Infant + Toddler

From A to ZZZ: The Best Books to Put Kids to Sleep

Dear readers: Please tell me you have already listened to Samuel L. Jackson reading the inspired children’s book called, “Now Go The F*** to Sleep!” (Rated PG-13+ for language)

Parent should easily relate to the Adam Mansbach book’s message: it sometimes (always) feels impossible to get a child to fall asleep. Consider the obstacles:

  • Water breaks (sipping two ounces of water for five minutes)
  • Strangely philosophical questions (How are babies made? Why is there air?)
  • Emotional larceny (crying, wailing, tantrums, etc.)

Kids are adept (ruthlessly proficient) at staying awake well past the appointed hour. If you’re determined to right the ship, go read to your kids. It is, at least, a method backed by science.

“You’re getting very, very tired…”


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Reading calms us. When we do it in a comfortable bed, after putting the electronics to sleep, even better. The experts at Mattress Advisor outline many ways that reading eases you and your cutie pies to sleep.

Reading does:

  • Force us to slow down.
  • Lower cortisol, the stress hormone that raises blood pressure and hinders sleep.
  • Distract us and literally take our mind off of negative thoughts.

Before you get goofy with joy, know that reading from an iPad, computer or smartphone doesn’t count. When used so close to bedtime, the light from electronic screens disrupts the body’s natural rhythms and the inclination to go to sleep. Use real books! Besides, aren’t we always complaining our children spend too much time in front of screens? If we want to exploit this “reading solution,” we have to model the behavior. Put the device down.

Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”  

Gaiman is right. Books also allow us to travel, to dream and to befriend people we may never meet. That can give us reassurance and peace, which soothes us as we lay down to sleep. If you’re searching for inspiration on the best books to read to your children before bedtime, I started with this “best of” list from Wired that included many I already love:


Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown:

A classic detailing a bunny saying good night to the things in its room, as sleep and a full moon beckon. The author successfully pioneered an approach to writing children’s books that steps away from fairy tales, as detailed by Smithsonian.com. Brown tells this story the way a child would. It’s lovely. Read it deliberately. Ad lib with things in your own kid’s room. Be in the story with them.


Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson:

Harold can’t sleep. To pass the time, he draws a grand adventure with a purple crayon. I have been giving this book to every new parent I know for over 15 years. I love Harold for how bravely he faces his fears and how resourceful he is when he draws himself into a corner. Harold proves we all have everything we need to be the heroes of our own stories. And that it is okay to be scared sometimes. How powerful a message for an impressionable munchkin!


Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner:

Skippyjon Jones is a Siamese cat who thinks he’s a Chihuahua dog. He loves adventure and chases it under his alias—Skippito Frisquito. I first heard it while listening to my sister read it to her granddaughter. The alliteration alone makes this book a winner. And books should be fun! And, when a cat can re-fashion himself as a heroic dog, what’s to stop your kid from imagining themselves as just about anything?


The Princess Bride by William Goldman:

Admittedly this one might be more for you parents. Many of us consumed this fairy tale about Buttercup and Westley, with Inigo, a giant and the Dread Pirate Roberts, via the 1987 movie. Put your back into it. Holler “Inconceivable!” Add a determined face when you say, “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” Gently deliver, “As you wish.” You might tempt a new generation to randomly shout, for laughs, “No more rhyming now, I mean it!” “Does anybody want a peanut?!?”

Also, you’re working overtime if you can tempt your young reader into loving a series like Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling), Percy Jackson & the Olympians (Rick Riordan),  or Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney).


Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

Reverse Bedtime Psychology

Here are a couple books that, like the Mansbach book, will flip the script for you:

How to Put Your Parents to Bed by Mylisa Larsen & Babette Cole:

“Who’s laughing now?” you’ll want to gloat when this one gets going. Point out the absurd ways the parents try to wriggle out of bed and hold up that mirror to your child.


Looking for Sleepy by Maribeth Boelts:

A gentle book. It follows a baby bear who looks for “Sleepy” with his father as they get ready for bed. There’s something so reassuring about how the characters treat each other. Exploit the book’s loving tone to sneak in cuddles of your own. My mom is a certified pro at physically wrapping up her children and grandchildren, and singing or reading to them, until they fall asleep. I’m telling you, reading while executing what we call “the sleeper hold” is undefeated.




Set your family up for a better night of sleep. Surround your children with books if you’re able. Go to the library and let them choose what to read at night. Share each with passion and love and see the positive impact it has on their sleep.


When they begin sharing books with you, feel proud knowing you gave your child the holy grail: a love of reading and the ability to take themselves off to dreamland.


Featured Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

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Lauren Hailey

Lauren Hailey is a writer and copy editor from Durham, NC. When she’s not typing away at her computer, Lauren enjoys walking her golden retriever, doing yoga, and gardening.

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