I’m So Very Tired: Putting to Sleep Books

My children are, in a word, old. Well, they're old for children. They have opinions. They walk by themselves to the bookstore and haunt the manga section. They have plans that don't include me, at all.

Even so, we still have people who wander in during the evning, or in the middle of the night, prey to bad dreams and worries and being unable to sleep.

But we don't have the awesome sleep books of yore. When they're little, there's that whole class of soporifics, books that end with the main character snug in bed, and the moon shining, and, you know, zzzzzzzzz.

I loved those books. Not just because they're often great books (do I really need to haul Goodnight, Moon out here, people? I will!), but also because they WORK. And when I say they work, I don't just mean that they work on the small ones, they work on me.

All my life I have had trouble falling asleep. And it's not like the books were foolproof—for me or them. There were many times when I read in that sslllloooooowwww sleep-inducing voice, "And then he nestled under the soft covers, and…" while the kid was working to see if she could fit her foot behind her head. And no doubt part of my susceptibility had to do with the insane amount of sleep deprivation. But reading Big Red Barn, with a not quite toddling person lolling against your side, warm and loose and full of milk—it's generally a sleepy situation. And I don't get to do it anymore. And I'm still tired! But there are no books or situations like this for me anymore (though my husband does swear by a glass of chilled vermouth and The Golden Bowl—start with any paragraph you like—in the afternoon).

It's been more acute lately, this missing of those sleepy books. People are under stress, not sleeping as well as they might, and—well. Let's just say you might have found me in my living room the other day, reciting what I could of Big Red Barn from memory.

But I know there are lots. It's not just Margaret Wise Brown, right? Can you remind me? We can make a list in the comments, those books that just laid you (or your associated tiny person) flat out.

11 thoughts on “I’m So Very Tired: Putting to Sleep Books

  1. Mrs. Piggle Wiggle?
    It is a good question worth asking. Lately my son has wanted to read how a book ends before he begins it so he isn’t anxious when he reads it from start to finish.


  2. “Time of Wonder,” Robert McCloskey. Also “Make Way for Ducklings”
    Brambly Hedge books (they all end with all the mice sleeping)


  3. My Mother is Mine – some random board book my mom bought me my first mother’s day
    Good Night, Sleep Tight – some random board book my sister bought my son
    But basically I yawn my face off every single night no matter what we are reading, even when it is nowhere near a sleepytime book. For example, we’re reading The BFG right now and the first few chapters are so! intriguing! and a little spooky! and still I yawn. So the reading material is probably second to the environment of having a warm, freshly bathed-and-jammied 4.5 year old snuggled up with me.


  4. when my son was teeny – like 11 or 12 months old – he started to boycott the big red barn. he loved the beginning, but as soon as “the sun went down in the great green field” he would slam the book and throw it on the floor and reach for a new one. he is still my boy who hates to give up on his day and succumb to sleep. I, on the other hand, can’t keep my eyes open, and so every book we read is a putting to sleep book for ME, and he’s nudging me to wake up and keep reading.


  5. …and they all lived together in the big red barn
    And they played all day, in the grass and in the hay.
    When my daughter was a toddler, I used to put *myself* to sleep by reciting that one.
    We do have rules at our house–no Harry Potter before bed, no listening to audiobooks within an hour of bed (don’t know why, but that seems to make things worse). But I don’t have any fail safe choices for older kids…


  6. We only have one fail safe send her to sleep book: “The Secret Garden” and it isn’t the content it’s the language, read out loud it is sonorous (and puts the older one to sleep within a chapter without being boring). The sentences are lengthy and complex but almost melodic. They err more on the side of poetry than prose. I haven’t found anything similar (except maybe “The Lighthouse Family” where Ryland’s writing while complex is still much simplified from Burnett’s). Nesbit’s writing is too choppy to flow well when read out loud and just a bit too archaic. Hmm maybe this should be it’s own question: what can I read to my 4.5 yo that is similar to The Secret Garden in style and language?


  7. Ditto on Time For Bed … it was given to our first baby as a gift, not at all the kind of book I would have picked out, but it eventually became the anchor in our bedtime library. (That mom knew what she was doing when she gifted it!) I had the whole thing memorized once. I have memories of reading it to my daughter in the crib, and her lifting her head and saying “more!” each time it ended (and eventually just signing “more” when she was too tired to talk.) Sadly, the book only really worked its magic on one of the three kids, and I haven’t found it’s equal since.


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