Thursday, June 20, 2013

Snuggly Bedtime Books..our top ten picks

The summer solstice is here...which means our nights are bright until well after 9:00 pm. The sun comes up bright and early, too, working its way into the children's east-facing windows despite the blackout curtains that line them.

We have all the good shades, clips to hold the curtains together, white noise machines, and snuggly, comfy beds. Still, though, one of our three (want to guess which one?) refuses to sleep at night until it is dark and cannot seem to stay asleep if there is any light in the sky at all.

(The month of June feels very long sometimes where bedtime is concerned.)

We've found it works better to try to extend the bedtime ritual in positive ways when we know SuperSam isn't ready for sleep. We often read an extra book or tell an extra story. If he's not sleepy when we leave, he has the option of lying in bed and reading to himself until he falls asleep. Sometimes he reads for over an hour. Although I wish he were sleeping, this staying up late for extra books with us and then having quiet reading time is a lot better than the way we used to do things, which resulted in his coming out of his room 6, 7 or 8 times after we had tucked him into bed...totally frustrating for everyone involved!

Since some of you might find yourselves with restless little ones, too, I want to share our top ten favorite bedtime books. You never know when you might have the kind of night where you just need to read an extra one. We all love Goodnight, Moon...but if you're feeling the urge to broaden your reading list, try one of these:

(This post contains lots of Amazon affliliate can't miss them, I promise.)

1. The Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown

This one is a classic. It's great fun to go through the animals with a young child and make all the appropriate sounds. The verse is so pleasantly rhythmic...there's some rhyme, but not enough to be annoying. We always speculate about where the children might be ("in this story the children are away/Only the animals are here today"), and SuperSam changes the part about the weather vane to "a golden flying pegasus." Since it makes him oddly happy to do this, we never correct it, and the Sisters have learned it that way. The pictures by Felecia Bond are beautiful and realistic (the animals don't look like cartoons- a pet peeve of mine!), and the final pictures of the moon floating in the washtub full of water always take my breath away a little bit.

2. The Goodnight Book for Moms and Little Ones edited by Alice Wong and Lena Tabori

This isn't a single story, but a collection of poems, prayers, songs, stories and recipes for bedtime snacks. There are even instructions for making shadow puppets with your hand on the wall. If you don't have a bedtime ritual that you're happy with, or if you're looking to add some things to the bedtime routine at your house, you might get some good ideas from this book. It includes classic as well as modern tales and songs, and the poems are drawn from different cultures and traditions. This book contains several great songs for singing before sleep that I just hadn't thought of on my own- songs I've always known, but have never considered as lullabies. My children particularly like "Moon River" by Henry Mancini and "Dream a Little Dream of Me" (I think I sing it a little like Mama Cass). The gorgeous illustrations alone are enough of a reason to have this book in your collection. Try the preview feature on to get a sneak peek at some of them.

3. Switching on the Moon compiled by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters

 Although I believe we can never have enough poetry in our lives, I'm guilty of getting caught up with reading story after story and forgetting to read poems (despite our healthy poetry collection). This book contains poems chosen by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters for their sleep-inducing qualities. SuperSam enjoyed the shorter poems even as a toddler, and now that he's older, he will often ask to read ten or twelve in a row. There's something about the carefully-chosen words and the charming illustrations that makes this feel like the perfect bedtime book to snuggle up and read together. Plus, it's easy to agree to "one more poem? pleeeeease?" even when you are tired- they're so short that reading lots of them takes little effort.

4. Time for Bed by Mem Fox

 A new favorite at our house, especially with the Sisters, this book goes through parent-child pairs of animals with each parent telling the baby that it is time to go to sleep. It rhymes, but not in a sing-songy way. I like that the animals represented go beyond the usual suspects- there are fish, bumblebees, and even snakes involved in the story. My favorite part is when the mama cow asks her baby, "What happened today that made you laugh?" and both of my girls laugh loudly in a very theatrical kind of way. We've been reading it nearly every night.

 5. Sing Along Song by JoAnn Early Macken

We ran across this book years ago at our local book fair and loved it. It's musical from start to finish. The story is about a young boy who goes through his day from morning until bedtime hearing music in all the ordinary sounds around him: buzzing flies, chattering squirrels, whistling daddies coming home from work, cooing baby sisters being put to bed. He's an adorable little boy- you will love him, I promise.

 6. So Sleepy Story by Uri Shulevitz

 This might be my favorite bedtime book of all time. A sleeping boy awakes to find his house is coming alive with music that is floating in the window...the plates and cups begin dancing, the furniture boogies with the beat, even the cuckoo clock gets into the music. As the music fades away, the house goes back to sleep. Uri Shulevitz is the master of using the right word at the right time, and the story flows like poetry. I always feel sleepier and more relaxed when it's done. It even got the seal of approval from our former foster son, who read it with us when he was about 15 and said, "I can't believe how just repeating the word 'sleepy' over and over makes me feel tired."

If it can work on a surly teenage boy, it can probably work on anyone.

7. Hush, Little Baby by Sylvia Long

We received this as a gift and immediately fell in love with it. The basis for this story is the familiar folk song, "Hush, Little Baby." Instead of a string of things that the mama will buy for the baby to get it to sleep, the author has the mama choose things in nature and around the house to comfort the child. Mama shows the baby a hummingbird outside, and they look at a sunset together. They listen to crickets and see a shooting star. Mama reads a book, finds a lost teddy bear, and plays her out-of-tune banjo, all in an effort to help her little one fall off to sleep (which he eventually does). The pictures are of a mama rabbit and her baby and are really beautiful. (Lucy says the baby bunny is "coot.")

8. A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

This is a newer one- definitely worth checking out if you haven't seen it before. The wide-eyed, watchful owl goes around watching other animals sleep and pointing out how different they are. "Some sleep in peace and quiet. Some make lots of noise when they sleep! Some sleep peacefully alone, while others sleep all together, huddled close at night."  At the end of the story, the sun comes up and everyone wakes up...but guess who is too tired after his night adventures and can't stay awake with everyone else? (Says SuperSam: "That's not why he's tired. He's tired because it's daytime and he's nocturnal.")

Thanks, SuperSam, for taking all the mystery out of it. Sigh.

9. Who Will Tuck Me in Tonight? by Carol Roth

This is the sweet and funny story of young Woolly, a lamb who is ready to go to bed and can't find his mama to tuck him in. A funny lineup of neighborly farm animal mommies come by to help, and each tries her own favorite tuck-in technique. None of their ideas work for Woolly, who is squeezed, licked, and generally frustrated to the point of despair before his favorite tuck-in person finally arrives. SuperSam loves laughing at all the ways the other mommies "do it wrong," and when Woolly's mama comes home, their reunion is very sweet. (I'm still trying to come up with a way to let Woolly's mama off the hook for not telling him where she was going and when she'd be back- it seems so thoughtless of her to worry such a sweet little lamb. I still like the book, though.)

10. The Cozy Book by Mary Ann Hoberman

This book has been on my list for a long time, but we only got a copy recently. It seems to be out of print, maybe (?), but there are lots of good used copies available. The last page of this book is included as a poem in Switching on the Moon, above, and we loved it so much that we knew we needed to read the rest of the story.

Mary Ann Hoberman goes through a child's day naming all the cozy things you could possibly think of (and some that you probably couldn't think of). It's a longer read, and she might define "cozy" a bit differently than I would (I would probably not describe sucking on an ice cube as "cozy"). Still, the book and all the many images in it are very happy, simple pleasures- experiences that most of us can relate to enjoying. Hoberman obviously loves words- the language is delightful. The writing and the pictures make me smile every time, and the poetry of the last page is the perfect ending for a going-to-bed book.

"...Droopy...drifty...drowsy...dozy...Dream of everything that's cozy."