I would wager a guess that bedtime is the most popular time for sharing stories and definitely the coziest time for reading together! When our oldest was a toddler, every night meant Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny with Daddy. Later, as a family of four, we usually chose 3 picture books to read together at night. As parents, it was one of our favorite things to do and I still have such memories surrounding the bedtime reading ritual : Arthur, Max and Ruby, Baby Duck….so many bedtime friends.
We read lots of laugh out loud books at bedtime, but the ones I cherish most are those that mirrored that warm, cozy feeling of ending the day snuggled together. The books that helped us bring the day to a close and set the stage for a peaceful transition to the darkness and alone-ness of bedtime. The two books I share here did that with such perfection I still *sigh* when I see them or hear the titles mentioned. They are often the books I buy as a gift for a new little one to enjoy.
Time for Bed by Mem Fox (illustrated by Jane Dyer) is a quintessential choice in nighttime stories. The beautiful watercolor illustrations on each double page spread are accompanied by a two line rhyme that starts “It’s time for bed, little….” and fills in the lines with a different animal and a different activity or idea that helps to end their day. The tone of the text is so gentle I think it would be nearly impossible for me to read the book in anything but a quiet voice. Lines like:
It’s time to sleep, little deer, little deer,
The very last kiss is almost here. (Fox, 1993)
When I read that text my voice slows down and mirrors the time of day. That’s what I think makes a great bedtime story – it begs to be read to slow things down, to get ready for the calm. The starry backgrounds, the wonderful pairings of young animals and their caregivers – in my book this one is brilliant!
My next choice is Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown (the 1989 printing is illustrated by Felicia Bond). Though definitely not as well known as Goodnight Moon and Runaway Bunny, this book is one of my favorites written by Brown. To be clear, I enjoy the random rhyming and quirkiness of her books – I know not everyone does. In fact, NYC Children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore rejected her books for the library shelves! But there is a purpose to those oddities I think : to “wake up” the reader and keep the story from getting stale or too measured. There are only a few instances of this in Big Red Barn, and mostly they are almost-rhymes or a line split into two:
There was a bantam rooster
And a little bantam hen
With a big clutch of eggs.
Count them. There are ten. (Brown, 1989)
That last line split makes the reader pause and I think adds variety to the text (and a chance for some counting). There are lots of animal sounds to make and animals to identify when reading the story. Bond’s illustrations are bright and well outlined, and as the story progresses the sky darkens as the animals retreat to the barn for the night. We see them all snuggled in on the final double page spread. A perfect precursor for shutting out the light.
One note about this edition of Big Red Barn – it says the text has been edited by the estate of Margaret Wise Brown. So now my mission is to read the original text and figure out what has been changed and why….
There are so many fabulous stories to share at bedtime and beyond. These two are at the top of my list but I have so many memories of others as well, which – to me – speaks to the sheer power of the picture book.
Brown, M. W. (1989). Big red barn. HarperCollins Publishers.
Fox, M. (1993). Time for bed. Harcourt, Brace & Company.