Ah, the bed-time drama! The bed-time antics! The bed-time deep and philosophical conversations! It sometimes feels as though the most exciting (and draining) part of the day happens in those last minutes before lights-out.
Reading as part of a bed-time routine (even a very loose, basic routine of pyjamas-teeth-bed) can be a huge help in jumping that last hurdle before peace and quiet can be restored. It is a privileged moment of shared intimacy with your little one, both comforting and exciting: a time to cuddle and a time to embark on a mini-adventure together.
There is no hard and fast rule for picking the right book, but it is important to establish how many books/stories/chapters will be read and who will choose them. In our house, what works well is to let each child pick one book and the adult on reading duty usually throws an extra title into the mix. This satisfies everyone’s sense of fairness and it means the grown-up can balance things out with his or her choice: a slim picturebook to counterbalance the longer reads voted by the kids, a quiet story to read after a rambunctious one (or vice-versa!), etc.
There is a vast selection out there of books about bed-time that can help you bring a gentle conclusion to a busy day. For the tiny ones, Xavier Deneux’s My Dreams works a treat with its eye-catching black-and-white illustrations, while Il Sung Na’s gorgeous The Book of Sleep will have readers of 2+ entranced by the soft, soothing colours. Reluctant bed-time toddlers should be amused and hypnotized in equal measure by Chris Haughton’s Goodnight Everyone or you could try the very funny Goodnight Already! by Jory John and Benji Davies. Older children will find plenty of food for thought and sleep-inducing meditation in Isabel Minhós Martins’s terrific ABZzzz: The Bed-Time Alphabet.
The reading grown-up may decide to opt for the next chapter in a longer book, one that will take a few days or weeks to get through. These can be made really exciting, with young listeners eager for the next bed-time and the next installment. For the older age group try the Ottoline series by Chris Riddell, Alex T. Smith’s Claude series, Pippi Longstocking or Sylvia Bishop’s Erica’s Elephant. Younger siblings (of 4 and up) will enjoy them too, but if there are few images, it is possible that your audience will wander off to play with their Lego or colour in a picture while you read: that’s allowed! Focusing on a toy or a piece of art can help with their concentration as they listen. If you want to test them, start ‘reading’ absolute nonsense and see how quickly they react!
Older children who can read independently are likely to want to read their own book as well. To avoid reading marathons at late-o’clock, it might be wise to either start the bedtime shenanigans earlier if possible or else to try and build little blocks of reading time at other moments of the day. Try Dropping Everything And Read (they call it DEAR in school) while dinner is cooking itself in the oven for instance and have everyone (including yourself) in the house engage with books for twenty minutes. You may see this block of time grow as the weeks go by.
Written by Juliette Saumande, children’s book writer, Book Doctor and Reviews Editor for Inis magazine. For more reviews check out Inis magazine which is published by Children’s Books Ireland the national children’s books organisation whose vision is an Ireland in which books are central to every child’s life.
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