Emma Drage is a senior editor at Scholastic Children’s Books, specialising in picture books. As part of our look into the importance of bedtime stories, we asked her to share her knowledge of what elements publishers look for. Here’s what she said.
For busy families, bedtime is often the only time of day when there is a chance to settle down and enjoy a story together, so I am always aware that any of the picture books we create might be read as a bedtime story. From dinosaurs to diggers, pirates to princesses, bedtime stories can be on any subject children enjoy, although spooky or scary stories are probably best avoided at this time of day!
A recipe for a calm bedtime
Although there are no hard and fast rules about what makes a good bedtime book, some stories are particularly well-suited to helping a child settle down to sleep. Soothing language, rhyme and repetition can all play an important part in creating a calming read.
Publishers are looking for stories that feel fresh and original, and that have an unusual twist.
In My Mindful Little One: Bedtime, author Bernadette Carelse incorporates these techniques with mindfulness practices into a book that is perfect to read to a child as part of the evening routine. Paired with gentle illustrations by Paula Bowles, it is a great book to share to help foster a calm atmosphere for children – and parents, too! Another great example of a restful bedtime read is Goodnight Sleepy Babies by Janet Bingham and Sebastien Braun, in which the repetition of saying goodnight to the baby animals is the perfect lead-up to wishing a child goodnight.
Bedtime can be an unsettling time of day for young children, particularly for those who are anxious about the dark, and the shared experience of a story can be used to help to create a sense of security, and to strengthen the bond between a parent and a child. One of Scholastic’s bestselling bedtime books is Daddy’s Little Star by Janet Bingham and Rosalind Beardshaw. As the sun sets and the twinkling stars shine above, this story celebrates the endlessness of Daddy Fox’s love for his son, which, like the night sky above them, goes on for ever. This story associates the darkness of night-time with positive feelings of love and security, which can help to make saying goodnight less daunting.
Stories which tackle sleeplessness
Is That an Elephant in My Fridge? by Caroline Crowe and Claudia Ranucci tackles a problem many of us experience from time to time: sleeplessness. In this playful bedtime caper, when Fred can’t sleep his mum suggests counting sheep. But Fred thinks sheep are boring, so he decides to count elephants instead. In no time at all, the house is full of elephants – splashing in the bath, flying around the ceiling and eating everything in the fridge! While this fun-filled bedtime rumpus is anything but calm at times, importantly it does end with Fred – exhausted after seeing off the troublesome elephants – fast asleep in his bed, sending out a reassuring message that sleep will come eventually.
A story with a difference
When I’m commissioning any new book, my first question is always ‘what makes this different?’ With so many bedtime books out there, I am looking for a story that will stand out from the crowd. This means that I am on the lookout for originality in terms of subject matter, structure, characterisation, and narrative style. Some of the most successful books are those that pair the familiar with the bizarre, and the everyday with the extraordinary.
What made Is That an Elephant in My Fridge? stand out for me was that it tackled a familiar theme, but then swapped the predictable sheep with something unexpected: elephants. Publishers are looking for stories that feel fresh and original, and that have an unusual twist. When you are very young, everything is new, but the best bedtime stories are those that will delight and surprise both child and parent alike. Reading is a shared experience, and the books that will be returned to again and again are those that parents and children enjoy together.
What’s your favourite bedtime story? Tell us in the comments below.