Go the F to Sleep!: 16 of the Best Bedtime Books for Kids
Nap times and bedtimes can be sweet, sweet moments when we get our cuddles in and bond with our precious little ones. Most of us have a routine related to sleep which can include anything from closing the blinds, waving goodbye to baby’s toys, bath time, massages, or reading favorite books. There is definitely no set way that makes for a perfect sleep situation, but throwing in some books that talk about sleep will set the stage for slumber.
Some kids struggle to settle their minds and bodies enough to sleep, while others ask to be put down for a nap. Bedtime can be effortless for some families, but the most common situation is for families to struggle with challenging bedtime at least occasionally during the early childhood years. By the time your child is 2 years old, he will most probably have spent more minutes asleep than awake. Sleep-deprived parent, take comfort! Although it might not seem so when you’re rocking, soothing and patting your baby to sleep night after night after effin’ night, your child will spend roughly 40% of his childhood sleeping.
As kids get older, they often fall into avoidant behavior: asking for more cuddles, more water, more TV, more bathroom visits, etc. A good night’s sleep is vital for your child though. Besides the obvious perk of allowing parents to have some much-needed downtime on their own (Netflix & Chill, for real!), sleep is necessary for your child’s physical and mental development and growth. Some recent research shows that without proper rest, sleep deprivation in the early years can have long term effects on your child – heightening distractibility and high activity levels.
Addressing sleep through the vehicle of a fictional character can allow for child and parent to bond during these sweet moments – avoiding power struggles or unpleasant moments right before your child powers down for his much-needed night of restorative rest.
Not all children’s books are created equally though, so we’re sharing some of the best we’ve found in recent years. Check them out from your local library or add them to your own home library if they become your child’s favorite!
Russell the Sheep
by Rob Scotton
Rob Scotton demonstrates his writing and illustrating skills in this cute book published in 2005. The author/illustrator was inspired to pen this tale as he biked through the fields of his native England and gazed upon the grazing herds of sheep. It all began with a drawing of the book’s hero, Russell the Sheep, donning an adorable sleeping cap. The ram’s story evolved from there.
Russell struggles to fall asleep, like many kids do, but in the end, he inevitably succeeds. Helped along in his adventure by an adorable little frog, Russell the Sheep is a character your child will no doubt identify with if they find falling asleep to be challenging some nights.
Fun fact about this multi-talented author/illustrator: he also pens the beloved Splat the Cat books. When this cat character was first introduced in print in 2008, his first self-titled book hit the New York Times Best Seller list and was named as one of Time Magazine’s top 10 children’s books of the year. Worth a read!
A Book of Sleep
by Il Sung Na
A South Korean author and illustrator, Il Sung Na made his American debut with A Book of Sleep in 2007. This book displays gorgeous pages of artwork and uses the “less is more” mantra. With simple poetry, the author describes how various animals fall into sweet slumber.
Na’s nocturnal owl is central to the book. Descriptive lines stand out, such as the simple opening words: “When the sky grows dark, and the moon glows bright, everyone goes to sleep…”
Described as whimsical, energetic and joyous, Na’s work has a soothing and inspiring effect. The illustration’s colors are subdued and the entire work sets the tone for a peaceful bedtime.
Na has so many other beautiful books worth checking out too!
Sweet Dreams Pout-Pout Fish
written by Deborah Diesen; illustrated by Dan Hanna
Pout-Pout Fish was introduced as a character in 2008 and his introductory self-titled book quickly became a New York Times Best Seller and one of Time Magazine’s top 10 children books of 2008. Known for her use of rich vocabulary and rythmic rhymes, Deborah Diesen published this board book in 2015. Sweet Dreams Pout-Pout Fish takes readers through the steps of Fish’s bedtime routine. He brushes his teeth, washes up and tucks in with a good book.
This is one of the simplest reads on mamabare’s recommended books about sleep, with only 12 pages and geared for younger children. It deserves a spot as one of the best, though, as its simplicity allows even older children to identify with the main character and follow along with Fish’s sleep sequence.
Fun fact about this creative author and endearing character: Since this sleep book was published, two more amazing Pout-Pout Fish books came out in 2017. Be sure to check out The Pout-Pout Fish Far, Far From Home and The Pout-Pout Fish & the Bully-Bully Shark!
How to Put Your Parents to Bed
written by Mylisa Larsen; illustrated by Babette Cole
What a treat to enjoy author-illustrator Babette Cole’s stunning watercolors in this new book by first-time author Mylisa Larsen! This adorable picture book allows for children to reverse roles with their parents, imagining what it would be like if they were responsible for putting the adults to bed. Hilarity ensues as kids are in charge. Parents must reluctantly put down their cellphones and retire for the night.
Research over the past 20 years into the importance of roleplaying and pretend play have shown us that these types of light-hearted play serves to increase creativity, strengthen problem-solving skills, allow children a sense of safe control over their surroundings, as well as the key component of learning to regulate their own emotions.
Sharing a giggle while you snuggle is the perfect end to a day well lived. Share in this light-hearted humor as your child will undoubtedly try to go through their own bedtime routine with you. Play along! Share a laugh!
Fun fact about Babette Cole, illustrator of How to Put Your Parents to Bed: this British author/illustrator has won numerous awards and wrote the beloved 1987 book Princess Smartypants, which remains a kid favorite even 30 years later! She sells some stunning original art on her website : www.babette-cole.com.
How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?
written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Mark Teague
Written in 2000 by an author with more than 300 titles to her name, How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? is one of many endearing Jane Yolen creations. It is the book that has earned her the most awards too!
The first book in the “How Do Dinosaurs…” collection was born when the author’s former editor requested a story be written for her own dinosaur-loving, bedtime-resistant one year old boy. That same little boy was 5 years old by the time the book finally hit stores!
In each of the dinosaur books, a wide variety of dinos is introduced, along with their human parents, as they navigate some challenging behavior (going to bed, making friends, cleaning their rooms). The illustrator, Mark Teague, has a completely unique and mesmerizing style which pulls the reader into a brightly colored world. He labels each different creature in such a compelling way too!
How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep?
written by Jane Yolen; illustrated by Mark Teague
Another fantastic book from the phenomenal best-selling pair, Jane Yolen and Mark Teague, How Do Dinosaurs Go to Sleep came out in 2016. A simple board book geared towards a younger audience, these 12 pages can still be read and reread by older kids eager to show off their burgeoning literacy skills. Bonus: these older readers still get to be reminded how comforting it is to settle in with mom or dad for a soothing bedtime routine.
Again, different dinos try to avoid sleep at all cost, making for a series of humorous and unfortunate events. The avoidance tactics seem all too familiar to most parents. The final dinosaur finally chooses to settle in with bathtime, a book and a good night kiss.
Fun fact: Author Jane Yolen has also written Time For Naps and Bedtime For Bunny (both published in 2002).
Llama Llama Red Pajama
by Anna Dewdney
With the recent passing of beloved author/illustrator Anna Dewdney, the Llama Llama series will unfortunately come to an end. A favorite of many since 2005, this collection perfectly integrates simple rhymes, recurrent characters and compelling illustrations that encourage readers to discuss common childhood concerns. Every single book in the series has been a New York Times bestseller!
Llama Llama Red Pajama was the first book to introduce the vulnerable, highly likeable and somewhat anxious character of Llama Llama, who carries his fuzzy dolly llama with him wherever he goes. Published in 2005, the book explores bedtime routine, kids’ worries about mama leaving their rooms, and sends a message that mama is always there to offer comfort. According to the series’ publishers, Mama Llama is a recurrent character throughout the series and is presented as a busy, hardworking mom. She does not hide her occasional exasperation and frustration, instead demonstrating a real life emotion that is highly relatable for all parents. Also relatable, though, is the unconditional love and support she always offers her little llama, no matter what the drama.
Fun fact.1: Anna Dewdney also wrote and illustrated a lovely board book for the littlest, entitled Llama Llama Nighty-Night (2012).
Fun fact.2: You can find YouTube clips of Anna Dewdney reading most of her books aloud.
Bear Snores On
written by Karma Wilson; illustrated by Jane Chapman
As a young, avid reader and daughter of a professional writer, Karma Wilson never imagined she’d herself become an author. She wrote her first book, Bear Snores On, to help pay off a large family purchase (their first computer!). A quick success when it was first released in 2002, it became a New York Times Bestseller and has won numerous awards.
Introduced in this first book, Bear has come back in numerous follow-up books that are also family favorites : Bear Feels Scared, Bear Feels Sick, and Bear’s New Friend, among many others.
Bear snores peacefully as his many forest friends join him in his cozy lair. The entire atmosphere created in this book is calm and comfortable, allowing your little one to snuggle in, listen closely, and prepare for lights out.
Fun fact: illustrator Jane Chapman is married to Tim Warnes, phenomenal artist behind the lovely book I Love You as Big as the World. She has illustrated all of the Bear collection books by Karma Wilson. Chapman also publishes her own work under the pseudonym Jack Tickle.
written by Robert Munsch; illustrated by Michael Martchenko
American author Robert Munsch might be the most fascinating character out there! A best-selling, award-winning author with more than 75 books to his name, Robert Munsch sets out to tell fantastical and humorous stories. Mortimer was the first story the author ever came up with, while working in a daycare and telling tales to keep the kids quiet during naptime. Although it took more than 10 years to publish, Mortimer has seen great success with more than half a million copies sold since 1983.
Mortimer is a sweet and somewhat mischievous boy who can’t quite settle down for bed. He keeps singing his song in gentle protest: “Clang, clang, rattle, bing bang, gonna make my noise all day!” Meanwhile, his exasperated family keeps shouting back: “Mortimer, be quiet!” Lots of fun to read out loud with plenty of repetition, this book allows for the reader to sing, shout or whisper all while keeping the audience enraptured!
Guess How Much I Love You
written by Sam McBratney; illustrated by Anita Jeram
Guess How Much I Love You has been a favourite of many since its publication in 1994. Translated into more than 50 languages, it is a universal tale of two rabbits who all parents and children can identify with. Big Nutbrown Hare and his son, Little Nutbrown Hare, depicted in calming watercolors, try to describe how much they love each other. The last line has become iconic: “I love you right up to the moon – and back.”
Fun fact: Both author and illustrator have a few things in common – they are both Irish, they both have 3 kids, and they both live with a tortoise.
Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!
by Mo Willems
Author/illustrator Mo Willems began creating his own characters by the time he was 3 years old. Much later, after an almost decade-long stint drawing and writing at Sesame Street for which he won 6 Emmy Awards, he began his career writing children’s books. He is best known for his whimsical, simple style of writing, his use of speech bubbles, and the bold or light-colored lettering and punctuation to reflect each characters’ level of intensity.
In Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late, the pigeon is up to his usual shenanigans. Described by some critics as acting similar to any 4 or 5 year old child, the bossy bird whines and tries to negotiate his way out of bedtime. He’ll do anything to stay up later. As pigeon tries each tactic, he gets groggier and begins to yawn. Finally he falls into a deep sleep and, comically, begins to dream about eating his favorite food: hot dogs!
Scaredy Squirrel at Night
by Mélanie Watt
Living with her green parrot in the province of Quebec (Canada), Mélanie Watt writes and illustrates books, such as this laugh-out-loud one, in the Scaredy Squirrel series. She is a huge fan of Mo Willems’ books and draws her inspiration for the collection from facing her own insecurities and anxieties.
Especially appropriate for those little ones who are struggling with nightmares, Scaredy Squirrel at Night begins with a paragraph that will help these kids immediately relate to the main character: “Scaredy Squirrel never sleeps. He’d rather stay awake than risk having a bad dream in the middle of the night.” The adorable rodent avoids slumber at all cost until he is reassured that, although his fears might feel real and scary, they are only in his imagination. At which point, Scaredy Squirrel can peacefully settle in for the night.
Bear Has a Story to Tell
written by Philip C. Stead; illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Bear Has a Story to Tell is a story worth telling! Young married illustrators, Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead have a created such an absolutely breathtaking piece of art – both in words and art! Philip C. Stead took the reigns on the text in this book, as it explores how an endearing and patient bear tries to find friends to share his story with throughout the Fall, but Mole and Mouse are too busy preparing for the Winter. Bear finally slips into slumber himself, sheltered from the season’s snowfall. Come Spring, all the forest creatures wake up and the friends are eager to hear Bear’s tale. Unfortunately, by this point, Bear has forgotten his story. His pals reassure him that the story was probably about friendship, and so a full-circle ending is in store for the reader!
The illustrations are so meticulously put together with crushed dry pastels and pencil. They are the perfect match to the book’s simple words and slow, steady pace. Such a lovely treat!
I Love You as Big as the World
written by David Van Buren; illustrated by Tim Warnes
American author David Van Buren published this beautiful book in 2013. Similar to Guess How Much I Love You, I Love You as Big as the World follows Big Bear and Little Bear as they venture through nature. Big Bear describes how he loves his cub by using expressive words such as strong and soft, far and high.
A book that clearly depicts the reassuring intimacy felt in a parent-child relationship, the bear duo holds hands, lays relaxed in a field together, and finally cuddles up at the end for a long night’s sleep.
The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep: A New Way of Getting Children to Sleep
written by Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin; illustrated by Irina Maununen
Swedish author Carl-Johan Forssén Ehrlin claims to be able to put anyone to sleep with his 2015 book The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep. Apparently, millions of parents agree with him! Having been translated in over 40 languages, the book has rapidly become an international sensation and New York Times Bestseller, USA Today Bestseller, and Publishers Weekly Bestseller. With a background in psychology, Ehrlin uses basic hypnosis techniques throughout his text to lull even the most resistant child to sleep. Cues are given to the parents about how to read the text aloud and when to yawn.
Fun fact: another book by this author-illustrator duo was released in 2016 using the same relaxation techniques as the original book, only featuring a female main character that time – Ellen the Elephant.
We here at mamabare.co figure: Don’t knock it till you try it!
Go the F**k to Sleep
written by Adam Mansbach; illustrated by Ricardo Cortes
If all else fails and you really can’t lull your little one to sleep, reach for a great standby: Go the F**k to Sleep. Before kids become readers themselves, the harried parent can read the book aloud while skipping the explicits… but knowing that the f bomb (and other R-rated words) are in there somewhere helps you feel just a little less alone in your plight to get kiddo to bed and – let’s be honest – puts into words exactly what you may have been thinking. The illustrations use dark saturated colour and catch the eye of every child fighting sleep.
Author Adam Mansbach was first inspired to write this book when trying to get his 2-year-old to bed at night – a feat that would often take 2 hours or so! If you’re looking for a “cleaner” option to read at bedtime, Mansbach followed up the original version of the book, published in 2011, with a kid-friendly version entited Seriously, Just Go to Sleep.
Fun fact: Samuel L. Jackson voiced the audiobook and his read-aloud quickly went viral on YouTube.
Any Words of Wisdom for New Mamas?
Trust your gut instincts. You know your baby better than anyone. Everyone will have an opinion about how you raise your child but only you know your child best.
Listen to your intuition. My daughter had reflux that went undiagnosed for about 10 weeks while we were told it was colic and would pass. But my gut told me something was wrong, so I advocated for my daughter and sought out help from a paediatrician who diagnosed my daughter’s reflux. After just a short time on medications, my daughter transformed from a baby that never ever stopped crying and couldn’t be put down, to the happy baby she was meant to be. I’m so happy I listened to my instincts.
More advice? Your baby will change about every two weeks. So… if things aren’t going well? Just wait a couple of weeks. You can ride it out for a little while longer.