Best Bedtime Reading for Children
Reading bedtime stories is a long-treasured way of enhancing the bond between parents and their children. It helps children learn and can soothe them before bed.
The best bedtime stories are interesting, engaging, and age-appropriate. For younger children, this means simpler writing and more illustrations. As children get more practice reading, stories can take on more complex plots and characters.
With literally thousands of options for children’s books, some parents get overwhelmed by the process of finding and choosing the ones to read to their kids. To help, this guide presents our top picks for the best bedtime stories for children of different ages.
Best Bedtime Books
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
With basic rhymes, bright pictures, and an endearing story of a mom and her child, Llama Llama Red Pajama is a hit for reading aloud with young children.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom teaches the alphabet using beautiful illustrations and an easy-to-follow story.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
An iconic bedtime book that has been a favorite for over 70 years, this story is calming and paired with beautiful and emotive illustrations.
While You Are Sleeping by Mariana Ruiz Johnson
This beautifully illustrated story tickles the spirit by exploring the everyday yet magical happenings in the world around us.
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
This book, the most successfully crowdfunded original book ever, features 100 stories accompanied by illustrations from 60 female artists. Every story has a fairy-tale style, making them simultaneously engaging and empowering.
Max and the Tag Along Moon by Floyd Cooper
This story follows Max and his Grandpa and Max’s realization that they both look up at the same bright, shining moon. It communicates the joy of family bonds and the wonder of the night sky.
Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker
Perfect for very young children, this bright book with easy rhymes is a joy to read and helps teach children basic numbers.
Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley and Lauren Castillo
Twenty Yawns was written by a Pulitzer-Prize winner and is an exploration of the sensation of awakening in the middle of the night. Young children are easily engaged by counting the 20 yawns woven through the illustrations.
Goodnight Owl by Greg Pizzoli
Right before bedtime, Owl hears an odd noise and goes to serious lengths to find out what it is. Follow along and enjoy the author’s colorful drawings and lively characterization.
Sleepover with Beatrice and Bear by Mônica Carnesi
Children can learn about the seasons and about the depths of friendship in this adorable story, accompanied by excellent drawings of a bear and a bunny.
Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman
A classic for over 50 years, Are You My Mother? Is the story of a baby bird searching for his mother among many other animals.
Don’t Let Pigeon Stay Up Late by Mo Willems
In this delightful story, a pigeon does all it can to resist going to sleep, which will humorously ring familiar to children and parents alike.
The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes
This book, which won the Caldecott Medal in 2009, examines and identifies the inner-workings of a house at night and how that place comes to feel like home.
Otto Goes to Bed by Todd Parr
With parallels to many young children, Otto the dog has to go to bed even though he may not want to. This creative story and goofy artwork is tons of fun for very young children.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Eric Carle’s timeless illustrations and cutouts have made this story a winner with young children since its release in the late 1960s.
More More More Said the Baby by Vera Williams
This book follows the life of three toddlers and has an easy-to-follow story and vibrant illustrations. It was selected as a Caldecott Honor Book.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
A Dr. Seuss favorite, this title filled with playful rhymes helps introduce numbers and colors but in a way that’s so fun that children don’t even realize that they are learning.
Where’s Spot by Eric Hill
Where’s Spot is about a dog and his animal friends and has been a top choice for parents at bedtime for nearly 40 years.
Rabbit Moon by Jean Kim
This rhyming story follows a rabbit from the moon who normally turns bedtime wishes into stars but one day completes his own wish by going to Earth to meet a host of new friends.
Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton
Simple and light rhymes go with engaging illustrations to remind your children about the benefits of bedtime.
The Everything Book by Denise Fleming
For learning that’s fun, the Everything Book is a great choice. It helps young children learn about colors, shapes, and other simple ideas in an engaging way.
Shark Lady: the True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist by Jess Keating
A Best Children’s Book of 2017 pick by Parents Magazine, Shark Lady is a true story that serves as an introduction to science and an inspirational story of hard work and dedication.
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw
With pastel illustrations, Love You Forever endearingly recounts the deep love of a parent for their child.
The Magic School Bus: Lost In The Solar System by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
The teacher Ms. Frizzle leads students on entertaining and educational adventures in this beloved series. In this title, the Magic School Bus takes off to explore the planets and solar system.
The Complete Adventures of Curious George by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey
Curious George is a treasured character from books for children. His adventures making mischief in various settings are funny and intriguing. This collection includes seven original volumes.
Little Fox in the Snow by Jonathan London
Children are easily drawn into this story and gorgeous drawings about a hungry fox who explores the snowy winter world around him while searching for food and avoiding danger.
Fly Guy: Set of 11 Books by Tedd Arnold
The Fly Guy series includes a wide range of titles and traces the tale of a boy and a fly and their comical interactions.
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
Gerald the giraffe wants to dance but has to struggle to overcome his physical limitations. In the end, he succeeds, giving inspiration through this uplifting story and its crafty rhymes.
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
Another well-known work, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is the playful story of how one thing can lead to another.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
A winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1964, the vibrant illustrations and compelling story make Where the Wild Things Are a book that is still immensely popular today.
Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and Pamela Zagarenski
A Caldecott Honor book, Sleep Like a Tiger has detailed paintings that delight young children who are easily engaged by the story of a little girl deciding that she is ready to go to sleep.
Love by Mat de la Peña and Loren Long
A celebration of the love of family and friends, Love warms the heart by illustrating how this emotion is interwoven through all types of situations.
Arthur’s Family Vacation by Marc Brown
Arthur is an aardvark in elementary school who goes on a family vacation. The Arthur series, popular for over four decades, includes numerous books of his escapades with family and animal friends.
Frog and Toad: Collection Box Set by Arnold Lobel
Lobel’s characters Frog and Toad are great friends and enjoy all types of activities and adventures. This box set includes six titles that teach important lessons and are perfect for young children who are still getting comfortable reading on their own.
Jack and the Beanstalk by Nina Crews
Nina Crews reworks this famous tale with exciting and intriguing artwork and touches that make the story feel more current for parents and young children alike.
Fred and Ted Go Camping by Peter Eastman
Fred and Ted are two dogs who strike out in nature on a camping trip. For children who enjoy this title, there are numerous others in the Fred and Ted series.
The Big Book of Berenstain Bears Stories by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Follow this adorable family of bears and how they manage all types of challenges and common family situations. This book includes numerous stories that can provided bedtime reading for weeks or months.
McElligotts Pool by Dr Seuss
A lesser-known Dr. Seuss hit, McElligotts Pool teaches the wonders of imagination and the willingness to ponder “what if?”
Horton Hears a Who! By Dr. Seuss
The endearing elephant Horton is the protagonist in this Dr. Seuss story of his searching for the source of a strange noise.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
A touching story first published in 1964, Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is a classic that follows the lifelong relationship between a boy and his favorite tree.
Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
One of the most beloved characters of all time, Winnie the Pooh still touches the hearts of children today. Follow along and smile with the stories of Winnie, Piglet, and all of the other inhabitants of Hundred Acre Wood.
Chef Roy Choi and the Street Food Remix by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and June Jo Lee. Illus. by Man One
Chef Roy Choi has been a trailblazer in the growth of food trucks and fresh and affordable “fast” food. This book tells his story using vibrant illustrations styled like graffiti.
Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
An all-time classic, this story follows the crazy tales of Alice and a wild cast of characters and is complemented by evocative illustrations.
Malala: Activist for Girls’ Education by Raphaële Frier and Auréia Fronty
Malala Yousafzai is a world-renowned defender of the rights of education for girls worldwide. This book explores her childhood in Pakistan and her path to becoming a rights icon.
All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
This graphic novel tells the story of middle-schooler Imogene and her struggles and successes dealing with friends and family.
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Another winner from Roald Dahl, this book follows Matilda as she takes on and solves various problems using her logic and creativity.
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Keep kids thinking outside the box with this famous story of James and a cast of insects who roll along inside a giant peach.
How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy
This book is a perfect fit for readers who love animals and science. It explores the process of how a young elephant learns to survive in the African savanna.
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
A tearjerker, Charlotte’s Web tells of Charlotte the spider and her relationship with Arnold the pig.
Wishtree by Katherine Applegate and Charles Santoso
An old oak wishtree plays a caring and crucial role in defending a new immigrant family that has moved into the neighborhood.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is a story of four sisters and their relationships with each other and their mother. Written in the 1860s but still popular today, this novel has delighted generations of young adults.
Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan and Meilo So, translated by Helen Wang
This book is the story of Bronze and Sunflower who become friends after dealing with significant personal tragedy in 1970s China. It offers a different setting than most young adult books but one that is nonetheless relatable.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
A story of resilience, this book follows Alexander and his ability to overcome a difficult day at school.
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. Illus. by Frank Morrison
A 2017 National Book Award Finalist, this story tells of love and loss as it traces Clayton’s adventures after the death of his grandfather, blues musician Cool Papa Byrd.
A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui
This book illustrates how not all fishing tales are the same. This story is a rich exploration of fishing, family, and heritage within a Vietnamese American family.
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Popular with children for well over a century, Heidi follows an orphan who is kidnapped and has to get back to the home of her disgruntled grandpa.
Impact! Asteroids and the Science of Saving the World by Elizabeth Rusch and Karin Anderson
Another hit for science-lovers, this book teaches about asteroids and introduces scientists who are involved in the research that helps to defend Earth from these potential hazards.
Mama Africa! How Miriam Makeba Spread Hope with Her Song by Kathryn Erskine and Charly Palmer
Miriam Makeba, also known as Mama Africa, used her music to challenge injustice in her home country of South Africa and worldwide. This book teaches about her life and her commitment to the rights of all.
Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard
In this story, Miss Nelson goes missing and is replaced by a stricter teacher. It’s a relatable story that draws children in and helps explain the importance of good behavior.
Older than Dirt: A Wild but True History of Earth by Don Brown and Mike Perfit
Geology and planetary history might seem like overwhelming topics, but this book makes them fun through accessible explanations and engaging comics.
Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators That Saved an Ecosystem by Patricia Newman
Otters aren’t just cute: they play a vital role in helping ecosystems. Readers can learn about how sea otters have taught marine biologists about the interactions between animals and plants.
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
A touching book with a message, the Arrival tells of an older immigrant who has to leave his family in pursuit of a better life.
Tips for Reading Stories to Your Children
Finding a great book is step one for making bedtime great. Step two is reading that book in a way that will engage and interest your child. For people who are new to reading aloud, there are a few tips that can make bedtime more fun.
Read slowly and enunciate. This gives your child a chance to hear and process the words and is especially important if they haven’t yet learned to read. Reading slowly gives time to pause and explain more difficult words so that you can ensure that your child is following along with the story.
Bring the drama. Most children’s books involve fanciful events or major plot twists. Use your voice and presentation to give the story a more dramatic feel.
Engage and involve your child. Pause and ask your child a question about the story or about the drawings. Or use a short break to relate the story to your child in a way that helps make them feel connected to the story.
Build up the characters. You can help highlight the characters by using different voices or tones of voice. Focus on making clear which characters are central and the things they value and stand for.
Mix up the stories. If your child likes a story, you may be tempted to keep reading it over and over. But it’s good to include some variety so that neither you or your child gets bored with one book.
Improvising is OK. Story time at night doesn’t have to be all books. To keep things fresh, you can make up a story or can start with a book and then improvise using the same characters or settings.