Our Top 10 Bedtime Read-Aloud (Chapter) Books by Holly Kregel
One of the biggest joys for me as a parent and as a children’s literature scholar is being able to bring the books I’m working with home. Every night before bed, my daughter used to pick out a few picture books, snuggle up, and read with her dad and I before she fell asleep. Our favorite books encouraged laughter and fun but also worked toward calming Zo down for bed as opposed to riling her up. Recently, my daughter turned 5 years old, and suddenly she became adamant that picture books were for day time and that night time was for working through chapter books together, chapter by chapter, night by night. While I was happy to make this transition with her, it was not without its trials. Between her age, her interests, and her attention span, we’ve had our share of flops, but we’ve also found some definite winners. Here are my top 10 bed-time read aloud chapter books.
Top 5 for younger readers
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B White. This was our first read-aloud together, and I was pleasantly surprised how well it went! Have you ever tried to calm a child to sleep with a reassuring “we’ll find out what happens tomorrow”?
Well, I’ll warn you that it doesn’t work well! In this regard, Charlotte’s Web is a winner. While the chapters weave together into the bigger narrative of a year on the farm, the ‘problem’ or action that happens within each chapter usually resolves within that chapter, leaving us cliffhanger—and tantrum—free.
- Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar. Remembered for being hilariously funny and for having ‘silly’ characters, one probably associates this book more with classroom read alouds. This book, however, works surprisingly well at night too because of its short, standalone chapter format. At 5, we’re still working on our attention span, so books that have shorter, manageable chapters are always a plus!
- Matilda by Roald Dahl. Matilda is the charming story of a young girl and the magic that comes alive in her when she puts her mind to it. A story that balances young Matilda’s quiet demeanor with the obnoxious characters of her parents and Mrs. Trunchbull’s makes for a vivid read-aloud with plenty of room for spicing it up with silly voices. This read is just wacky enough to make your little one giggle but not crazy enough to rile them up before bed.
- The Arthur chapter books by Marc Brown. Based off stories from the first few seasons of the wildly popular PBS show, these books are a favorite at our house since we’ve always loved the shorter Arthur books. Similar to the original books (with elongated plot lines), our little girl loves the familiarity of characters she loves within the new genre she’s exploring. And with 32 books to the series, there’s no shortage of reading material!
- My First Little House Books: While technically picture books, I can sneak these precious stories by my little one by telling her they are the shorter version of my beloved Little House Until she’s ready for the longer works, the quaint stories of the Ingalls family in books like Little Prairie House, Prairie Day and Dance at Grandpa’s introduce her to the simple world of growing up on the frontier.
The next five stories are ones I’m saving for when Zoey is a bit older. Requiring a bit more attention span, I wait impatiently for the day that we can curl up to impart on these adventures together.
- Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. What better way to end a night than reading about the adventures that spawn from a bedtime story gone wrong? The ‘real world’ and the world of story get hopelessly intertwined in this book as characters get read out of stories and into reality. Devilish Dustfinger, curious Meggie and stolid Mo are sure to entertain the young listener and have them looking forward to bedtime each night.
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. In this book Jackie, a young African-American girl growing up around the Civil Rights era, tells her story of moving through the North and the South and coming to terms with what ‘home’ means, what family is, and what it means to find one’s passion in life. A beautiful story all around, this story—written in free verse—comes alive when read out loud.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll. Originally, I wasn’t sure this was bedtime material, particularly if Johnny Depp’s movie version comes to your mind as quickly as it does to mine. However, this story laden with word play and utterly and embracing nonsense feels like the perfect fit for an older read-aloud listener, particularly those who might have trouble calming down before bed. This book will delight any young mind and is sure to lead to pleasant (if not wacky) dreams.
- The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It seems like the chapter-book world is filled with stories of tiny human-like beings living among us. What charmed me about this story is how despite Arriety’s encounters with human-beans that always seem to cause her family trouble, the stories maintain a mellow feel overall that will lend itself well to settling down an active child before bed.
- Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. I save this book for last because it’s sort of a guilty pleasure and most probably not “bedtime” material for just anyone. I look most forward to sharing this one with Zoey because many a nights I read this one under the covers until I drifted off to sleep A backstory to Barrie’s Peter Pan, this tale of ship wrecks and sea battles enthralls, delights and shocks the reader, but what really secured its spot for me on this list is that it always left me with enchanting dreams.
Holly Kregel is getting her MA in children’s literature at Central Michigan University between playing princess dress-up with her daughter and reading the Harry Potter books for the millionth time. You can find her documenting all of the above adventures on Twitter at @HKregel.