Your family nighttime routine just got a lot easier! Refresh your stack of bedtime stories with a few choices from our ultimate list below and the kids may start begging you to put them to bed. From 60-year-old classics to sleepy lullabies and laugh-out-loud favorites, we’ve got something for every child and every mood. Scroll down for the list.
The classic story of Harold and his artistic adventures has been entertaining kids for over six decades. Follow along as our pajama-clad hero has an expedition of colorful proportions. From drawing landmarks to creating his own purple picnic to finding his way back to bed, this lovely tale should be on every bookshelf.
Bedtime for Mommy
What if the roles were reversed and your kid had to put you to bed? That’s the idea in this charming book from author Amy Rosenthal (Yes Day, Uni the Unicorn and Spoon, among others). Follow a little girl as she takes her mom through the nighttime routine, from begging for just five more minutes to reading a book and more. A darling tale to share with any child!
We’re not sure what we love the most about this charming bedtime story: the gorgeous illustrations, the sweet storyline that follows the world as it turns in for the evening, or the guided meditation at the end that helps your little wiggle worms settle down for the evening.
Llama Llama Red Pajama
The Llama Llama series was an instant hit, owing to the meter and rhyme that don’t miss a beat, making them easy and fun to read aloud. Here, little Llama lies awake in bed, scared, listening to Mama washing dishes and talking on the phone in the kitchen. Will he ever be able to fall asleep?
Bedtime for Frances
Frances and her bedtime delay tactics are as utterly funny and enchanting as they were 55 years ago, and the minimalist illustrations by Garth Williams (of The Little House books fame) are perfect enough to frame.
The Big Red Barn
Watch all the animals prepare for bedtime on the farm in this classic from the author of Good Night, Moon. The colorful illustrations and appealing rhyme (which is just off-kilter enough to remain interesting) are ideal for babies and toddlers.
Time For Bed
“It’s time for bed, little sheep, little sheep / The whole wide world is going to sleep.” What’s better for bedtime than cozy scenes of baby animals and their mothers, paired with musical, fun-to-read, couplets? The book concludes, appropriately, with a human mother and child.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?
Don’t even bother checking this out if you’re worried about your kids learning bad bedtime manners from the masters! Children will laugh with vicarious glee to see young dinosaurs (with, oddly, human parents) behaving very badly, then coming around and doing it right.
Ira Sleeps Over
Ira’s sleeping over at his friend’s house for the first time ever. But should he bring his teddy bear? Or will Reggie make fun of him? A winning, chatty voice, wonderfully sketchy illustrations (circa 1972), and a surprise ending make this a hit with kids and adults alike.
Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?
Little Bear is afraid of the dark, even when Big Bear keeps getting him bigger and bigger night lights. So Big Bear brings him to see the biggest light there is—the moon. As cozy and comforting as a cup of cocoa after dinner.
The Going to Bed Book
Extreme silliness, Sandra Boynton-style, and fun and short enough to be read every night, for years. The animal passengers of a large ocean liner brush their teeth, change into their pajamas and, of course, exercise, before winding down to “rock and rock and rock to sleep.”
The Quiet Book
This is a lovely recitation of the quiet things in life: “coloring in the lines quiet,” “right before you yell, ‘SURPRISE!’ quiet,” “bedtime kiss quiet.” The tone and gentle illustrations (featuring porcupines and teddy bears and other humorous animals) make it just right for settling down before sleep.
There’s a Nightmare in My Closet
Mercer Mayer is known mostly for his Little Critter books (and one of those is on this list, too), but this picture book is special, funny and tender. It belongs in every child’s library.
Kitten’s First Full Moon
Kitten mistakes the moon for a large bowl of milk and tries, in vain, to reach it. Although not strictly a bedtime book, the theme of the beautiful moon that hangs over each page oozes cozy, cuddly sleepytime feelings.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Jerry Pinkney has become deservedly famous for his many illustrated picture books, including The Lion and the Mouse, which won the 2010 Caldecott Medal. Twinkle Twinkle sets the classic lullaby to rich, gorgeous paintings of an idealized nighttime world. Set sail for dreamland!
Where the Wild Things Are
It’s hard to pinpoint the best feature of this eternal classic: Is it the beautiful prose, the repetition of key phrases or the poignant moment when naughty Max suddenly ”was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all?” Regardless, indulge in nostalgia and make it part of your bedtime routine.
Touch the Brightest Star
In this interactive bedtime book, children are invited to participate in the closing of the day. They press a firefly, blow a breeze, pat a deer, blink their eyes to fill the sky with stars and trace the Big Dipper on the page. It’s a lovely way for parent and child to welcome the night.
Good Night, Gorilla
As the zoo closes, clever Gorilla escapes from his cage and follows the zookeeper around, letting all the other animals out, too; hilariously, all of them end up following the zookeeper home to bed—unbeknownst to him. Because all the text in the book consists of goodnight greetings, parents will need to narrate the story in their own words.
Dinosaur vs. Bedtime
Dinosaur has never lost a fight—but bedtime will be his biggest challenge ever. Loud, fast and funny, this is one you’ll want to start, not end, with (It’s also a fantastic read-aloud for a classroom visit.).
Hush Little Baby
Marla Frazee’s detailed, humanistic illustrations bring new life—and humor—to the familiar folk song. There’s a lot more going on here than usual, starting with a big sister who wakes up the baby in the cradle, much to the exhausted parents’ chagrin.
Charley’s First Night
Henry brings home a new puppy, and his first challenge will be figuring out how to get Charley to sleep in a strange, lonely house. His parents said no dog in his room, but that’s the only place Charley wants to sleep. It’s told in lyrical prose and complemented by light, enchanting watercolors.
The Berenstain Bears: In the Dark
Like all Berenstain Bears books, this one is on the long side, is filled with dialogue, complex situations and offers a message. When you need something a bit meaty to lull little people to sleep, this is just the ticket (and the don’t-be-afraid-of-the-dark theme doesn’t hurt).
“Here’s a little baby, 1-2-3” begins each scene of this wonderful rhyming concept book from a beloved British author-illustrator. Marveling at the delightfully Anglo home scenes, follow the baby through his day until his mother places him, sleeping, into his crib. The cutout on each page will keep younger readers engaged.
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site
“The sun has set, the work is done; / It’s time for trucks to end their fun.” Take a tour of a bustling building site as Crane Truck, Cement Mixer, Dump Truck, Bulldozer and Excavator finish up their jobs and go to bed. Truck enthusiasts will ask for this one every night—and day, too.
Hush Little Ones
Soft illustrations of cuddly baby animals and a sing-songy rhyme on every page make for a sweet and simple bedtime book. Animals range from the expected—mice, birds—to the more exotic—penguins, whales, and kangaroos.
Another loud and jolly entry (it may not soothe kids to sleep, but it’s sure to make bedtime fun), this one stars an overeager chicken who just can’t keep from interrupting dad as he tries to read bedtime stories. Guess who ends up falling asleep first?
Max and Ruby’s Bedtime Book
Every kid loves to hear stories about themselves, and Max and Ruby are no exceptions. Here, Grandma recalls their adventures making a restaurant, swimming at the lake, and refusing to go to school. Rosemary Wells’s signature brightly colored illustrations are as pleasing to the eye as ever.
Guess How Much I Love You
It may not be flashy or funny, but there’s a reason this one is still a favorite since it was published in 1994. The combination of the elegant pen-and-ink pictures (reminiscent of Winnie-the-Pooh), gentle brown and green palette and loving, ultra-simple storyline is exquisite.
Goodnight Goodnight Sleepyhead
In board-book format, a little girl settles down for bed, saying goodnight to each of her favorite playthings (picking out one body part for each— “Goodnight fingers” for the doll, “Goodnight lips” for the fish). The soft illustrations have a lovely vintage vibe.
In the Night Kitchen
In perhaps the most unusual of our bedtime book suggestions, Mickey dreams a crazy dream in which he helps out the breakfast cake bakers in a most spectacular way. Another blast from the past which has held up nicely.
Close Your Eyes
Little Tiger is nervous about going to sleep, but his mother soothes his concerns with wisdom, whimsy, and reassurance. The vibrant paintings with bright swaths of primary colors will please young eyes as the loving text lulls them to sleep.
Fanciful and whimsical pictures complement the musical text of a mother singing a child to sleep. Especially adorable is the scene of the snoozing trains and tractor covered by quilts.
The House in the Night
The unique look of this book, with its black-and-yellow scratchboard illustrations, is what will draw you to it first. The text, a cumulative poem beginning, “Here is the key to the house,” is simple and elegant and matches the pictures to a tee.
In a Blue Room
Alice, bouncing on her bed way past bedtime, wants blue, only blue. But as her mother brings her one special sleep-inducing gift after another (flowers, tea, an extra quilt, a wind chime), her room becomes beautifully suffused with all different colors. Finally, as she nods off to sleep, the moon comes in and makes everything blue.
Even knights have to go to bed; the only difference is, it’s way more grand and exciting when you’re a knight! A little boy demonstrates some magical thinking as he brushes his teeth, puts away his things, and says goodnight to his pet (a dragon), all in a fantastical medieval setting.
Bedtime for Bear
A fun, graphic novel-style book (multiple boxes per page, speech bubbles, sound effects) gives new life to a familiar story of a bear who just wants to sleep. The festive snowy outdoor scenes will put kids in a holiday mood, so save this one for winter.
Bear is so tired, he feels he could sleep for months. His neighbor Duck, on the other hand, has never felt so awake. Maybe he’ll just go see what Bear is up to. A hilarious all-dialogue story, great fun to read aloud and reminiscent of Elephant and Piggie.
Dream Animals: A Bedtime Journey
This sweet entry, perfect for right before the lights go off, shines with vintage-style illustrations that seem to step right out of a Little Golden Book. Gentle verse imagines a series of sleepy children, each holding a stuffed animal, on a special voyage with their stuffie come to life.
Every page here has just one word (or phrase): streetlight, headlight, lantern light, firelight, candlelight, etc.—each one a different kind of light. Combined with the illustrations, they tell the story of a child’s special day, from biking home with mom to blowing out the birthday candles and finally, going to sleep under the moonlight. Magical.
No Go Sleep!
In a twist on a familiar bedtime story, instead of the child saying goodnight to his surroundings, here we have all the things around the child saying goodnight to him: “And the stars said, ‘We will twinkle and sprinkle sweet dreams to you. And a car driving by said, ‘Beep beep, sleep, sleep.’” The illustrations, wonderful sketches with a watercolor rinse, are by a well-known editorial cartoonist, and look it.
Don’t Turn the Page!
Any book starring porcupines is a contender right from the start! This one has also got a simple story about a child who doesn’t want Mama to finish the bedtime book (because that means bed), and a special twist at the end.
A Bedtime for Bear
Poor beleaguered Bear. First Mouse shows up unexpectedly on his doorstep (Bear was sure his visit was scheduled for another night). Then Mouse can’t seem to keep quiet, and Bear can only go to sleep in absolute silence. But then Bear hears another sound, and suddenly he’s glad Mouse is there to help.
Good Night, Sleep Tight
Bonnie and Ben got the good babysitter tonight, and he entertains them with one silly Mother Goose rhyme after another. The simple refrain is addictive and you will find yourself chanting it as you go about your day.
The Napping House
A cumulative story that one by one, sleepy people and animals climb onto Granny’s big bed to slumber, until the very last, smallest one wakes everyone up. The restful blue palette lightens as the book progresses and day approaches.
I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed
The Charlie and Lola books are wildly popular with kids of all ages—and with adults, too, because the stand-out voice and witty dialogue are truly a pleasure to read. Here, stubborn Lola refuses to go to bed, and her fabulously sympathetic big brother Charlie steps in to help.
Just Go to Bed
The Little Critter books may not be fresh, original, or trendy but there’s something about those scraggly, overall-clad characters that kids just adore. In this installment, our hero is cranky about having to go to bed and trots out one creative, hopeful scenario after another to delay the inevitable. Patient Dad has a comeback for each one.
Bear Snores On
Bear’s friends arrive in his cave, one by one, until there’s a party going on—but Bear won’t wake up! A catchy rhyme and endearing illustrations make this a favorite for bedtime and story time alike (If your kids are fans, you’ll want to check out all the follow-ups in the series.).
If your kids need to get their sillies out before snuggling down, look no further! No one does goofy, expressive animals and infectious, top-tapping rhyme like Sandra Boynton. Here, she gives pajamas the silly treatment: “Pajammy to the left. Pajammy to the right. Everybody’s wearing them for dancing tonight.”
Kiss Good Night
Chubby, cuddly Sam and his big, shaggy mama make a comforting, engaging pair in a bedtime book that reinforces the importance of routine. The contrast of the wild storm outside and the cozy interior will make bedtime seem a happy and safe place for toddlers and preschoolers. A great choice for kids who have the nighttime jitters.
Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep
Your own kids might not get along this well—but we can all dream! When little Willa can’t sleep, her big brother Willoughby steps in, gently pointing out all the happy things around her, to help bring on the Sandman. Adorable Willa, with her floppy ears and stuffed animal look, will captivate listeners.
The greatest bedtime book of all time is still as quirky and delightful as it was in 1947. Reading the familiar text together night after night is deeply satisfying, as is looking for the little mouse on each page and watching the light “in the great green room” grow darker and darker.
Is your favorite story on our list? Tell us about it in a Comment below.
— Emma Bland Smith
Feature photo: woodleywonderworks via Flickr