Night Sky Circle Time Book Reviews
 
Good Night,
      Sleep Tight
 
the best books for bedtime

 
Goodnight Moon -- Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? -- Guess How Much I Love You
I Love You as Much... -- Good Night, Gorilla -- The Monster Bed
No Such Thing -- A Quiet Night In -- Llama in Pajamas
The Caterpillow Fight -- Rockabye Farm
 
          Putting on pajamas. Brushing teeth. Picking out clothes for tomorrow. Taking one last drink of water. Snuggling under the comfy covers. Saying prayers. Listening to books and stories. That pretty much describes our ideal bedtime ritual. In reality, there might be a rough spot or two, but we always look forward to the time we spend with our kids after they're all tucked in for the night. Then each child gets to pick out one or two picture books, or a chapter of a chapter book, for me to read to them. Sometimes I pick out a few of my favorite lullaby books, such as the ones listed below.
 
Kathy Bennett
 

 
 
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
original copyright 1947
recommended age level - Baby, Preschool (read aloud)
Circle Time rating
ISBN 0060207051 hardcover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0064430170 paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0694003611 board book -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
          The literary equivalent of a cuddly, well-loved teddy bear, "Moon-Moon," as my eldest christened this book, is paced just right to be a soothing bedtime book for babies and toddlers. In simple rhyme, a young rabbit bids good night to the objects he sees in his room and through his windows. My second child giggles at "Good night comb / and goodnight brush / Goodnight nobody / Goodnight mush." When I read, "And goodnight to the old lady whispering 'hush,'" I am inevitably echoed by a drowsy chorus of "hush." By the time I get to "Goodnight stars / Goodnight air / Goodnight noises everywhere," more likely than not we are all nodding off.
          I think one of the reasons my kids are so fond of Clement Hurd's illustrations is that they are envious of the bunny's great green room. It's huge! It even has a fireplace! I like the way the moon rises as the rhyme progresses, and the clocks show the passage of time. I'm almost certain that the picture hanging on the wall above the doll house on the next to last page is an illustration from The Runaway Bunny.
          This book is such a part of our bedtime ritual that I can turn out the lights in my toddler's room, rock in the rocking chair, and recite it from memory, a kindred spirit of the lady whispering "hush."
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Can't You Sleep, Little Bear? by Martin Waddell, illus. by Barbara Firth
original copyright 1988
recommended age level - Preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating
ISBN 156402007X library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 1564022625 paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
          What's a parent to do when even the Biggest Lantern of Them All can't provide enough light to ease a child's fear of the dark? That's the dilemma facing Big Bear, an amiable parent who can't settle down himself and finish his book, which is just getting to the really interesting part, until his son has gone to sleep.
          Maybe I like this story because Little Bear reminds me so much of certain inhabitants of my own house. Like my children, Little Bear is a master of persuasion. When he has trouble sleeping even after Big Bear gives him a small light, Little Bear explains it was "[o]nly a teeny-weeny one... And there's lots of dark!" When Big Bear hangs up the biggest lantern in the cave, Little Bear explains that he can't go to sleep because it's still dark outside.
          Big Bear then takes Little Bear outside into the night to show him the moon and the twinkling stars. He cuddles Little Bear in his arms. Finally, warm and safe in his father's arms, Little Bear goes to sleep. Big Bear can go inside and read his bear book straight to the end, by which time both Big Bear and Little Bear are snoozing in the comfy chair. Hmmm, not only is Little Bear familiar, but I think I recognize Big Bear also.
          Barbara Firth's illustrations add adorable touches to this sweet story. While Big Bear is reading his bear book, Little Bear is playing on his bed in the background, "trying to go to sleep." When Big Bear has to put down his book to minister to Little Bear, the picture in Big Bear's book matches the illustration of the story. Most heartwarming of all, the picture of Little Bear pointing to the dark outside reminds me of my youngest, give or take a lot of fur and a few claws.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, illus. by Anita Jeram
original copyright 1994
recommended age level - Baby, Preschool (read aloud); 4-8
Circle Time rating
ISBN 076360013X hardcover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0763603317 hardcover book with stuffed Nutbrown Hare toy
                                              -- Order Book and Doll from Amazon.com
 
        In this tender story about a father putting his child to bed, Sam McBratney effectively conveys the depth of the love I feel for my own children, but am often unable to put into words. Little Nutbrown Hare wants to tell his father, Big Nutbrown Hare, just how much he loves him, but no matter what measure Little Nutbrown Hare chooses, his father always loves him more. For example, Little Nutbrown Hare loves his father as high as he can hop, but Big Nutbrown Hare loves his son as high as he can hop, and he can hop much higher. Finally, the tired little rabbit tells his father he loves him right up to the moon. Big Nutbrown Hare kisses his son good night and whispers, "I love you right up to the moon-- and back."
        Anita Jeram's pen and ink and watercolor illustrations of father and son gracefully capture the love they feel for each other. She hasn't drawn the typical cute little bunnies found in many children's books; she's drawn creatures capable of expressing emotion. The expression on Little Nutbrown Hare's face as he's falling asleep is one I've seen on my own children. Her pictures also show an incredible range of movement, from stretching arms as high or as wide as possible to very gently kissing a sleeping child on the forehead.
        This is one of my favorite books. It's a standard part of any "new baby" gift I give, and everyone who has received it from me tells me that they cried when they read it. I still cry.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
I Love You as Much... by Laura Krauss Melmed, illus. by Henri Sorensen
original copyright date 1993
Circle Time rating
recommended age level - Baby, Preschool (read aloud), 4-8
ISBN - 068811718X hardcover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
        This is the perfect book to share with very young children, who will be able to understand the sweet text. Even my just-turned one year-old, who can't quite yet comprehend all the words, enjoys listening to the gentle rhyme: "Said the mother horse to her child, 'I love you as much as a warm summer breeze.' Said the mother bear to her child, 'I love you as much as the forest has trees.'" The book continues with several mother animals expressing the depth of their love for their children. On the last page, a human mother coos to her infant, "I love you as much as a mother can love."
        Henri Sorensen's soft-colored illustrations of mothers and babies in their natural habitat have a lullaby-like quality. Together with the simple text, they evoke the coziness of a favorite blankie, making this book perfect for reading and snuggling at bedtime.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Good Night, Gorilla written and illustrated by Peggy Rathmann
original copyright 1994
Circle Time rating
recommended reading level - Baby, Preschool
ISBN 0399224459 library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0399230033 board book -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
          When my third child was about 18 months old, we could simply put him in his crib with a few of his board books and he would "read" himself to sleep. Although my son is definitely a solitary sleeper, one of his favorites, Good Night, Gorilla, is also the perfect book for any child who would rather snuggle with an adult than sleep alone. In this story, a tired zoo keeper checks on all the animals in the zoo and wishes them goodnight before he heads home for bed. He does not realize that the gorilla has gotten hold of his keys and is following one step behind him, quietly unlocking all the cages. He doesn't notice when all the animals follow the him out of the zoo, into his house, and even into his bedroom. Even his wife is unaware of the company until she drowsily wishes her husband goodnight, and is answered by a chorus of sleepy animals. She gets up, trudges the menagerie back to the zoo, then returns home and crawls into bed. The gorilla, of course, ends up snuggled between the zoo keeper and his wife.
          The details of Peggy Rathmann's simple story are in her illustrations. The gorilla has just the right air of impishness, especially when he is holding a finger to his lips in hopes that the reader won't tell the zoo keeper what's going on. In each animal's cage, there is a stuffed toy: the gorilla has a small gorilla, the elephant has Babar, the armadillo has Ernie from Sesame Street. My favorite picture is the wife's eyes when she realizes she and her husband aren't alone -- two startled white eyes against a backdrop of black.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
The Monster Bed by Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Susan Varley
original copyright 1986
recommended age level - Preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating
ISBN - 0688068049 hardcover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
          This book confirms what kids have claimed for generations: there really is a monster under the bed! Dennis, the monster in question, lives with his mother in a cave in the Withering Wood, a place so spooky that "even the pixies and fairies are scary." Even scarier are the humans that Dennis reads about in his picture book. He will not go to sleep until his mother reassures him that "[h]umans are only in stories, you see." Just to be on the safe side, Dennis takes his pillow and his blanket and sleeps under his bed where the humans won't find him.
          Meanwhile, a human boy just about Dennis' age decides to skip school and explore the Withering Wood. He discovers Dennis' cave and, being exhausted, decides to nap on the bed he finds there. "But somehow he didn't feel sleepy. He said / "If my mother was here, she'd check under the bed / In case there's a monster (or goblin or elf)." / Since his mother was not there... HE DID IT HIMSELF!"
          It's obvious from Susan Varley's illustrations that Dennis is just as scared as the boy is when the two meet face-to-face. In fact, she's given Dennis such human expressions that my kids feel much more sympathy for Dennis than they do for the trespassing boy. Dennis is an almost cuddly monster who plays hopscotch, hugs his teddy, and puts his claws over his eyes when he looks at the scary pictures of humans in his book. The illustrations have enough clever details that parents won't tire of looking at them over and over again. For instance, a close look reveals that Dennis' stuffed animal collection takes it's inspiration from the creatures in Where the Wild Things Are.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
No Such Thing by Jackie French Koller, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
original copyright 1997
recommended age level - Preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating
ISBN 1563974908 - library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
          No Such Thing takes the premise of The Monster Bed a step further, with results that have my kids in stitches every time we read it. When Howard moves into a new, old house, he's certain there's a monster underneath his bed. Despite the evidence he offers, his mother insists that there are no such things as monsters. Meanwhile, Monster swears there's a boy on top of his bed, but his mother assures him that there are no such things as boys. Despite what their mothers think, the boy and the monster just have to take one more look. Discovering each other, they run screaming for their moms.
          Howard's mother looks under the bed with him. No monster. Monster's mother looks on top of the bed with him. No boy. Now, get to sleep, the mothers say. Howard gets in bed and starts to cry. Monster gets in bed and starts to whimple. Each hears the other and checks just one more time. After the boys sort out that they were each afraid of the other, they discover that the idea of monsters eating boys is just as silly as the idea of boys eating monsters. They also discover that neither one's mother believes in the other one. This gives them an idea.
          Howard climbs underneath the bed. Monster climbs on top. Then they call for their mothers.
          My two oldest, who share a room, think this story is hilarious. After each reading of this book there's a gleam in those sleepy eyes that means mischief. Luckily, they're usually too tired to put any plans into action.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
A Quiet Night In written and illustrated by Jill Murphy
original copyright 1993
recommended age level - Preschool (read aloud), 4-8
Circle Time rating
ISBN 156402248X - library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 1564026736 - paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
          Sometimes I think Jill Murphy must eavesdrop on my family in the evenings because she captures what goes awry with our best laid plans so accurately. In A Quiet Night In, Mrs. Large, matriarch of a family of pachyderms, tells her four children that they are going to go to bed early so she and Mr. Large can celebrate his birthday in peace. "It wouldn't be quiet with the gang of you all charging around like a herd of elephants," Mrs. Large explains. "But we are a herd of elephants," her son protests.
          All through the book there are little touches that could have come from my own homelife. The kids do an art project at the dinner table. "Then they all cleaned up. Then Mrs. Large cleaned up again." The kids demand a story from Mr. Large before they go upstairs to bed. It's one of those cutesie stores about talking vehicles with alliterative names, and Mr. Large nods off. Then Mrs. Large picks up the story and is also soon fast asleep. Then the kids tuck a blanket around Mr. and Mrs. Large and quietly go up to bed, taking the food Mrs. Large prepared for the birthday celebration. Well, the part about letting Mom and Dad sleep has never occurred to my kids, but you can bet they'd take the goodies into their rooms because, as Laura Large says, "it's a pity to waste it."
          Jill Murphy's illustrations add more humorous touches to the story. On the title page, there's the dream evening that Mrs. Large has in mind -- no kids, no mess, just two elegantly dressed elephants sharing a romantic candlelight dinner. On the last page there's the reality -- an exhausted Mr. and Mrs. Large sacked out on the couch, trunks entwined, toys and books littering the floor. The illustration of four squabbling kids vying for position on dad's lap, which though elephantine, is not quite large enough, is an exact copy of a scene that's all too common at our house.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Llama in Pajamas by Gisela Voss, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
original copyright 1994
Circle Time rating
recommended age - Preschool (read aloud), 4-8
ISBN 0878464085 - hardcover -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
          Lift-the-flap books generally have a short life expectancy in our house, but Llama in Pajamas is an exception because we read it only at bedtime. "Where's my little llama?" calls a mother llama as she looks for her offspring in a basket and behind a curtain. The little llama is always one step ahead of his mama, hiding under one of the flaps and whispering, "Shhh." When mama llama finally catches up with him, she hands him some very complicated pajamas, which he must tie, button, snap, and zip. Then mama tucks him into bed and gives him a goodnight kiss. After mama leaves the room, the reader can lift up two flaps on the last page to find the little llama snoozing under his bedcovers, the complicated pajamas stuffed into a basket.
          The illustrations are done in soft colors, setting just the right sleepy tone for this story. The text is hand-rendered in cursive (which might be hard for early readers to decipher). Geometric designs reminiscent of Incan textiles border each page, and at the end of the story there are notes about life in the Andes of South America.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
The Caterpillow Fight by Sam McBratney, illustrated by Jill Barton
original copyright 1996
Circle Time rating
recommend age - Preschool (read aloud), 4-8
ISBN 1564028046 - library binding -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
ISBN 0763601241 - paperback -- Order this Book from Amazon.com
 
          If you like tongue-twisters, you're going to love The Caterpillow Fight. On one level it's the story of a bunch of unsleepy little caterpillars who amuse themselves with a knock-down, drag-out pillow fight, until the Big Caterpillar intervenes. On another level, it's a challenge for a sleepy parent to read about caterpillars and caterpillows without tripping over the words and triggering a few giggles. If you can make it to the end, you'll discover the Big Caterpillar's ingenious solution to the caterpillar caterpillow brawl.
          Be careful when you read this book, or you might just be tempted to emulate Jill Barton's cute and colorful little caterpillars, and let the caterpillows and the caterpillow feathers fly.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
Rockabye Farm by Diane Johnston Hamm, illustrated by Rick Brown
original copyright 1992
recommended age level - Preschool (read aloud); 4-8
Circle Time rating
ISBN - 0671747738 - hardback
This book is currently out of print. Try your local library or used book store.
 
          When my six year old daughter asks for this book, I know she's seriously sleepy. The gentle cadence of Diane Johnston Hamm's text is guaranteed to lull her to sleep. The story begins at sunset, and the Farmer and his baby yawn as they sit on the front porch. "The Farmer rocks his baby. When the baby goes to sleep, the Farmer rocks his dog." One by one, the Farmer rocks his animals to sleep and nestles them in their beds. Finally, the Farmer goes inside and rocks himself in the rocking chair.
          Rick Brown's illustrations add a wonderful element to the story. As the action progresses, the sun goes down and the stars come out. At first, the Farmer rocks the baby and the animals in his arms. When it's the cow's turn, the Farmer gently rocks her in the bucket of his tractor. For the horse, the Farmer uses the hay cart. From the smiles on each human or animal's face, it's obvious that the rocking leads to sweet dreams.
 
Top of Page   --   This Review Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett (kbennett@fidnet.com)
 

 
 
 
 
Top of Page   --   Circle Time e-zine Copyright © 1998 by Kathy Bennett
 
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