By Ben Murray
Bedtime stories aren’t just a chance for you to bond with your kids.
Reading to your kids — at the same time night after night — can also help them establish healthy sleep routines.
This guide to bedtime stories will include some of the most cherished ones for children today.
Among the titles are printed books you can request from your local library or order from web-based retailers — as well as some beloved favorites available online.
But first, here are some tips for effective bedtime story reading.
Tips for parents
No child is too young for a bedtime story. Many experts encourage parents to begin reading to their children while they are newborns, and continue throughout their childhoods. The 2016 Time to Read campaign from BookTrust in the U.K. noted that bedtime reading can benefit children as old as 11 years of age.
Regardless of how old your child is, age-appropriate reading material is crucial. Readings for toddlers and preschoolers should utilize a fairly straightforward vocabulary, and also include pictures or illustrations.
As your child advances into elementary school and begins learning to read, books with chapters may be more effective.
Here are a few more tips for parents who plan to read bedtime stories to their kids:
- Read slowly. This is especially important for young listeners and children who have not yet learned to read. If the story contains words the child doesn’t know, take a minute during the initial readings and explain the definitions.
- Involve your child in the reading — be as interactive as possible. Ask them questions about the story and the characters. Swap out characters’ names for your child’s name and allow them to be part of the story. Draw parallels between your child’s life and the world of the story in order to drive home important messages.
- Be dramatic. Emphasize emotional moments by reading them in an appropriate tone, and use distinct voices for different characters. This will enhance your child’s personal involvement in the story, and enhance their imagination.
- Clearly define the characters’ roles. To help your child develop a sense of right and wrong, you should make sure they understand the difference(s) between the heroes and the villains of each story.
- Read each story more than once. Your child probably won’t grasp everything about a story during the first bedtime session, so read it more than once — if possible, on consecutive nights.
- Don’t read the same story too often. Your child will most likely favor certain stories over others, but avoid reading the same volume night after night for long periods of time. After a few readings, their imaginative connection to the story will begin to diminish. If your child insists on hearing an old favorite for the twentieth time, then suggest reading something new that night and then switching back to the preferred story the next night.
- Don’t be afraid to improvise. Rather than reading from a book, you can make up a story that allows your child to be more involved — and even dictate the narrative a bit. Parenting.com offers a list of effective “story starters” for bedtime ad-libbers.
The best bedtime stories available online
Bedtime stories have evolved over the years, and today, parents across the country are turning to websites and video channels to find suitable reading material for their children.
The following list includes dozens of bedtime tales you can find online; some are offered in a text-only format, while others are presented in an animated format. Like the previous list, this one is ranked by age of the reading audience. A link to the current web page is included with each entry.
Beginning readers (birth to age 3)
- Small Bird’s Adventure by Wesley van Eden, Nick Mulgrew and Jennifer Jacobs: Small bird flees his page but later returns to his owner, known as “Giant.”
- Clever Pig by Joshua Morgan, Nathalie Koenig and Lee-Ann Knowles: Clever Pig searches for his carrot snacks before bedtime in this fun story with adorable barnyard illustrations.
- Kitten’s First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes: This video adapted from a 2004 Caldecott Medal Winner features adorable characters and striking pencil-shade illustrations.
- Londi the Dreaming Girl by Lauren Holliday and Nathalie Koenig: Londi, a spacy little girl, ponders the mysteries of the universe on her way to fetch water in this imaginative tale of friendship and family.
- The Best Thing Ever by Melissa Fagan, Lauren Nel and Stefania Origgi: A resourceful young boy named Muzi determined to build the greatest thing the world has ever seen is at the heart of this charming illustrated story.
- The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen: This easy-to-read online version of the classic Danish fairy tale is geared toward exceptionally young listeners.
- The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen: Another H.C. Andersen favorite, this fairy tale follows a young ‘duckling’ who is tormented by his companions until he makes a startling discovery. Andersen’s uplifting story inspires self-confidence in kids of all ages.
- Little Sock and the Tiny Creatures by Lili Probart, Jon Keevy and Chani Coetzee: Household critters help Little Socks return to the laundry basket after he’s separated from the other dirty clothes.
- The Owl and the Lion: Lion has been bullying the other jungle animals for too long, and Owl decides to stand up to him in this fun story with a message of kindness and tolerance. You and your kids can follow along with subtitles and electronic narration.
- The Giant Turnip: Gorgeous watercolor illustrations highlight this tale of a farmer who strives to grow the biggest turnip ever and his family’s efforts to pull the enormous vegetable out of the ground.
- Nighty Night Circus: This lively, textless animated video follows a group of animals as they prepare for bed. The clip comes from Fox & Sheep, a popular nighttime app for kids and parents.
Intermediate Readers (Ages 4 to 6)
- Escape at Bedtime by Robert Louis Stevenson: Children leave their bed and discover a magical world in their backyard garden in this beautiful poem from Robert Louis Stevenson.
- The Three Golden Apples by Nathaniel Hawthorne: Inspired by classic Greek mythology, this kid-friendly version of the Hercules story follows the heroic strongman as he rescues three magical apples from the garden of Hesperides.
- The Three Little Pigs: This animated retelling of a children’s classic follows three pigs determined to build houses of their own and the mean-spirited wolf who attempts to foil their plans.
Riquet with the Tuft by Charles Perrault: Taken from a 17th century tale by the French storytelling master, this story of a homely-yet-witty young man still resonates with children today, thanks to its uplifting message and memorable characters.
- Aladdin and the Magic Lamp: The most famous of tales from the classic Arabian Nights collection, this story follows a young beggar whose luck changes for better and worse after rubbing a magic lamp and meeting a genie.
- Pied Piper of Hamelin: The good people of Hamelin turn to a mysterious flutist to solve their infestation problem in this animated rendition of the iconic fairy tale.
- Little Red Riding Hood: The classic tale of survival and trickery comes to life in this kid-friendly animated version, in which the titular girl outwits a hungry wolf on the way to her grandmother’s house.
- The Moon and the Cap by Noni: This illustrated tale with universal appeal follows a young boy who attempts to retrieve his missing cap and finds it in the unlikeliest of places.
- Searching for the Spirit of Spring: Inspired by an African folk tale, this illustrated story charms young readers with its hopeful message of kindness and generosity.
- The Fisherman and His Wife by the Brothers Grimm: A talking fish spells trouble for a greedy fisherman and his equally conniving spouse in this timeless fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm.
- Down the Memory Lane with Nash by Uma Bala Devarakonda: Young Nash and his dog Toby learn about his grandmother’s childhood in this lovely tale of family and tradition.
- The Elephant in the Room by Sam Wilson: Striking visuals drive this imaginative story of young Lindi and her best friend, an enormous elephant that may or may not be real.
- Shelley Duvall’s Bedtime Stories: Charming audiences since it debuted in 1992, this Showtime series features classic children’s stories presented by actress Shelley Long. Dozens of full-length episodes are available on DailyMotion.
- When I Grow Up by Michele Fry, Simone van der Spuy and Jennifer Jacobs: Eye-catching illustrations and an inspiring theme propel this story of a young girl whose career aspirations include becoming an astronaut, a doctor and a winning soccer player.
- The Nestlings by Arthur Scott Bailey: The brave Jolly Robin is forced to leave his nest for the first time in this heartwarming tale of survival and love. The online version features a few original illustrations from the original publication, which first appeared in 1917.
Experienced readers (ages seven and older)
- A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear: Introduce your kids to the mad brilliance of Edward Lear with this poetry collection that features absurdist verses and imaginative drawings by the author himself.
- East of the Sun and West of the Moon: Featuring original illustrations, this rendition of a classic Norwegian folk tale transports kids to a world of talking bears, troll princesses and magical apples.
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse by Aesop: This colorful retelling of the classic fable follows two mice one city dwelling, the other not so much as they experience what life is like for the other.
- Dreamlands: a Bedtime Book by Stephan Smith: This colorfully animated bedtime story whisks young viewers to a magical realm where flowers are as tall as skyscrapers and even the oranges need to sleep.
- Graça’s Dream by Melissa Fagan: A heartwarming story of tolerance and perseverance, this tale follows a woman named Graça as she attempts to bring literacy to her small Mozambican village.
The Stones of Plouvenic by Katharine Pyle: Adapted from a French folk tale, this playful story teaches children that the most valuable treasure can often be found in the least likely of places.
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter: This online retelling of the classic critter tale from 1902 features original illustrations by Beatrix Potter.
The White Stone Canoe by Hamilton Wright Mabie, Edward Everett Hale and William Byron Forbush: This haunting tale for kids 7 and up follows a young Native American chief who searches for his lost love in the spiritual afterlife.
- Children’s Bedtime Stories by Gordon Dioxide: This collection of 20 fantastical tales come from the creative mind of Gordon Dioxide, who has also produced read-along videos for his stories.
Wildlife in a City Pond by Ashish Kothari: Featuring original illustrations by Sangeetha Kadur, this eco-minded tale follows a young boy as he explores the flora and fauna found in the park near his home.
- The Dragon’s Eggs by Jade Matre: This kid-friendly fantasy follows brave little Luca as he combs an abandoned castle for dragon’s eggs and learns a valuable lesson about preservation in the process.
Island of the Nine Whirlpools by Edith Nesbit: Adapted from a story by celebrated children’s author Edith Nesbit, this fairy tale has it all: wicked witches, mystical castles and a dashing hero rescuing a kidnapped princess.
The best bedtime stories available in print
Next, let’s look at some of the most popular bedtime story books available only in print. The books are listed in order of appropriate reading audience, beginning with the youngest. Each entry features a link to that title’s most popular Goodreads review page.
Beginning readers (birth to age three)
- Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker: Designed for readers up to age three, Big Fat Hen features colorful illustrations and a memorable nursery rhyme narrative that helps children learn to count.
The Everything Book by Denise Fleming: This comprehensive favorite teaches young listeners about shapes, colors, seasons and other basic concepts. The Everything Book is geared toward kids between one and four years of age.
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault: This illustrated tale from 1989 offers a fun, high-spirited way for kids to learn the letters of the alphabet. Caldecott honoree Lois Ehlert provided the vivid illustrations.
- Otto Goes to Bed by Todd Parr: Colorful, oddball illustrations and fun verses highlight this story of a young dog who must go to bed, whether he wants to or not. This title is geared toward infants and toddlers.
- Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton: Children will love the brightly colored illustrations and playful rhymes found in this quirky classic, while parents will appreciate the positive message that bedtime is important — and fun.
- More More More Said the Baby by Vera Williams: This Caldecott Honor Book chronicles a snuggly day in the life of three toddlers. The easy prose, vibrant illustrations and diversity-friendly message make More More a perfect read for any of preschool age or younger.
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram: This heartwarming tale explores the bond between Big Nutbrown Hare and his son, Little Nutbrown Hare. The book — which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015 — was followed by four sequels.
- Are You My Mother? By P.D. Eastman: A beloved bedtime choice since it first appeared in 1960, this illustrated story follows a baby bird as he searches for his mother and meets a handful of other animals along the way.
- Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann: It’s bedtime for all of the animals at the zoo, but one sneaky primate has decided to tag along as the night watchman makes his rounds. Easy verses and playful illustrations highlight make Good Night, Gorilla a great choice for toddlers and preschoolers.
- Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown: Considered one of the greatest bedtime stories of all time, this classic boasts a lovely narrative and iconic illustrations by Clement Hurd. Goodnight Moon celebrates the 70th anniversary of its original publication in 2017; a three-dimensional rendition is also available on YouTube.
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: First published in 1969, this beloved tale features striking collage-style illustrations and finger-sized cutouts that allow children to physically participate in the story. If your kids enjoy this one, check out the other titles from author and illustrator Eric Carle; his 50-year career includes a bibliography of more than 70 titles.
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss: Clever rhymes and memorable illustrations highlight this beginner’s book from Dr. Seuss, which has entertained young kids for nearly 50 years. This title is ideal for teaching kids the basics of colors and counting.
- Corduroy by Don Freeman: Corduroy features a lovable teddy bear searching for a missing button after his residence — a popular toy store — has closed for the night. Vibrant illustrations and a positive message have endeared young readers to this book since its original publication in 1968.
- Where’s Spot by Eric Hill: This fun, flip-back classic about an inquisitive canine and his critter pals has been a bedtime favorite since it first appeared in 1980. Spot was also featured in a series of animated shows that appeared on the BBC between 1987 and 2000.
- The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats: The Snowy Day received the Caldecott Medal in 1963, and has since become a treasured classic among toddlers and preschoolers. The colorful vintage illustrations are fun for adults, too.
- The Complete Adventures of Curious George by H.A. Rey and Margret Rey: This collection of seven original volumes chronicles the adventures of Curious George — a mischievous monkey — and his guardian, the Man in the Yellow Hat. Each story features iconic illustrations and playful, uplifting storylines perfect for pre-K children.
- The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson: A 2009 Caldecott Medal winner, this evocative story features gorgeous black-and-white illustrations and an uplifting message about the meaning of home. The dreamy verses will have your kids slumbering in no time.
- The Paddington Bear series by Michael Bond: The 20 volumes in this imaginative series follow the title character — a teddy bear abandoned at a train station — as he travels the world and makes friends wherever he goes.
- If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff: Clever illustrations highlight this ‘what if’ story that examines the ramifications of feeding uninvited house guests. This title was followed by If You Give a Moose a Muffin, which follows a similar story arc; both books were illustrated by Laura Joffe Numeroff and Felicia Bond.
- The Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel: This award-winning six-book series explores the illustrated adventures of the two title amphibians. Each book contains multiple stories that lead to lessons about sharing, self-discipline, the merits of hard work and other important concepts.
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: This 1960 classic offers the perfect entry point into the idiosyncratic world of Dr. Seuss. Memorable verses and iconic illustrations have made Green Eggs and Ham one of the top English-language children’s bestsellers of all time.
- The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss: Another memorable beginner’s book from Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat spins a surreal tale about a mischievous feline that entertains a pair of children for the afternoon. Roughly 10 million copies have been printed since its original publication in 1957, and the book has been translated into more than a dozen different languages.
- Three Little Dreams by Thomas Aquinas Maguire: A boy atop a dragon, a magical star and a bird riding a paper airplane complete the trio of fantastic tales featured in this wordless picture book.
Love You Forever by Robert Munsch: This heartwarming, pastel-colored mini-epic examines how much a parent loves their child over the course of their lives. Expect a few tears during readings of Love You Forever, which was originally published in 1986.
- Good Night, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas: Geared toward young elementary-age children, this 46-page tale follows three young dragons and the Good Knight guardian who tucks them in and reads them bedtime stories every night. This title features lovely illustrations by Jennifer Plecas.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss: A perfect choice for holiday bedtime readings, this Dr. Seuss favorite teaches valuable lessons about the importance of family, community and a sense of belonging. The animated TV special has also become a yuletide institution.
Intermediate readers (ages four to six)
- Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne: First published in the 1920s, these two novels have become perennial bedtime favorites and the characters have cemented their place in pop culture. The dreamy tales center around Winnie, a honey-craving teddy bear, and the other animals living in the magical Hundred Acre Wood.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: First appearing in 1964, this eco-friendly classic traces the complex — and rewarding — relationship between a boy and his favorite tree over the course of their respective lives.
- The Arrival by Shaun Tan: This uplifting picture book chronicles the journey of an elderly immigrant who leaves his family to create a better life for them in a new home. Gorgeous illustrations and a profound message elevate The Arrival, which is an ideal tool for teaching tolerance to young elementary schoolers.
- The Arthur books by Marc Brown: Since the late mid-70s, Marc Brown has entertained children across the globe with his stories about Arthur, a bespectacled aardvark who attends an elementary school with his animal friends. The books in this extensive series boast playful illustrations while tackling some of the issues faced by today’s young people.
- The Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole: Led by the lovable Ms. Frizzle — a science teacher with an other-worldly teaching style — the Magic School Bus books take readers on fascinating scientific journeys. Some of the most memorable exploits involve trips inside the human body, into space and deep within the earth’s core.
- The Berenstain Bears series by Stan and Jan Berenstein: The Berenstain Bear family — Papa, Mama, Brother and Sister — have delighted young people since the 1960s. Each book in this vast series addresses typical family problems with playful, often funny plotlines and iconic illustrations.
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: This 1963 game-changer follows a young boy whose nighttime journey transports him to a magical realm populated by strange — yet friendly — monsters. Where the Wild Things Are received a Caldecott Medal in 1964.
- Horton Hears a Who! By Dr. Seuss: Horton — a lovable elephant — gets to the bottom of a strange noise in this 1954 illustrated classic from Dr. Seuss. The story emphasizes concepts like kindness, empathy and the importance of community.
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss: One of Dr. Seuss’s most socially conscious works, The Lorax tells the tale of a strange mustachioed creature who appears to warn mankind about the environmental dangers of deforestation and urbanization.
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss: This tribute to the joys and mysteries of adult life has been cherished by both kids and grown-ups since it first appeared in 1990. This was the last book published in Dr. Seuss’s lifetime.
Experienced readers (ages seven and older)
- Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein: The idiosyncratic poetry of Shel Silverstein is on full display in this pair of verse collections that have charmed children for generations. Both titles are often available in boxed sets.
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame: This 1908 classic chronicles the adventures of Mr. Toad, Rat, Badger and the other beastly denizens of England’s Thames Valley. The Wind in the Willows went on to inspire several film and stage adaptations.
- Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: Alice’s adventures with the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and Wonderland’s other residents have stirred the imaginations of young readers for more than 150 years. Classic illustrations help drive home the absurd, memorable stories featured in these two novels.
- James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl: This vivid, imaginative tale chronicles the adventures of James and his insect friends aboard the titular oversized fruit. Their exciting journey is ideal for older kids, while the fantastic imagery will delight young listeners.
- Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst: This funny account of one boy’s rough day at home and school ends with a positive message about appreciating what you have and not dwelling on negative experiences. The book features wonderful illustrations by Ray Cruz.
- Miss Nelson Is Missing by Harry Allard: The kindly Ms. Nelson has disappeared from her rowdy grade-school classroom, only to be replaced by the strict Viola Swamp. Complete with a surprise ending, this title offers important lessons about the consequences of good — and bad — behavior.
- Matilda by Roald Dahl: Featuring memorable illustrations by Quentin Blake, this bedtime and classroom favorite from 1988 follows the intelligent and resourceful Matilda as she navigates a challenging childhood populated with memorable supporting characters.
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl: This classic tale of perseverance follows young Charlie Bucket as he travels through Wonka Land, a magical candy factory presided over by an enigmatic host. The story is charming, dreamy and harrowing in equal measure — an ideal bedtime choice for older elementary students. Several sequels followed.
- Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: Classic illustrations by Garth Williams highlight this touching story of a pig named Arnold and his friend Charlotte, a spider with a few little ones on the way. Get the tissues ready.
- Heidi by Johanna Spyri: Heidi tells the exciting tale of a plucky Swiss orphan who goes to live with her grumpy grandfather, and then must find her way back to him after she is kidnapped by a sinister governess. The timeless message and beautiful prose still feel fresh today, more than 130 years since the novel’s original publication.
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: This story of the four March sisters and their determined matriarch has been cherished by little girls since it first appeared in 1868. Younger readers might struggle with the old-fashioned prose, but the book is quite suitable for ages 8 and up.
- The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary: Beginning with Ramona & Beezus in 1955, this seven-book series follows spunky Ramona Quimby and her sister Beezus throughout their childhood. Along the way, each book tackles the importance of family and the unbreakable bond between siblings of any age.
- Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo: A Newbery Honor winner, this 1990 coming-of-age story follows young Opal and her closest companion, an ugly mutt named for the titular grocery store where she first encounters him.
- The Fudge series by Judy Blume: This four-book series follows 9-year-old Peter Hatcher and his rambunctious two-year-old brother, Fudge, whose escapades keep getting Peter into trouble.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell: Written from the perspective of Black Beauty — a colt who is raised in the English countryside — this 1877 classic was one of the first stories to address the important issue of animal welfare. Later illustrated versions have cemented this book as a bedtime favorite for all ages.
- The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Ms. Wilder’s autobiographical accounts of rural life in the 19th century have charmed readers for generations. The vivid stories in this nine-book series give parents an opportunity to draw parallels between the past and present.
- The Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald J. Sobol: Let your kids exercise their brains with this fun, compelling series about a young gumshoe who solves neighborhood mysteries. Each chapter features a hidden solution at the end, giving listeners the chance to crack the case on their own before the answer is revealed.
- Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt: This 1972 classic follows the Tuck family, who attempt to live a normal acceptance after being granted eternal life from a magical spring. The book is still popular in today’s classrooms, as well as during bedtimes.
- The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett: In this powerful story from 1911, orphaned Mary Lennox travels to live with a distant relative in a countryside manor and soon learns her new home is filled with mysteries. The lengthy tale is ideal for nightly readings with older children.
- A Wrinkle in Time Quartet by Madeleine L’Engle: Winner of numerous awards including the 1963 Newbery Medal this four-part science fiction saga follows a young girl searching for her missing father, a scientist with a mysterious past.
Our lists are by no means exhaustive, and discovering new works is part of the joy of reading bedtime stories to your children. For additional information about putting your kids to bed and ensuring they get a good night’s sleep, be sure to visit the following pages on Tuck.
- Creativity and Sleep
- Parent’s Guide to Healthy Sleep
- Pregnancy and Sleep
- Sleep Disorders in Children
- Treating Children with Insomnia
- The American Library Association’s recommendations for children’s books, especially this page and one devoted to award winners.
- The children’s area of Project Gutenberg.
- How to get the most out of library ebooks via the right gadget, text to speech and otherwise, a LibraryCity guide. A little dated but still of possible use.
Ben Murray is writer and researcher for Tuck Sleep Foundation, a sleep science hub. He can usually be found running, hiking, biking or kayaking around the Pacific Northwest ― though he enjoys a good nap as much as the next person. We’ve reproduced this article with permission from the foundation (original appearance here). Corilee Christou of LibraryEndowment.org, a retired librarian and not-so-retired grandmother, says Ben’s advice is on the money. That said, we’ll welcome additional suggestions.
Image credit: Shutterstock (via contract with Tuck).