Ten Favorite Bedtime Stories Books

22 Aug

I am on deck to do our monthly Ezra Jack Keats Bedtime Stories program tonight.  I am very fond of this program  While most of our storytimes are designed for distinct age groups, this one is a family affair, with young children, older siblings, moms, dads, and grandparents all turning out.  Thanks to a grant from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, every child who attends receives a free book by Mr. Keats, who was born and bred right here in Brooklyn, NY.  Keats’ work revolves around themes of family, friendships, and city neighborhoods, and being able to take one of his books home only extends the warm, multi-generational, and Brooklynesque atmosphere of our program.

Since I have bedtime stories on the brain, I thought I would take the opportunity to share some of my favorite bedtime books.  Let the record show that I hardly ever choose titles of the, “Oh, my baby child, the moon and stars shall softly croon lullabies o’er you as you dream your way to sunrise” ilk for my programs.  It’s not that I dislike them outright (although a lot of them are way too treacly for my taste).  I just believe they are better suited for one-on-one time than for reading aloud in a roomful of 50 people.

The titles I selected are listed below, not in order of preference, but alphabetical order by author’s last name.

Happy Bday MoonHappy Birthday, Moon by Frank Asch

This is a story about a sweet and earnest little bear who loves the Moon and wants to buy it a birthday present.  Bear climbs the highest mountain he can find to get close enough to ask Moon what it would like for a gift.  He does not realize that the answers Moon gives him are his own echoes bouncing off the nearby mountains.  It turns out both Bear and Moon have the same birthday and both would like a hat.  So Bear breaks open his piggy bank and buys Moon a debonair top hat, and he is later delighted to discover that Moon got him one just like it (or maybe not).  Bear is never stripped of his wide-eyed innocence, which makes the ending even more endearing.  He still loves the Moon, and now has every reason to believe the Moon loves him back.

Optimized-HowHow Many Stars in the Sky? by Lenny Hort, ill. by James Ransome

Ideal for summer storytimes.  A boy stands in his backyard in his pajamas trying to count the stars.  His mother is away on a business trip and he can’t sleep.  He is frustrated because trees and streetlamps are getting in his way.  The boy’s father finds him and proposes driving into the city to find out if they can see the stars better there.  There are limitless neon lights on view once they reach the city, but they see only one star, which could have been an airplane.  So they get back into the truck and head to the country, where the stars blanket the sky in uncountable numbers.  By then, it is the earliest morning hours, and the boy and his father catch some sleep in the back of the truck before driving home at sunrise.  The closeness and warmth between the boy and his father are heightened by their spur-of-the-moment adventure, which takes place on a lush summer evening at a time when everyone else is asleep.  They have the city, the countryside, and the universe all to themselves.

MortimerMortimer by Robert Munsch, ill. by Michael Martchenko

I just can’t resist a book that is noisy, boisterous, and Funny-with-a-captital-F, and Mortimer delivers.  It’s that staircase, especially when Mortimer’s 17 brothers and sisters go marching up it, that gets everyone cracking up, and Mortimer’s maximum-decibal singing is too irresistible not to join in.  After all, where else but storytime is it okay to sing at the top of one’s voice in the library?  And unlike Mortimer’s parents, I won’t call the police.   The video below has Mr. Munsch himself reading his book.  I’m going to have to steal some of his sound effects the next time I read it.

Book of Sleep A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

I believe I have a singular attraction to these books where nighttime is a time to be alone and watchful.  We saw it in How Many Stars in the Sky? and we’ll see it again in the last title on this list.  It’s particularly evident in A Book of Sleep.  As all the other animals fall asleep, Owl’s eyes spring open and he alone bears witness to which animals sleep standing up (giraffes) and which sleep with one eye open (pigeons).  When the sun comes up, all of the animals awaken, but Owl is still on his own because he himself has fallen fast asleep.  The book has been turned into a lovely app, which you can preview here.

Hush Little BabyHush Little Baby by Brian Pinkney

There are a bazillion picture book versions of the traditional lullaby out there, but I am especially keen on this charmer by Brooklynite Brian Pinkney.  Mama has left for an errand, and Baby is crying her eyes out.  Papa (looking dapper in fedora and pinstripes) and Son (carrying a guitar and wearing a jaunty newsboy cap) leap into action and dance about trying to offer Baby the one gift that will get her to stop squalling.  Sadly, not even a dog named Pearl, or a horse and cart, or a firetruck will do the trick as well as Mama coming home to sing Baby a lullaby.

GoodnightGoodnight, Goodnight by Eve Rice

Here is a book I have chosen a number of times over Goodnight Moon.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Goodnight Moon, and I do read it in programs.  Like Goodnight Moon, Goodnight, Goodnight also features a cozy, lulling, poetic text, and the setting is an entire city instead of a single green roomGoodnight, Goodnight is about neighbors who come home and say goodnight to each other before they settle in for the night behind those warm, yellow windows (not the little cat on the roof, though, who cries out, “Won’t someone come out and play with me?”).  Alas, Goodnight, Goodnight is out of print.  Publishers, we need more Eve Rice books in circulation besides (another favorite of mine) Sam Who Never Forgets.

Dinosaur vs BedtimeDinosaur Vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea

ROAR!  I had fallen into a trap of only reading this hilarious book to toddlers and pre-k groups, but you know what?  The hyped-up little dinosaur works for all ages!  When I read it for Bedtime Stories, I bring a kazoo so I can play a little fanfare before the words, “Dinosaur wins again!”  My favorite page is dinosaur vs. talking grownups, mostly because I really enjoy making exaggerated, “Blaah, Blaah, Blaah, Blaah…” sounds when I read it.

Let's Sing a LullabyLet’s Sing a Lullaby with the Brave Cowboy by Jan Thomas

The Brave Cowboy has been in heavy storytime rotation with me since it was published last year.  I use it all the time, for daytime programs and class visits, and for Bedtime Stories.  Out on the range, the Brave Cowboy begins to sing his cows to sleep with a lullaby, but just when he is about to hit the final notes–EEEEK!–he thinks he’s caught sight of a spider, a snake, a giant bunny rabbit, etc.  Turns out our Brave Cowboy isn’t brave at all.  He’s a yellow-bellied coward.  I had come up with my own tune for the lullaby long before I found out about the one in the book trailer below.

Can't You Sleep Little BearCan’t You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell, ill. by Barbara Firth

It’s night, the cave is warm and glows with yellow light.  Big Bear has settled into his armchair with a book, but Little Bear can’t sleep.  He’s afraid of the shadows that hide in the darkest corners of the cave, so patient Big Bear lights lanterns to show Little Bear there is nothing to fear from the dark.  It’s not quite enough to settle Little Bear’s fears, however, because he points out that the night surrounds them outside the cave as well.  So Big Bear takes him outside and it is in the light of the full moon and stars that Little Bear finally falls asleep in Big Bear’s arms.  As I work through these titles on my list, I realize Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear? is another one of those books where the night is a vast backdrop against which the parent and child characters’ relationship is gently played out.  See Also: How Many Stars in the Sky? and the final title on my list…

Optimized-OwlOwl Moon by Jane Yolen, ill. by John Schoenherr

Jane Yolen herself calls Owl Moon, “…arguably my best book” and while I haven’t read her entire body of work (she’s very productive), I do consider it a perfect picture book, one where the text and artwork are melded- well perfectly-into a heartwarming, unified whole.  A father and child go tramping through the snow late at night to look for owls.  The child understands that there are rules: you must be quiet, you must be patient, you have to endure the cold, and that sometimes you will see an owl and sometimes you won’t.  On this night they are in luck, because an owl eventually alights on a branch and the child and her father lock eyes with it, “For one minute, three minutes, maybe even a hundred minutes…” before it flies silently away.  They walk home without talking, and the girl considers herself, but a “shadow” after sharing that moment with her Pa out in the big natural world.  I have read Owl Moon three or four times for Bedtime Stories (always in the winter), and every audience of urbanites I have shared it with has been entranced.  I swear, you can hear a pin drop in the room when the owl first flies out of the shadows.

Oh, dear, now I’m in a pickle.  I only have a half hour for this program, but I now want to read all ten of the titles on my list.  How to choose, how to choose?

If you have favorite bedtime titles, share them in the comments!



3 Responses to “Ten Favorite Bedtime Stories Books”

  1. Megan August 22, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    The Baby Beebee Bird by Diane Redfield Massie was always a favorite when I did EJK bedtime stories.

    • zbeforey August 22, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

      I almost put it on my list!

    • zbeforey August 22, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

      I almost put it on my list!

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