The Best Bedtime Stories For Kids (50+ Books!)
Jun 18th, 2020 •
Sleep is as important for children as it is for adults. Their endless energy may give the impression they don’t need as much sleep, but in fact, they need more. Children are high energy creatures, which can make it hard to get them to bed, but with a consistent bedtime routine you can help your child build healthy sleeping habits that set a great foundation for their future.
One of the most integral parts of a child’s bedtime routine is reading a bedtime story. We’ve compiled a list of 50+ books that make for a great bedtime experience with your children. Keep reading to find the best children’s books that celebrate diversity in a number of ways.
The Best Bedtime Stories for Kids
- Celebrating Diversity and Inclusion
- BIPOC Protagonists
- Diverse Family Structures
- LGBTQIA+ Representation
- Autism and SPD Representation
- ADHD and Learning Disabilities Representation
- Down Syndrome Representation
Starting and maintaining a bedtime story routine with your child has far-reaching benefits. It helps them wind down for bedtime, helps them strengthen their reading and listening skills, and it gives you precious snuggle time with your little one. Reading also gives children the opportunity to broaden their view of the world and the diverse individuals in it.
According to the nonprofit organization We Need Diverse Books (WNDB), reading books that represent different abilities, cultures, beliefs, and skin colors help us change our attitude toward those differences for the better.
There is a growing number of books on the market that celebrate diversity. Here are 50+ of our favorites.
by Alexandra Penfold and illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman
This New York Times bestselling picture book, suitable for kids 4 to 8 years of age, invites readers into a school where kids in patkas, hijabs, and yarmulkes play alongside friends in baseball caps and T-shirts. A place where children from all cultures are welcome to learn from each other’s traditions.
written and illustrated by Innosanta Nagara
This sassy and heartwarming picture book for children 3 to 5 years of age inspires hope while encouraging children and parents to stand up for what they believe in — environmental justice, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and anything else activists believe in and fight for.
written and illustrated by Jess Hong
This lively picture book for kids ages 4 to 8 asks the question, “What is lovely?” The answer is not what you think — and everything you hope. Lovely is big, small, curly, straight, loud, quiet, smooth and wrinkly: the differences that make us all lovely.
written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
This topical and timely memoir picture book, ideal for children 4 to 8 years of age, is based on the author’s travel to the United States in 1994 with her infant son. Though they left their country nearly empty handed, they created a new home out of resilience, dreams, hopes, and history. Dreamers demonstrates that even in the darkest hours, there is hope for better tomorrows.
by Alma Flor Ada and illustrated by Elivia Savadier
This delightful book for 5- to 8-year-olds tells the experiences of a child whose both sets of grandparents come from different ethic backgrounds. While their heritages are different, they have a great deal in common. For starters, they love their granddaughter.
by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison
This tender and uplifting book for children ages 4 to 8 celebrates the relationship of daddies and daughters. Zuri, a young African-American girl, has a beautiful yet wild head of hair with a mind of its own. Her Daddy steps in to style Zuri’s kinks, coils, and curls for a special occasion, setting the stage for a sweet story about relationships and loving your natural hair.
by Bao Phi and illustrated by Basia Tran
This warmhearted book, ideal for children 4 to 7 years of age, sends the message that children can draw strength on from their cultural heritage. As a Vietnamese American with two moms, Thuy is taunted by bullies for being “double different.” She dreams of flying away like a bird, sprinting off like a deer, or roaring like a bear. In the protection of her two moms, she finds courage inside herself.
by Anne Malaspina and illustrated by Merrilee Liddiard
A Scarf for Keiko, appropriate for children ages 5 to 8, is a tale about standing up for what’s right and showing respect for others. The book is set in 1942, the year after the war was declared on Japan. It tells the story of two classmates, Sam and Keiko, who become friends after Keiko offers to knit socks for Sam. When Keiko’s family is forced to move into an internment camp, Sam finds a way to demonstrate his friendship with Keiko.
by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts
Part of a series of STEM favorites from New York Times bestseller Andrea Beaty, Ada Twist, Scientist is about Ada, a curious young girl of color with boundless passion for science. This book teaches readers age 4 to 7 about problem solving, perseverance, and science, and challenges them never to lose their sense of curiosity.
by Komal Singh and illustrated by Ipek Konak
Ara and her friends inspire a new generation of girls to become engineers, coders, and computer scientists. More than a book, Ara the Star Engineer is a multi-layered learning experience for children ages 5 to 9, that comes complete with a notebook, downloadable activity sheets, and immersive experiences like the VR Google Expedition and support for Google Assistant’s Read Along feature.
by Maryam Al Serkal and illustrated by Rebeca Luciani
Brown-skinned Mira hates her curly hair and wishes she had straight, smooth hair like her mother’s. But when the two get caught in the rain, Mira is amazed to see her mother’s hair kink up. This sweet European picture book for children ages 5 to 9 is a celebration of natural hair and the courage it takes to be the real you.
by Michael Kusugak and Robert N. Munsch, and illustrated by Vladyana Krykorka
A Promise is a Promise is a wonderful tale that explores the culture, myth, and family values of a young Inuit girl. Written by award-winning Inuit storyteller Michael Kusugak, this beautifully illustrated picture book is ideal for children 4 to 7 years of age.
by Godfrey Nkongolo and Eric Walters, and illustrated by Eva Campbell
This beautiful bilingual picture book, written in both English and Swahili, is set in 1961 and celebrates the formation of the United Republic of Tanzania. The book, ideal for children ages 6 to 8 years, follows the symbolic trek of the young son of a tribal chief who climbs up Mount Kilimanjaro against his father’s wishes to mark the independence for the nation as well for himself.
by Monique Fields and illustrated by Yesenia Moises
Simone knows her color. She’s not white like her father or black like her mother. She’s honeysmoke. This vividly illustrated picture book for children 3 to 6 years of age empowers biracial children to create their own self-identity and embrace every part of themselves.
written and illustrated by Rosana Sullivan
Little Aleeya and her Mommy Sayang do everything together in the Malaysian village where they live. But when Aleeya’s Mommy becomes sick, Aleeya is left alone. As she waits for her mother’s return, she realizes that she can always be with her mother. This sweet tale is ideal for children 3 to 5 years old.
by Rose Lewis and illustrated by Janet Dyer
Based on the author’s own experience, I Love You Like Crazy Cakes is the story of how two worlds (in this case, China and the United States) come together to create a family. This book, suited for children ages 4 to 7, is lovingly illustrated by bestselling artist Janet Dyer.
by Robie H. Harris and illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
Nellie and Gus and their family enjoy a day at the zoo and dinner with friends and families of many configurations. The straightforward text and charming illustrations in this book for children ages 3 to 7, make it clear to every child that family is family regardless of how they’re made up.
by Nancy Coffelt and illustrated by Tricia Tusa
This poignant yet not overly sentimental story is ideal for 4- to 8-year-old children whose parents are going through a divorce. Fred Stays with Me! follows a girl and her dog, Fred, as they go from one parent’s house to another. It focuses on her sense of stability while also addressing a her concerns during this transition in her life.
by Jan Levinson Gilman and illustrated by Kathy O’Malley
Murphy the Tibetan Terrier is a happy, carefree puppy who loves to play. But after being moved to two different homes and an animal shelter, he begins to feel unwanted. This sweet book provides a springboard for foster parents of children ages 3 to 6 to talk about their struggles moving to different foster homes.
by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
This empathetic and compassionate book, ideal for children ages 5 to 9, follows the story of Johnson and his sister Beebee. Their mother left and they are sent to live with their Aunt Gracie, who they barely know. In time, they learn to trust her and learn what “family” really means.
by Monica Gunning and illustrated by Elaine Pedlar
This strong and lively illustrated picture book for 6- to 9-year-olds gives a glimpse into the struggle of homelessness in America. It tells the story of Zettie and her Mama, who left Jamaica for an uncertain life in the United States. With Zettie’s mother unable to find steady work, they are forced to live in their car. But with unwavering love and strong determination, they conquer all challenges.
by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by James Ransome
This respectfully written picture book tackles a delicate subject for children ages 5 to 7. Visiting Day follows a young girl and her grandmother as they prepare for the one day a month they get to be reunited with the girl’s father in prison, a bittersweet celebration of love amid challenge.
by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, and illustrated by Henry Cole
Roy and Silo, both male penguins at the Central Park Zoo, are not the traditional couple. But they wish for a family the same way as the other couples in their rookery. With the help of a kind zookeeper, they get to be parents of a baby penguin, too. And Tango Makes Three is a charming book for young readers ages 2 to 5 that helps break down the stigma of same-sex families.
written by Jess Walton and Illustrated by Dougal Macpherson
Introducing Teddy is a delicate and heartwarming story that gives children ages 3 to 6 years of age an understanding of gender identity and transition. It explains that that sometimes the gender we are born into isn’t the same one that we feel we are in our heart of hearts.
written by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis
Prince & Knight is a modern-day fairy tale for children 4 to 8 years old. It tells the story of a noble prince in search of a worthy bride. But instead of finding a partner among the princesses he meets, he finds love in a brave knight.
written by Kai Cheng Thom and illustrated by Kai Yun Ching and Wai-Yant Li
This beautifully imagined picture book explores gender, identity, and acceptance of the differences between us. From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea offers understanding for children 3 to 8 years old struggling with questions about who they are and who they may be.
by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, and Illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
Based on the life of transgender child Jazz Jennings, a spokesperson for transkids everywhere, I am Jazz tells the real-life story of a child growing up in a boy’s body but knowing in her heart since the age of two that she was a girl.
by Leslea Newman and illustrated by Maria Mola
This sweet, heartwarming book teaches children age 5 to 8 about acceptance, respect, and the freedom to express yourself regardless of your gender. The book demonstrates that even boys can enjoy sparkly things like shimmery skirts, sparkly bracelets, and glittery nails.
by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Cyd Moore
A Fire Engine for Ruth is an insightful and sensitive story that knocks down stereotypes that say only boys can play with fire engines and girls can play with dolls. It is ideal for children ages 4 to 7.
written by Kate Gaynor and illustrated by Catriona Sweeney
This brilliantly illustrated picture book introduces children ages 4 to 8 — especially those in mainstream school — to a child with autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The story begins with Matthew, who meets his new classmate Simon, and sees that Simon is a little different than his other friends. During a school trip, Matthew learns to joys of having “a friend like Simon.”
by Holly Robinson Peete and Ryan Elizabeth Peete, and illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Actress and national autism spokesperson Holly Robinson Peete collaborates with her daughter on this book based on her 10-year-old son, who has autism. This heartwarming picture book is ideal for children 7 to 10 who have autism, have a sibling with autism, or know someone who is autistic.
written by Michelle Worthington and illustrated by Joseph Cowman
This richly illustrated book tells the story of Noah, who knows he is different. He sees, hears, feels, and thinks things differently than others. And he is full of unquenchable curiosity. This book not only provides insight for children ages 3 to 8 about living with autism, it also contains a page of information for parents, caregivers, and educators about helping children appreciate their differences.
written by Clay and Gail Morton and illustrated by Alex Merry
Why Johnny Doesn’t Flap flips the narrative of many picture books on autism by revealing how people who are not on the autistic spectrum are perceived by those who are. This book for children ages 4 to 8 delightfully proves that “normal” is simply a matter of perspective.
written by Lesley Ely and illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Looking After Louis is a sweet story about a little boy named Louis, who has autism and struggles to make friends. His classmates discover a way to join Louis in his world and include him in theirs. This book is ideal for 7- to 10-year-olds.
written by Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer, and illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
This colorful picture book tells the story of Zane the Zebra, who knows he’s different and he worries his classmates will see his “autism stripe.” With the help of his mother, he learns not only to appreciate his stripes, but the uniqueness his “autism stripe” gives him. This book is made for children ages 4 to 8.
written by Julia Finley Mosca and illustrated by Daniel Rieley
The Girl Who Thought in Pictures is the first in an educational series of books about the inspirational lives of scientists. It focuses on Dr. Temple Grandin, a visual thinker who, despite limitations from autism, used her unique mind to connect with animals and help invent groundbreaking improvements for farms around the world. This book is made for children ages 5 to 10.
by Jennie Harding and illustrated by Dave Padgett
Written by a mom and special education teacher, Ellie Bean the Drama Queen shows what it is like to grow up with sensory issues and helps kids with these issues understand they are not alone. This book is designed for children 3 to 8 years old.
by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver, and illustrated by Tim Heitz
This series of books featuring the high-spirited, adventurous, and learning-disabled Hank Zipzer is inspired by the true-life experiences of actor Henry Winkler. Winkler experienced learning difficulties as a kid due to undiagnosed dyslexia, but it didn’t stop him from finding success. The books are ideal for kids 8 to 12 years old.
by Lauren Moynihan and illustrated by Tom Dineen
This fun-to-read storybook for kids 5 to 6 years of age simplifies and normalizes dyslexia by giving children without the disability a peek into the world of someone who has it.
by Barbara Esham and illustrated by Mike Gordon
This award-winning book is part of the “Adventures of Everyday Geniuses” series. Free Association positively and humorously explores the mind of a gifted child with ADHD. Children ages 4 to 8 will appreciate the message that distracted thinking doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not paying attention.
by Jeanne Kraus and illustrated by Whitney Martin
Cory has ADHD. In Cory Stories, he describes what it’s like to have a learning disability in short, easy-to-understand statements. He also describes the various treatments such as medication and therapy, and shares practical tips for dealing with his disability at home, school, and in social settings. This book is for children 8 to 12 years old.
by Linda Burton and illustrated by Carl Burton
Pay Attention, Emily Brown is ideal for children ages 4 to 8 with ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, or sensory processing disorder. They will find joy in Emily Brown’s flights of fancy and their parents and teachers will relate to Emily’s mother’s please for her to focus.
by Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen and illustrated by Pam Devito
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red is a touching story about 6-year-old Emma who is excited to be a big sister. But when the baby is born, she is told he has Down syndrome. Emma learns that despite his disability, Isaac can learn to do most anything with a little help and patience. This book is perfect for kids 4 to 8 years old with a younger sibling with Down syndrome.
by Eliza Woloson and illustrated by Bryan Gough
This colorful picture book opens the door for children ages 8 to 12 to talk about the differences in people that make friendships special. My Friend Isabelle does this by highlighting the special bond between Isabelle, who has Down syndrome, and Charlie, who does not.
by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos and illustrated by Marta Fabrega
Part of the sensitively written “Let’s Talk About It” series of books, My Friend Has Down Syndrome is written from a child’s perspective. It encourages children in preschool and early grade school — with and without Down syndrome — to open their minds and hearts to better understand and appreciate the differences in each other.
by Lisa Tompkins and illustrated by Ryan Eubanks
Lynn is a child with Down syndrome and she wants to be your friend. This touching story teaches children of all ages what it means to accept and embrace people who are different from us.
Children’s Books Featuring Characters with Disabilities
by Pat Thomas and illustrated by Lesley Harker
Part of the “A First Look At” series of books, Don’t Call Me Special helps children ages 4 to 7 explore physical disabilities in a simple and reassuring way, and see how people of all ages deal with disabilities in order to live full and happy lives.
by Corrine Averiss and illustrated by Isabelle Follath
Fern’s Nanna is sad, but Fern is determined to bring her joy back. This funny and uplifting picture book encourages children 3 to 6 years of age to have empathy for and maintain loving relationships with their grandparents.
by Donna Jo Napoli and illustrated by Amy Bates
Hands & Hearts is a story about the unique communication between a mother and her daughter, one that doesn’t use spoken words, but signed ones. As an added bonus, readers will also learn how to sign 15 words. This book is ideal for children ages 5 to 7.
by Shane Burcaw and illustrated by Matt Carr
Author Shane Burcaw was born with a rare disease that hinders his muscle growth and as a result, his body hasn’t grown much bigger than a child’s. But he uses his disability as a strength. In his book, Not So Different, he teaches children 6 to 9 years of age, that people with disabilities are just as approachable, friendly, and funny as anyone else.
written and illustrated by Peter Carnavas
Jessica is so nervous about making friends on the first day of school that she brings a cardboard box to school with treasures she hopes will encourage her classmates to be her friend. The story focuses on Jessica’s shyness. The fact she is in a wheelchair is surprisingly and refreshingly entirely incidental. This book is ideal for children ages 4 to 8.
The Role of the Bedtime Story
An essential element of most bedtime routines for children, and for many adults as well, is reading as a transition into sleep. Reading, or being read to, relaxes the body (kids have to hold still to listen) and creates a singular focus for the mind. It then allows the mind to settle and transition into sleep.
This is why we often feel sleepy when reading. Of course, not all books are created equal when it comes to inducing slumber. There are books that can get kids excited and have the opposite effect. Those are to be avoided.
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Reading experts support the use of age appropriate materials and strongly stress the importance of reading in general, “The research clearly states that, when reading occurs regularly in the home, children in those homes have higher academic achievement.” What better time to read than before bed? Choosing diverse books during bedtime reading can open their minds to exciting new worlds and people.
Why Reading Diverse Books to Your Child Matters
The gatekeepers within the book industry — the people who seek out authors and stories that become mainstream — are largely white, female, straight, and without a disability, according to the 2019 Diversity Baseline Study (DBS) by children’s book publisher Lee & Low, a minority-led company that advocates for diversity in the publishing field. In other words, the book industry is made up of a group of people who do not reflect the rich diversity of the United States.
Despite this disparity, readers of all backgrounds have begun demanding to see themselves in books. Thankfully, since the previous DBS in 2015, more diverse books have been published, especially in the children’s book genre.
This is vitally important because the books you read to your child can have a huge impact on how they view themselves and others, according to WNDB. Diverse books build community unity and inclusivity, create openings for discussions, and emphasize similarities between kids regardless of how different their backgrounds are.
How to Choose the Best Bedtime Books for Your Child
What stories are best for my 4 year old son?
At what age should my children be reading Harry Potter?
My child doesn’t seem interested in the books we read, are they too old for her?
The question of what books are best for your child’s bedtime stories may take a bit of work. You can’t just assume that because you loved horses when you were little, your daughter will too.
Here are some things to consider when picking bedtime stories:
- Take the cue from your child. What are they interested in?
- Make sure the content is age appropriate. When a story is too difficult, children can’t track and may become restless or distracted.
- Pick stories that are non-violent and encourage relaxation. Stories about nature, animals, benevolent creatures, and happy endings are great options before bedtime.
- Make the bedtime story the prize. “If you pick up your toys, put on your pajamas, and brush your teeth, we can read a story.”
- Always have another book in the queue. Another book in the series, or another book of some kind, should be lined up and waiting. This ensures your child doesn’t worry about the story ending. They need to have another book to look forward to.
- Pick books that you enjoy reading to your child. Your enthusiasm will help keep them engaged. If you don’t like the book, or are bored, they will lose interest.
Resources to Diversify Your Child’s Bookshelf
Diverse books come in a variety of topics. Here are some resources for finding the best diverse books for your child:
- Diverse BookFinder: Explore this comprehensive collection of children’s picture books featuring Black and Indigenous people of Color (BIPOC).
- African American Literature Book Club: The AALBC is the largest and most popular online bookstore dedicated to African American literature and Black literature for all readers.
Diversity & Inclusion
- Children’s Book Council: Review posts about children and YA titles that feature diverse themes or characters, including Jewish Book Month, disability awareness, and international subject matter.
- Teaching Tolerance: Run by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Teaching Tolerance offers several educational resources to help education children and young adults embrace tolerance and resist prejudice.
- PFLAG: Short for Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People, PFLAG has a suggested reading list with titles to help expose or educate children and young adults to LGBTQ issues.
- Read Brightly: Penguin Random House Company’s reading resource offers a great list of LGBTQIA+ books for kids and teenagers.
Diverse Family Structures
- Same Sex Parents: This support group for same-sex couples has a list of books especially for children of same-sex couples.
- Hand in Hand Parenting: This nonprofit parenting organization provides a listing of books for children going through divorce.
- Creating a Family: This national infertility, adoption, and foster care education and support organization offers a list of children’s books that address foster care and adoption.
- Friendship Circle: This nonprofit offers a list of books for special needs children with characters who look just like them. The books promote inclusion and self-confidence in children with Down syndrome and other physical or cognitive disabilities.
- Reading Rocket: This national public media literacy initiative has a book finder tool to help you find children’s books with characters who have learning disabilities or behavioral disorders such as dyslexia and ADHD, autism, and Asperger’s.
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