Wednesday, 11 November 2015

And So To Bed, by Pippa Goodhart

One of the key times of day when children and adults share picture books is bedtime.  In many families the sharing of a book or two is part of the bedtime routine that winds a child down ready for sleep.  A bath, a mug of milk, teeth cleaning, then snuggle together and open up another world in which to share some story experience. 
The book might be funny or moving or interesting or comforting, or a combination of any of those things.  It might be a new experience, or it may well be a favourite one being shared in same way for the umpteenth time.  Whether wild or serious, familiar or new, parents often appreciate a picture book story ending with the characters settling down to sleep.  I’ve done it myself.  You Choose and Just Imagine and Three Little Ghosties all end with a last spread showing the characters tucked-up in bed.

But should the whole book have the single aim of sending your child to sleep?

There’s been a lot of exposure recently for a self-published runaway bestseller picture book whose success is down to the book’s ability to put a child to sleep. 
The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep is a strange picture book to read.  You are given instruction at the start as to how to read the text, emphasising certain words, inserting your child’s name, drawing-out other phrases.  The story text is very much longer than most picture book texts.  It takes twenty to twenty-five minutes to read (look on youtube if you want to hear it in action). 
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The book's pictures are, well, amateurish (even in the new Ladybird edition), but you are told that you shouldn’t really be showing the pictures to your child in any case.  They need to be lying down, ready to sleep.  The cognitive tricks used by the Swedish behavioural psychologist author of this book, Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin, make the child keep focussing on the rabbit character’s aim through the story; going to sleep.  The linking of names makes the child identify with Roger the rabbit (to be said slowly as Roooooggggeeeer), and the repetition of the words ‘sleep’ and ‘drowsy’ and ‘now’ and ‘yawn’ all do their work.  ‘The eyelids are as heavy as stones, heavy, heavy, so heavy,’ says Roger.  It’s an odd text to read, and the story is boring.  That’s the point.  If it was exciting, it would wake the child up. 
My children are grown-up now, but I quite see the place for this tool of a book.  It can be a painless way for adults to get young children to sleep with minimal fuss.  But, please, could they be read a proper picture book story before you start on that one?  A story with characters one cares about, with humour and surprises and delight and things to think about?  And maybe that sort of book can lead on to happy slumber too?
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There are numerous picture books with sleeping as a theme, but which also offer really good stories and wonderful illustrations.  I fondly remember A Song For Little Toad, written by wonderful Vivian French and illustrated with great beauty by Barbara Firth.  In that story we hear the lullaby songs of different riverside animals and birds, none of which work until Mummy Toad sings her own song to her little one.  ‘Croak, croak, croak.  Croak, my little darling’, I seem to remember. 
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That book is now out of print (please bring it back, Walker Books!), but Barbara Firth again, this time working with Martin Waddell, also created the great favourite Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?  in which Big Bear takes Little Bear outside the cave to look at the stars in the sky before Little Bear is able to settle to sleep.
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I’ve recently discovered The World Champion Of Staying Awake by Sean Taylor and Jimmy Liao in which little Stella has problems getting her naughty toys off to sleep, and of course by the end is herself fast asleep, as are they. 
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And there's Ed Vere's lovely new Max At Night as he tries to find the moon to tell it goodnight.  Full of wonderfully sleepy monotone pictures.
My own experience was that you could bore a child to sleep with almost any text if you read it in a boring way, and maybe that boring characteristic is what makes the classic Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown such a lasting favourite? 

What are your favourite bedtime picture books, and why?


  1. This going to sleep 'book' is not a picture book. It's a hypnosis text. My all-time recommendation is another book that is out of print - What a shame. it was published in 1992 by Penguin - (ironically the current owners of Ladybird). You can get it second-hand and it's an utter gem. Going to Sleep on the Farm by Wendy Cheyenne Lewiston, with illustrations by Juan Wijingaard. It's a masterclass in picture book poetry, and its soothing quality is a trillion times better than the book mentioned. The only trouble is, it sometimes sends the reader to sleep, too. It really is fantastic. Please, please someone republish it. On another note, I am very wary of self-published books becoming bestsellers 'because the public discovered them'. You inevitably find the author paid a PR firm a great deal of money to make it gather momentum.

  2. I love Juan Wijingaard's illustrations, but didn't know that particular book. I can believe its a goody. It's going to be interesting to see how long the Rabbit book lasts. I can see it putting a child to sleep once or twice, but aren't they then going to want something more interesting?!

  3. I saw it reviewed somewhere where they got four mums to try it out on their active infants. Two failures, one so-so and one success. I hate the illustrations and I distrust the concept. Yes, you can bore kids to sleep. The trick as I remember being advised when my kids were young, was to have a cut off point where the fun stops, and not react with anything other than calm persistence after that point. Don't reward the behaviour. This book probably works like that. You would probably have the same success reading kids the terms and conditions of your latest software or the manual for your microwave. . .
    "Go the **** to Sleep" is one you didn't mention. Another dubious one, written for parents, not kids.
    Bah! ;-)

    ps - Can somebody please send me the blog schedule? I have finally got a reliable email set up but have lost a lot of stuff, the schedule being one of the things lost. . . I get the feeling I am approaching my allotted slot apace. .

    1. Reading something worthwhile but having that 'cut off point' at which you turn dull seems the right combination of good story sharing and getting children to sleep.

  4. The one that worked best for my kids was The Summer Night by Charlotte Zolotow and Ben Shecter. I still love that book, despite the many, many times I had to read it. It's quiet and it's beautiful and it works. (Failing all else, there's my 'Little Chick and the Secret of Sleep').

    1. Very good point, Malachy. Little Chick And The Secret of Sleep is so much better than the rabbit story in every respect except the boredom factor!

  5. Why not read a child a fairy tale or adventure tale that takes a few nights to read? If you're not going to show the pictures anyway. I have such fond memories of reading the Oz series, Wind in the Willows, and other long books to my kids. Even very young children love a series. They have something to look forward at bed time. Better to lull them into dreams with a good story than bore them to sleep.

    1. You're right, I'm sure, Joy. It seems such a waste to engage their brains with nothingness when there's the opportunity for engaging and good stories.

  6. When my children were little they loved Bod, with Aunt Flo and Farmer Barleymow. I am not sure if the TV series grew out of the books or the other way around. The books were small, child size and full of simple but rather fascinating characters who lived in a reassuring but slightly crazy world. Giant strawberries, elephants, all sorts of weird and wonderful things made unexpected appearances. They had a dream like quality without being soporific.

  7. Yes, its exactly that relaxing away from the real world and its worries that can transport us into happy sleep. What's the adult's equivalent of Bod, I wonder?

  8. What worries me most about the hypnotic bunny book is that if it's boring it might put children off stories and reading.
    I never used a specific 'go to sleep' book with my children, but always finished with a reassuring, gentle story and by chance the story might end with a bedtime scene. However, since then I've written a bedtime story: 'No More Yawning!' (published by Chicken House with illustrations by Brita Granstrom). I admit that at the time I worried that perhaps there wasn't space in the world for yet another story about going to sleep. There was!
    Since 'No More Yawning!' was published I've discovered that the act of yawning makes us sleepy and I wish I'd suggested in the book that whenever the main character, Florence, yawns, the child should yawn too. When I read the story in schools the children join in by yawning and everyone gets sleepy - oops! Plus once the Head came into a classroom and asked a child if she'd enjoyed the session and the child grinned and said she'd yawned a lot. The Head looked horrified and I quickly said that it was part of the story!

  9. Yawning is amazingly infectious, isn't it! I expect somebody could write a behavioural psychology paper on your picture book too, Paeony!

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