When my oldest (Millie) was a toddler, we read Tickle My Ears by Jorg Muhle so often that there was a page that was permanently sticky from her goodnight kisses. Just like a toddler, it was a perfect combo of sweet and disgusting.
When she got a bit older, we got to read Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann Every. Single. Night. Millie has always been such an inconsistent sleeper that we gave into every whim she had at night. Oh, you want 42 stuffed animals in your bed? HERE THEY ARE! You need us to read Good Night Gorilla again? WHATEVER YOU SAY! You need another drink of water? HERE IS A WHOLE WATER BOTTLE TO KEEP IN YOUR BED AS LONG AS YOU DON’T GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!
Eventually we were able to move on and start reading a variety of picture books at night (but we still haven’t moved on from the inconsistent sleep.) And by that time her sister (Lena) was old enough to have opinions about books and we started over again with Tickle My Ears and added in Dinosaur’s Binkit by Sandra Boynton.
But we’re finally in a place with both kids that we read a happy combination of classics and new favorites during our bedtime routine. A handful of our new(ish) favorites for preschool and early elementary kids are below.
Everyone’s Awake written by Colin Meloy and Illustrated by Shawn Harris
Yes, that Colin Meloy! Somehow The Decemberist’s frontman wrote a picture book with references to a coup d’etat, a tattooing cat, Prince, and a ghost grandpa without feeling overly pretentious or losing its sense of fun. Harris’s illustrations are trippy and charming, and include a series of clever literary Easter eggs (I recommend examining the grandmother’s bookshelf.)
Grace Lin’s pair of modern myth bedtime stories are brilliant. The simple, inventive stories are paired with sweet illustrations in Lin’s distinct style. These tales about the moon’s phases and snowy winter are perfect ways to share a little whimsy and fun with your kids before they drift off to sleep. I’m particularly smitten with Big Mooncake for Little Star‘s end papers. They’re filled with references to the night sky.
The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan and Illustrated by Tom Knight
Ok, so you need to either check this book out or buy it right away if you haven’t read it. It is hilarious. Bunmi Laditan is the author of The Honest Toddler and Toddlers are A**holes, so she clearly has a sense of humor about parenting. But she also hits on a lot of the actual issues kids face when going to bed (being afraid of the dark, missing a parent, wetting the bed) in a way that makes them easy to talk about. I am very much in favor of judging books by their cover, and I just knew I’d love this book when I saw the cover illustrated by Tom Knight. It did not disappoint.
You Nest Here with Me by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
This is my family’s favorite bedtime book. Hands down. Dan and I love reading it aloud (and both hurry to grab it when our kids pick it out to read at bedtime.) The rhyme scheme flows smoothly and it is sentimental without being saccharine. It teaches you about the nesting habits of birds (did you know that Cowbirds leave their eggs to be cared for in another bird’s nest to care for them? I didn’t!) and features some really sweet and timeless illustrations. But more than anything, when I read this book to my kids I get to reemphasize how much I love them and that I’ll always be there for them. Even when we’re having a difficult bedtime, it slows things down and gives us a reason to cuddle.
You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Illustrated by Soyeon Kim
Have I mentioned that Millie is not a great sleeper? We have spent years perfecting the bedtime routine. Some nights work out better than others, but a big factor in getting the kids to bed painlessly is creating a sense of calm. You Are Stardust is the perfect book for getting the kids to unwind and listen to their own bodies. I am obsessed with Soyeon Kim’s gorgeous diorama art and how perfectly it meshes with Elin Kelsey’s poetic descriptions of the connections between us and the natural world.
If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega and Illustrated by Zachariah Ohora
Ok, so sometimes your kids just need a good giggle before bed. Sometimes they need to imagine putting monster toys in your bed and blending bugs for a monster’s bedtime smoothie. Part of the bedtime routine is bonding, and nothing helps bonding better than a good laugh. Zachariah Ohora’s fun, modern illustrations paired with Denise Vega’s side-splitting instructions for putting a monster to bed was an instant favorite in our house.
Bedtime Math by Laura Overdeck and Illustrated by Jim Paillot
Both of my kids love the Bedtime Math series. We’ve read every story in each of the three books and have started over again. Luckily, these books grow with your kids and help sharpen their abilities. Each 2-page spread is dedicated to a different short, fact-filled story and then three or four math word problems — problems for “Wee Ones”, “Little Kids”, “Big Kids”, and sometimes a bonus question. The kids love reading the quirky stories, and I love that they’re so excited about math.
What are some of your family’s favorite bedtime books?