feel as though the above book is a more taboo version of Don’t Let The Pigeon Go To Sleep by Mo Willems, published 2007. The Willems book goes through all the typical excuses a child has (where do they learn it? Antenatal class?) but the language is appropriate for a child. I’m not sure who’d appreciate the Mo Willems book more though — parents or their children.
HOW DO DINOSAURS SAY GOODNIGHT? BY JANE YOLEN ILLUSTRATED BY MARK TEAGUE
This one is for young dinosaur enthusiasts, with a page at the very beginning showing what the dinosaurs are called. Each dinosaur is sitting on a bed, engaged in classic human pre-bedtime rituals such as reading a boo, jumping on the bed or hugging a teddy. Some are blowing bubbles and getting up to general three-year-old bedtime mischief. This story is basically saying to a toddler, ‘A dinosaur wouldn’t be naughty before bed, would he?’, hoping that the toddler will use the beloved dinosaurs as role models for good pre-bedtime behaviour.
This book is a modern one, first published in 2000, yet the illustrations look set in an earlier time. The ‘papa’ wears those high waisted trousers straight off the set of Mad Men. The mothers (because there are various bedrooms and various parents) seem often to be wearing aprons and 1950s bobbed hair. To summarise, the men look as if they’ve got home from work, while the mothers all look as if they’ve been working in the home all day. Is this a way of preserving traditional values and gender roles, I wonder, by setting modern stories in 1950?
DRIFT UPON A DREAM, A COLLECTION OF POEMS CHOSEN BY JOHN FOSTER ILLUSTRATED BY MELANIE WILLIAMSON
The danger of reading this book all at once is that the adult reader may find themselves yawning uncontrollably, or maybe that’s just me?
This is a collection of nursery rhymes, some well-known, some less so; some by well-known poets, others by Anonymous. Some sound like the sort of thing your grandmother made up on the spot. They are illustrated in whimsical, modern style in an attractive colour palette of pinks and purples and blues. The illustrations appealed to my daughter. The poems she found less appealing. I thought back to my own preschool years and realised that my mother read me a lot of nursery rhymes, and I realised that unless children are exposed to such rhymes at the right age, parents have missed the window. This leads me to wonder how relevant those nursery rhymes really are, because I’ve been quite neglectful about reading them to our own preschooler. So much more is available now, and a lot of it is, frankly, a lot more interesting than the classic lullabies. Yet there’s something about a classic — I think it’s knowing that every single one of your recent ancestors knew the same one. Still, if it’s continuity we’re after, there’s always mitochondria, which will never let us down.
Related Links: Where Children Sleep – James Mollison Photographs; A Book Of Sleep, reviewed by Brain Pickings; Best Read Aloud Books For Before Bed from Education Matters