The Best Bedtime Stories For Kids

Reading at bedtime is a great way to relax and fall asleep. Good stories for kids entice them to bed earlier, help them get more sleep, and make bedtime easier for parents.

By Sheryl Grassie

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. Experts on children’s sleep patterns stress the importance of a solid bedtime routine. emphasizes this point, and notes that it is especially true at times when life is out of routine, like over holiday breaks, over the summer, or when traveling; keep those bedtime rituals as tight as possible. Maintaining a consistent bedtime routine also supports the circadian rhythm, which helps with better sleep overall.

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.

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?

Experts further suggest that it is easier to get kids to bed if they have a particular book to look forward to. Help your child pick a favorite author, one that has a series, and then acquire that series. Many of us can remember happy hours in childhood spent with Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Harry Potter, and others.

For younger children, there are series like Curious George, Clifford, and Frog and Toad. Motivating kids to bed on time with a good book can ensure an earlier bedtime and more sleep overall.

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.
  • For young children, pick books that talk about bedtime or sleep. Books like Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, or Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton are all good examples.
  • 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 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.

The Best Bedtime Stories for Kids

It is never too soon to start reading to your child. Some parent even read bedtime stories to their unborn child as studies have confirmed that children can hear in the womb and are soothed by the sound of their parent’s voices. The following are our top dozen picks for best bedtime stories for young children by age group.

Age 0 to 4:

Stories for this age category usually involve few words and lots of pictures. Commonly called “picture books,” they engage the young reader’s imagination through visual images associated with just a word or two or a few short phrases.

Reading books for the very young requires as much looking as talking. You may want to embellish by pointing out things in the pictures that relate to the word content. This is also a good time for books with rhymes. Rhymes help children develop an ear for language and set them up to learn to read. Then, as the child grows, the verbal content level of the books should be expanded and can become more prose.

Top picks for bedtime stories for this age category include:

  • Good Night, Little Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister: A very sweet board book for infants and toddlers, the little fish can’t sleep without knowing his mommy will watch over him, no matter what.
  • Pete the Cat and the Bedtime Blues by James Dean and Kimberly Dean: A colorful picture book, Pete and his friends are having too much fun and don’t want it to end. They plan a sleepover… see what happens.
  • Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: The story of a lost chick that goes on in search of its mother. This story is filled with other animals and the quest to find that singularly all important person, the chick’s mother.
  • Time for Bed by Mem Fox: A classic children’s picture book about different animals and their parents putting them to bed. In the end a child goes through their bedtime ritual.
  • Spot book series by Eric Hill: The Adventures of Spot the Dog are uncomplicated, happy stories for the very young. Children seem to love the brightly colored drawings and the simple adventures of the loveable canine.
  • Eric Carle book series: Caterpillars, sea horses, chameleons…Eric Carle’s books have different characters but the same aesthetic. The unusual paper mosaic effect of the illustrations is easy for children to relate to and the stories are delightful.
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown: This is a classic about going to bed. Written in a rhythmic sign-song, the light fades as the story progresses. There are charming nuances to the drawings that adults appreciate as well.
  • Corduroy by Don Freeman: This story is about a stuffed bear that loses a button and wants to be more presentable, so someone will buy him. He goes on an adventure throughout his home (a department store) to find a new button.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne: Written about the Hundred Acre Woods, a real place in southern England near the author’s country home in Hartfield, East Sussex. The cast of characters along with Pooh, including Rabbit, Kanga, Piglet, and Eeyore have very simple dilemmas that need solving.
  • Books by Dr. Seuss: There are dozens of books appropriate for a span of young readers. Dr. Seuss Books are broken into three categories; the easiest are Blue Books like Hop on Pop, and One Fish Two Fish, for very young non-readers. The Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book is great for bedtime.
  • Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker: In the genre of bedtime books this is a classic tale of all the characters, in this case different trucks, going to bed for the night.
  • Pajama Time by Sandra Boynton: Sandra Boynton’s bedtime party romp is a barnyard dance. With animals in pajamas and a rhythmic narrative, you’ll have fun reading it and your child will go to bed with a smile on their face.

Age 4 to 8:

For this age group we move up to more descriptive stories. The characters go on lengthy adventures, the narratives require more attention span, and some children are able to read independently or for the younger ones, at least read along.

  • Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson: Harold takes the reader on an odyssey with his canyon. Wearing pajamas he makes his way back to bed at the end of the story.
  • Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney: A great rhyming book that is easy and enjoyable to read, describes a llama that can’t get to sleep.
  • There’s a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer: Another classic for bedtime, the story is written to assuage the fears that all children have. The drawings are fun, and funny, and children go through feeling afraid with the main character but land in bed relieved and ready for sleep.
  • Frog and Toad by Arnold Lobel: Starting with the first book, Frog and Toad are Friends; the series chronicles their adventures and misadventures. These two cold blooded friends will charm and delight.
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: An amusing story about a boy named Max who is sent to bed without his supper, and then travels to an imaginary land where the “Wild Things” live. His adventures, and the book’s charming use of language, please young readers. The Wild Things, although scary at first, win Max over. They fall in love, proffering their feelings with phrases like, “Oh, please don’t go—we’ll eat you up—we love you so!”
  • Curious George book series by Margret and H.A. Rey: There are a number of Curious George books so you can stock up and read them all. The funny monkey has all kinds of adventures with the man in the yellow hat.
  • Books by Dr. Seuss: The second level of Dr. Seuss books is the Green Books level. This includes books like The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham for budding readers. These still retain a quality of poetry that children love.
  • In a Blue Room by Tricia Tusa: Alice can’t get to sleep. Her mother brings her one inducement after another, but Alice wants only blue things. After she finally falls asleep the moon turns everything in her room blue.
  • Night Knight by Owen Davey: A young knight goes through his bedtime rituals with a pet dragon in tow. His routine is the same as everyone’s with the exception that he lives in a magical medieval kingdom.
  • Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep by Joyce Dunbar and Debi Gliori: Two little rabbits, a brother and sister, interact before going to sleep. The older brother tells his sister all kinds of good things so she can go to sleep happy.
  • Big Dog…Little Dog: A Bedtime Story by P.D. Eastman: The Big Dog, Little Dog stories are all about size, and shape, and color. This particular story highlights bedtime.
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: Although not a bedtime story per se, this book is such a classically sweet story it makes for a wonderful book to read before going to sleep. About a young boy and his relationship with a tree.

Have a favorite bedtime story that your child loves? Share it in the comments below – we’re always looking to add to the list!

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