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Food For Thought

BETWEEN THE COVERS

Slumber-inducing stories make for better bedtimes

by Maegan Dobson Sippy

Ask any new parent what they want most, and the answer is likely to be – sleep. That’s not surprising when you consider that “I don’t want to go to bed” must be one of your average toddler’s most repeated refrains. So, are there any bedtime reads which can make this evening ritual (or battle) a little easier?

The fact that self-published The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep topped Amazon’s bestseller charts even before being snapped up by Penguin Random House last year suggests that many believe that a book can do just that. Written by Swedish psychologist Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin, the book instructs the reader to yawn, emphasises and repeats key phrases, and uses guided meditation techniques to (hopefully) lull its listener into a deep slumber.

This, admittedly not very entertaining for the adult reader, is at the extreme end of the spectrum. But bedtime stories from Goodnight Moon (still in print after almost seventy years) onwards have used the same techniques of repetition, slow rhythms and simple text – albeit with greater subtlety and more panache. Good Night, Gorilla, another extremely popular choice, also keeps it simple – following a zookeeper as he wishes all the animals goodnight. This one even manages to introduce some humour when it emerges that the said animals are actually creeping behind the protagonist, and following him home.

Closer to home, Eklavya’s The River at Night is dreamlike and calm, with zardozi embroidery illustrating sparse text – you can easily imagine reading this one again and again. Tulika Publishers’ Night also does a great deal with very few words, taking its readers on a journey into the forest in the dead of night. It’s also published as a bilingual volume, with English accompanied by any one of a number of Indian languages. For an all-out foray into the fantastical, you can’t beat Karadi Tales’ Whimsy, in which a rat-pig competes with an imaginative fox to dream up the most whimsical scenarios.

Another sub-genre of bedtime books is one which seeks to dispel worries. An absolute favourite here is Debi Gliori’s No Matter What, in which a “grim and grumpy” little fox named Small has his anxieties calmed by his mother Large, who reassures him that whatever happens, she’ll always love him. Guess How Much I Love You has a similar premise, while Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep and Pratham Books’ Goodnight, Tinku! are more didactic. The former has a baby bunny dreaming up positive thoughts, while in the latter a dog discovers that the potentially scary creatures of the night are friendly after all.

With routine forming such an important part of a calm journey into the land of nod, books which take children through the ‘stages’ of going to bed are also important. There are plenty out there, but Sandra Boynton’s The Going to Bed Book is particularly enjoyable. It’s set on the high seas which makes it great fun, but elements like taking a bath, finding your pajamas and cleaning your teeth all feature here.

Of course, bedtime books don’t necessarily have to be about going to bed – the sheer act of cozying up for two or three stories before sleep is in itself a calming ritual. So aside from books which provoke riotous giggles or encourage energetic emulation, there’s a wealth of things to go at – and you may just find that you read your child’s favourite again and again until you know it by heart.

Here are some bedtime reads that make young children go zzz

The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin (Penguin)

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Macmillan)

Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (Penguin)

The River at Night by Nandini Mazumdar (Eklavya)

Night by Junuka Deshpande (Tulika Publishers)

Whimsy by Annie Besant (Karadi Tales)

No Matter What by Debi Gliori(Bloomsbury)

Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney (Walker Books)

Tell Me Something Happy Before I Go to Sleep by Joyce Dunbar (Doubleday)

Goodnight, Tinku! by Preethi Nambiar (Pratham Books)

The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton (Simon & Schuster)

About Maegan Dobson Sippy

A freelance writer, Maegan came to India from the UK to work with Tara Books in 2010, and never returned. Together with Bijal Vachharajani, she runs the Instagram handle BAM! Books, which curates children’s book recommendations with a South Asian focus. She now lives in Bangalore with her husband and cat.

Between the covers - Bedtime stories
Food For Thought