Thursday, February 26, 2009

Children's bedtime story books

If you go across to visit Erasmus the Alaskan cat's blog, you will find a lovely post about bedtime stories for children. Val asks for suggestions for books that are not too scary or exciting for bedtime and will hold the interest of a 5 year old and a 7 year old. There is a two and a half year age difference between my children, so I tried to remember what I used to read to them when they were 5 and 7.

I think bedtime books should be well-illustrated and short enough to read in one sitting. You can't go wrong with any book by Janet and Allen Ahlberg. The older child will find plenty in the illustrations to amuse and intrigue them so they won't consider the text too babyish.

Jill Murphy is another guaranteed hit with fabulous illustrations and storylines to get the children talking, such as the notion that elephants are meant to be fat and should not be deprived of cake.

Elephants feature in a lot of children's books and The Elephant and the Bad Baby was one of our favourites. Twenty-five years on from our first reading it, we all still chorus "But he never once said please!" when we think someone has less than perfect manners.

Peter and the Wolf is a story that works with children of all ages. As they get to know the instruments that represent each character, it can become a real performance - perhaps not quite the thing for calming them before bedtime!
This was one of our favourite collections of fairy tales, with wonderful illustrations by Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac. Kay Nielsen and Warwick Goble.
We have always loved playing with language, so The Cat in the Hat books were popular and another favourite that I can't find about Max Yak. That went something like, Max Yak with sack on back, hiked to Hackensack and back. Don't Forget the Bacon is a wonderful example of this genre with the androgynous child (always a help if you are reading to one of each!) trying to remember a shopping list.
If the house had been burning and the children could only save one book, then it would have been Dogger. It was read over and over again. It went on holiday and into hospital, and even on to university. I had to buy several copies to ensure that there was always one to hand and now I have a brand new one; I'm sure Millie will love it and Brit Junior will probably have memorised it by his/her first birthday.

And let us not forget the poetry books. This particular anthology has 572 poems so every age and interest can be satisfied.
I have really enjoyed this little nostalgic rummage around the bookshelves. Do tell me about your own particular favourites or leave some recommendations on Val's blog.


  1. Oh that was brill, THANK YOU!
    I've never read the Elephant and the bad baby book although I remember reading a book by Elfrida Vipont..I think it was a Quaker history book? Elephants and a lesson re Good maners.. it sounds just the book to add to our library.
    Jill Murphy's picture books have a lovely layer of humour for adults in there don't they! We have the two stories about the bear family..the one were the baby bear rockets to the moon in a cardboard box with a colander on his head, and the other where father bear desperately tries to get some sleep no avail... gosh I can't remember either I'll have to go search the book shelves and see :)

  2. Val, those years before the children want to be left to read to themselves at bedtime are really magical. Being a part of the awakening of awe and wonder and the development of imagination is a parent's compensation for the less glamorous chores of child-rearing!

    I really envy you. (Oops a deadly sin in Lent!)

  3. We've already been given Dogger.... twice. Not going to be short of Dogger, I feel.

  4. I hope Little Brit enjoys it as much as you did - or should that be as much as you still do?

  5. Not having children myself I have to think back to my own childhood. It was usually my father who read to me and he introduced me to some of the books he liked - not children’s books - which he almost regretted as he had to read them over and over... I don't think these Swedish books are translated which is a pity as they are so good. Another favorite was one of Elsa Beskow stories about Olle who got new skies and long to use them.
    But as soon as I could read, after Christmas in first grade, I wanted to read myself and started to gobble up books.
    wv is novel!

  6. With our youngest, the most-in-demand read-to-me book was Mercer Mayer's 'A Special Trick.'

    Which reminds me, I need to find a copy while we babysit the first grandchild while awaiting the second in April.

    And maybe some on your list, too.

  7. I haven't come across Mercer Mayer, Harry. I'll see if I can find one for my Grandma book shelf.

  8. Ooh, what a lovely collection. Most of these have been firm favourites with my brood as well. Others in the Top Ten here include Ian Beck's The Teddy Robber (and his nursery rhyme books, with their brilliantly imaginative illustrations); Marie Hedderwick's Katie Morag stories( ); and Quentin Blake's exuberant We All Join In -wonderful say-out-loud poems with, it hardly needs to be said, the most joyous and hilarious pictures.

    And I have mused at length about my family's most beloved seasonal favourite bedtime stories here:

  9. I knew you would come up trumps, J, with your passion for illustrators. I haven't come across the Teddy Robber so that's another to look out for when I add to my Grandma Shelf.

  10. Back in the 1970s, The Puffin Book of Magic Verse (edited by Charles Causley) was a big favourite with my daughter. In fact, she loved having Charles Causley's own poems read to her and joining in every time a familiar line cropped up.

    Sadly, she outgrew her childhood love of poetry once she had to start analysing poems in English Literature classes . . .

  11. D, I think poetry is a great way to get children to love to listen and then to read for themselves. What a pity that early love was spoiled by over-analysis.

  12. Shirley Hughes' Lucy & Tom's a.b.c. was one of my favorites to read to the kids. I love the English family life that is portrayed. "r is for rooms" which showed the house was a special page for me, who loves all things interior. You may realize I pulled the book off the shelf and am looking through it. Just lovely.

  13. I am so glad that you said you had the book in front of you, Nan. I could never remember such detail years ago so my admiration was tinged with envy. It was a relief to know that you had a little aide-mémoire.

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