Bedtime books are worth their weight in gold if they work. The good ones—like these five new picture books—can help parents and children ease the tricky transition from day to night, light to dark and together to alone.
IN SHINING ARMOR
Owen Davey’s Night Knight transforms every element of a typical, boring bedtime routine into something fantastical. “For a knight like me, going to bed . . . is a great adventure,” begins the story, with one half of the sentence on the left page accompanying a boy wearing PJs and a colander helmet, and the other half of the sentence over on the right, with the same boy, same yawn, but dressed in full knightly getup. As he heads down the hallway and climbs the stairs, each picture combines the real and the fantastic: a telephone table and a forest, a hall closet and a snow-peaked mountain. The artwork, self-described as “contemporary and nostalgic,” calms in warm, muted brick tones, even as the imagined action busies itself with mythical creatures and noble exertions. Preschool and kindergarten children and parents will dub this daydream royally engaging.
Sweet Dreams by Rose A. Lewis, illustrated by Jen Corace, is a nature lullaby that works by color-soaked stealth. Although it begins and ends with the same four-line wish for “my precious child” whose “dreams be long and sweet,” thefocus is not so much on the child being put to bed as it is on the nighttime world waking outside the window. Mr. Moon, “who’ll watch you through the night,” also watches owlets in a nest and a tiny mouse family, while moonflower blossoms eclipse spent morning glories. Butterflies trade places with gray moths as crickets, possums, raccoons, frogs and other nocturnal animals “come alive in darkness.” Night, then, is something natural and nothing to fear. Lilting verse and predictable rhymes keep the mood soft but open to interaction. Young children can supply the last word of each page, or succumb entirely (and tiredly) to sleep.
A STUBBORN HOLDOUT
The daughter-father team of Kate and Jules Feiffer has created another winner with No Go Sleep! In a marvelous economy of word and ink, they transform what is one of the most frustrating scenarios of all time—the sleep-resistant baby—into its own delightful antidote. “One night when the stars were out and the moon was bright, a baby said, ‘No go sleep!’ “ Mom, Dad and the rest of the adjacent world, working in a gentle and benevolent conspiracy, try to persuade baby it is really, truly time. The sun, moon and stars weigh in, as do birds, frogs, bunnies, the tree above the house and “a car driving by” (which says, “Beep, beep, sleep, sleep”). Birds, frogs and bunnies reassure baby that he won’t be missing much. The dog, however, is already asleep. Resistance is lovingly futile, and the abrupt ending is a happy one for all concerned.
Good Night, Laila Tov by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Jui Ishida, uses simple, rhyming verse to describe a family on a camping trip. “Good night, laila tov” is the restful refrain after each day’s adventures in the natural world: A sunset sky sings it, a nighttime road rumbles it, a forest storm shushes it, and ocean waves whisper it. Laila tov happens to be Hebrew for “good night,” just as the sweet family in the luminous illustrations happens to be Jewish. The particular becomes universal with takeaway themes of discovery (and stewardship) of the environment, family time and gratitude. All families should be this lucky: to plant tree seedlings, gather berries, collect treasures in a jar, watch deer in a field and tuck each other into bed so tenderly. The youngest listeners will enjoy guessing the predictable rhyme at the end of each couplet.
Adam Mansbach’s Seriously, Just Go to Sleep is a hoot. Exhausted parents need a chuckle at the end of an impossibly long day, and this G-rated version of the surprise bestseller Go the F**k to Sleep will deliver it. If you were too scandalized to pick up a copy of the adult book, try this one. If you bought the first version and hid it so well that you will never find it, this one is 100 percent safe. Even toddlers will appreciate Ricardo Cortés’ illustrations of cheeky peers wide awake amid sleeping lions, farm animals and all manner of obligingly restful critters. The rhythmic text describes natural, sleepy scenes, but each ends in a plea for the child at hand, the one still awake right now, to join the club already. This insistent change of key is funny on any level: sweet, sarcastic or just plain tired.