The kids’ bedtime is one of the day’s true magical moments — they get a story, you get one step closer to a few hours’ respite before the relentless madness starts over again the next morning. And finding bedtime story books that spark the imagination of both kids and dad is a rare thing, but important — especially as you’ll have to read each book at least 1,000 times (that’s a rough estimate, but somewhere in that ballpark). Here are some of our favourite bedtime story books.
Something of a modern classic, there isn’t all that much of a story – three owl siblings’ mum flies away, owls get panicked, sit on a branch for a bit, mum comes back, drama over – but Patrick Benson’s gorgeous artwork gets both child and parents’ imaginations going. It’s one of those gentle, easy going storybooks that sets the right tone for bedtime (you’re likely to start dropping off as much as the kids). Also, there’s no end of amusement in the idea of owls being named Sarah, Percy, and Bill.
It might seem hifalutin for a book about two turtles who find a hat, but this is the kids’ storybook as minimalist literature. With its internal, deconstructed dialogue, fragmented story (the story’s told in three parts), and bleak landscape, it could be a Cormac McCarthy story, except… well, it’s a book about two turtles who find a hat. Unusually for a kids’ story book, it’s all about the subtleties: after the turtles decide to abandon the hat because it wouldn’t be right if only one of them had a hat to wear (though they agree they both look excellent wearing it), the odd flash of eyes reveals their true feelings – they covet the hat and want to wear it and look boss. In the end, though, it’s a very sweet-natured story about sharing. Check out Jon Klassen’s other hat-based books, This Is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat Back.
We hadn’t heard of this book prior to picking it up for a bargain price (2 for £7 at Asda, thank you very much). It was chosen mostly to save further cramming the Dr Seuss and Julia Donaldson shelves, but it turned out to be a hell of a choice. It’s been a firm bedtime favourite for my eldest and will no doubt be the same for my youngest when she starts to appreciate bedtime stories.
It’s wonderfully soothing, with a lilting lyrical quality, and creates a number of vivid dream scenarios, making it the perfect bedtime book. Also, as with all great fairy tales you can tweak the delivery to make it sound creepy and menacing. It’s only a matter of time before it’s appropriated for a horror movie with creepy children chanting the story it to helpless adults. Anyway, enough about my nightmares… read this wonderful book, you won’t regret it.
Based on a traditional folktale, A Squash and A Squeeze began life as a song on BBC children’s TV back in the 70s. After appearing on an album of kids’ songs, sung by Floella Benjamin and Derek Griffiths, Donaldson was approached by a publisher and her rise to children’s book superstar began. The story is about an old woman who complains that her house is too small. A wise old man tells her to bring in her animals, one by one. So, in go the hen, the goat, the pig and the cow. When the woman complains that her house now seems even smaller she is told to take them out again. Now her house seems very big! You can take whatever moral you like here. Be grateful for what you have, tidy your room, probably best not to have a goat in the house, the choice is yours.
Norma Snows is an anteater with – yep, you guessed it – an enormous nose. Norma cheerfully embraces her massive conk and the talents it affords her, carrying shopping for mum, gymnastics, winning races “by a nose”. When her attempt to become the world’s first anteater aeroplane goes awry and she ends up with her nose stuck in the ground she reframes it as the world’s first no handed handstand. The morals here are to be comfortable in your own skin, to celebrate your uniqueness and always see the positive.
Gigantosaurus is “The boy who cried wolf” told with dinosaurs. Four dino kids set off to play but one of them keeps tricking the others that Gigantosaurus is coming to eat them. He never turns up of course, until he does. No-one actually gets eaten in this version, which is better for the little ones, but the morality of not telling porkies is still front and centre. Plus, it’s got dinosaurs in it, so you’re on to a winner before you start.