Five Favorite Bedtime Picture Books

Covers of 5 Favorite Bedtime Picture Books
Dennis Kennedy

There are lots of wonderful bedtime picture books, including the classic children’s picture book Goodnight, Moon, but I’ve been impressed by the number of picture books published in the last several years that focus on bedtime and create a mood that helps kids settle down for a good night’s sleep. The five books below are among my newer favorites:

All the Awake Animals are almost asleep

All the Awake Animals are almost asleep begins with a mother settling her son down for bed with gentle rhymes and then moves into an imaginative look at how animals – from A to Z – are getting sleepy or are already asleep.

The book ends with the mother’s final rhymes and gentle “Sssh… sssssh… sssshhh” to her dozing little boy. Author Crescent Dragonwagon uses a lot of alliteration in her animal descriptions to great effect.

Throughout the book, there are delightful full page and double page illustrations by David McPhail, rendered in watercolors and ink with muted colors suitable for animals and a sleepy child at dusk. In keeping with the A to Z theme, each page featuring an animal also features a large and lovely ribbon-like rendering of the first letter of the animal’s name, from Antelope to Zebra. Both the nighttime artwork and the text, with its rhymes and alliteration, have a calming effect on young children ages 2 to 5.  (Little, Brown and Company, 2012. ISBN: 9780316070454)

Sleep Like A Tiger

Sleep Like A Tiger by Mary Logue is the story of a little girl who does not want to go to sleep. Her parents tell her that she doesn’t have to, but she needs to get ready for bed, so she puts on her favorite pajamas, washes her face, brushes her teeth and climbs into bed.

Since she still isn’t sleepy, she asks her parents, “Does everything in the world go to sleep?”

After her parents tell her their dog and cat are asleep, she starts asking about other animals, and they discuss how various animals settle down to sleep, including whales, grizzly bears and the tiger who lives in the jungle.

The little girl ends up wriggling and snuggling like the animals as she, like the animals, falls asleep. While author Mary Logue’s story is entertaining, what makes the book one kids like to listen to and look at again and again are the whimsical illustrations with unique details, a combination of mixed media paintings and computer illustration.

There are all kinds of interesting details in the illustrations that are never explained. For example, the little girl, her parents and the tiger all wear crowns on their heads like royalty. I recommend Sleep Like A Tiger for ages 3 to 6.  (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. ISBN: 9780547641027)

Tell Me About Your Day Today

Tell Me About Your Day Today by Mem Fox, author and literacy expert, is an excellent book for imaginative kids who need some process time alone before they go to sleep. The story is about a little boy who loves bedtime. He loves the nightly rituals of a kiss good night and a bedtime story, but he loves best spending time alone in conversation with his stuffed animal friends.  Each animal reviews its day and then, he reviews his own with them – looking back on “the who, the what, the why, and the way” they all spent the rainy day.

With all in agreement that everything “turned out okay,” it’s time to sleep.

I can see this book inspiring 3 to 6 year olds to do this with their own stuffed animals. Lauren Stringer’s vibrant acrylic paintings showcase each animal’s day and the repetition of the words “the who, the what, the why, and the way… the whole wild thing,” helps to tie the stories together as do the illustrations for the boy’s rainy day activities, which show his activities with his stuffed animal friends.  (Beach Lane Books, Simon & Schuster, 2012. ISBN: 9781416990062)

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

It’s not surprising that Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site became a bestseller. Young children tend to love big trucks and diggers of all types and all of the activity on a construction site and this book delivers just that.

The fact that author Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld are able to present a lively construction site with active vehicles, without overexciting their young audience, and then, slow all the action down, to bedtime with those same vehicles tired out and ready for bed creates the perfect “time for bed” mood for young children.

The illustrations by Tom Lichenheld, done in wax oil pastels, smoothly move between the bright  yellow of day and the rich deep blue of night. The fact that his vehicles all have eyes like people do makes their human emotions seem very appropriate. Rinker's rhyming story provides descriptions of the work of a variety of vehicles, including a dump truck, a cement mixer and a bulldozer as well as their sleepy feelings as the day ends and it’s time for bed. The book ends with “Great work today! Now…shh…goodnight,” a good way to signal to your 2 to 5 year old that it’s time to go to sleep.  (Chronicle Books, 2011. ISBN: 9780811877824)

Steam Train, Dream Train

Steam Train, Dream Train is by the same team that created Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site: Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld.  This time, though the book also features a rhyming story and illustrations in wax oil pastels, the focus is on a very special train. It’s dark and the crew has to be quick if they are to get everything loaded on the train.

There’s a lot of lively action but it’s not overwhelming because it takes place in the dark night, which has a calming effect. The crew consists of monkeys, kangaroos, bears, a giraffe, elephants and a dinosaur who all rush around trying to get everything loaded on the train before it gets any later. What do they do?

In the case of the monkeys, “they whirl, twirl, cartwheel, jump, / but cargo’s stowed without a bump,” while the rabbits bounce on pogo sticks, the camel hauls toys, the kangaroos jump in the hopper full of balls and three of the young ones fall asleep. The fun continues as the elephants use their trunks to fill the paint cars.

The tired workers continue until they are all done.

Then, using the flatbed cars as rolling beds, they slip under the covers and go to sleep. Where did this amazing dream train come from? The final double page spread gives a hint. It pictures a little boy sleeping in his moonlit bedroom, with his toy train on its tracks by his bed. Both Rinker’s rhythmic text and Lichtenheld’s imaginative artwork will delight children 2 to 5 years old.  (Chronicle Books, 2013. ISBN: 9781452109206)

More Books to Read at Bedtime

While not all of them are about bedtime, the following picture books are also ones that children enjoy hearing at bedtime and that parents like because they help their children to settle down for the night:

Sun and Moon by Lindsey Yankey

, written by Amy Hest and illustrated by Anita Jeram

A Sick Day for Amos McGee, written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, winner of the 2011 Randolph Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson

The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton, winner of the 1943 Randolph Caldecott Medal

The Poky Little Puppy, a Little Golden Book by Janette Sebring Lowery, with illustrations by Gustaf Tenggren

The House in the Night, written by Susan Marie Swanson and illustrated by Beth Krommes, winner of the 2009 Randolph Caldecott Medal for picture book illustration.