Bedtime stories: Best books for babies, toddlers and kids

Bedtime stories need a certain formula for a smooth sleep transition

Bedtime stories piled in a small book shelf with comfy pink cushions around it
(Image credit: Stephanie Lowe)

Bedtime stories have the power to settle children in for a night of sleep and create warm memories at the same time.

A great bedtime story might have magical book quotes (opens in new tab) or a great ending, maybe even some make-believe in there, or a strong message. Whether it’s one of your best books for toddlers (opens in new tab) or best books for kids bedtime stories are important for setting the scene. 

Sarah Patel (opens in new tab), baby and toddler Sleep Expert tells us; "Saying goodnight is a period of separation and one many children can find difficult, which is why reading stories with them before they go to sleep can be a really good idea. It can help bridge the gap between the onset of sleep and saying goodbye for the night. 

She adds; "Plus, reading stories together allows quality connection time before they go to sleep and helps to calm their minds which means they're more likely to have a good night's sleep."

Fair warning, your child might like the same bedtime books on repeat, you are not alone in this. Frustrating for the parent? Very. Hugely beneficial for the child? Very.  A study (opens in new tab) in 2011 discovered that when children were read the same book many times, they remembered and understood the meaning of a new word, so it is worth it, we promise. 

Bedtime stories

Babies (birth to 12 months)

Bedtime stories before your baby turns one may seem pointless but studies show that reading to your baby from birth is a valuable exercise, for you and them. It helps to create a bond and teaches communication. Regular reading means that by the time babies reach their first birthday they’ll have all the sounds needed to speak.

Worth noting that, at this early age, as long as it's read in calming and neutral tones, even reading from your own book aloud is useful. 

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Goodnight Moon, Board book, £6.50, Amazon (opens in new tab)

Not one for daytime as there's not much scope for fun and silliness,  but as bedtime stories go this is a gentle and rhythmic read. It lulls children to sleep with ease.

Mum-of-one, Carla tells us; "Of all the bedtime books, this one surprised me, I thought my kid would hate it. But it's really soothing, comforting and so familiar for her. Our perfect bedtime story."

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Dear Zoo, £6.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

A firm 'five star-er' from Amazon and a 'teacher's pick' as bedtime stories go, this 40 year old classic, is a contender.

Mum-of-two, Sam tells us; "Both my son and daughter love this book from an early age, anything with a flap and they're there!" 

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I'm not sleepy, £8.75, Amazon (opens in new tab)

Soft illustration in sleep-inducing dark shades, and though the message is about bedtime, it's lighthearted and funny in places which helps with parent and child connection.

Dad-of-two Jace tells us; "My kids love that the story is about a gran, not a parent, as they are looked after by their grandparents too so they really relate."

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Rabbit's Nap: 20th Anniversary Edition, £3.50, Amazon (opens in new tab)

An Amazon bestseller, with a five start rating and over 5,800 reviews, this classic is engaging enough that you feel connected but will also send your little one off to the land of nod.

Toddlers (one to three year olds)

At this age their imagination is just incredible, full of magic and fantasy. Parts of their world are starting to make some sense, and you can see this in their confidence. As bedtime stories go, for toddlers, it's all about repetition and rhyming patterns. This fabulous duo helps them learn and practice the sounds that make up their language.

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We're going on a bear hunt, £6.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

With over 11,000 reviews on Amazon it's easy to see why this classic tops the best bedtime stories list. With it's 5-star rating, this timeless story has been entertaining children since 1989. 

Mum-of-three, Dionne tells us: "My kids loved this, and I remember reading it too when I was little. They would sing along with me when we read it before bed, it was my favourite time of the day."

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Peace at last, £6.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

For 40 years children have been nodding off with this story. A family of bears with daddy bear struggling to fall asleep, the story follows him trying to find somewhere quiet to sleep. 

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The Lion Inside, £6.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

As bedtime books go, this is a beautiful story with a stunning message; that no matter your size you can still feel scared and be brave. The soft gentle bob of the words will have your little on settling in for the night. 

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Elmer, £6.99, Waterstones (opens in new tab)

A brilliant book celebrating diversity and uniqueness with a soft bumpy rhythm, perfect for bedtime stories. 

Mum-of-one Steph tells us; "my son loves this book so much, its a lovely calming read." 

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Yawn, £7.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

We all know a yawn is contagious, and this book is all about passing on a yawn. From baby Sean to all the animals a toddler recognises. 

Kids (three to 11 year olds)

This age range is where you can really support and instil a love of books within your children. Bedtime stories become less about simple sounds and repetition instead there are more characters and more detailed plot lines. This can really help you and your youngster to bond, encouraging using different voices and helping them to recognise words and sentences, at the same time as having fun.

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The Girl and the Dinosaur, £6.99, Waterstones (opens in new tab)

A beautifully written book, which shares magical dreams and playful thoughts. A girl finds dinosaurs bones and wishes them to life in her dreams. 

Dad-of-one, Mark tells us: "This was a sheer joy to read out loud. I could see my son's eyes drooping with every page."

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Be More Bernard, £6.99, Waterstones (opens in new tab)

A heart-warming book about being yourself with pride and confidence. This is about a carrot-hating, disco-loving bunny who bravely shows his warren who he really is. 

A gently rhythmic read but fun enough to keep your little one engaged. 

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Ruby's Worry, £6.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

Reading before bed is such a bonding experience between kids and parents, and this book focuses on everyone having worries and how talking about them out loud makes them smaller.

Mum-of-two, Holly tells us; "This is such a calming read, I can feel the tension leave my son's body as we read it and discuss what's happening on the page."

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The BFG, £6.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

A great introduction to chapter books for your older kids. Roald Dahl is a classic in children's literature, this story has imaginative and funny words as you read, like 'snozzcumbers; and 'frobscottle'.

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The Day You Being, £13.99, Amazon (opens in new tab)

A heartening book which closes a day perfectly and looks ahead to tomorrow. The gentle lyrical text takes young readers on a journey showing that our greatest strengths are our differences, and the amazing dreamy illustrations send kids off into imaginative dreams.

What makes great bedtime stories?

Just like music, some books are more calming than others. The best ones lull your child into winding down to prepare them for bedtime; switching to the slow-racing thoughts, and helping little minds and bodies adjust to the transition of a quiet night. Here’s what you need to look out for;

Main talking point
A book focusing on bedtime makes for the most effective bedtime stories. Some of the best bedtime stories talk about the world outside slowing down and preparing for nighttime, or books that talk about the wonder of dreams. They may even be books that simply talk about bedtime routines. Books that help remind children what bedtime is like and help them mentally prepare. It’s helpful especially for young children, such as toddlers, to read books about bedtime routines like brushing teeth and goodnight kisses to help them get in the right frame of mind so they know what to expect. On the flip side, any book that is soothing and calming can work as a great bedtime story. As long as the colour palette and rhythm of the book are soothing it makes it a wonderful bedtime book.

Colour scheme

Nighttime is dark, the colours of the world muted until sunrise. For a book to be effective with sleepy vibes, shades of blue and black should prevail. These colours can add to a calming atmosphere in preparation for sleep. Other colour palettes with pastels can work great and be just as effective. The light and airy feel can be just as effective as heavy dark colour palettes.

Rhythm & beat

For bedtime stories, books with a rambling soft rhythm are relaxing and suggest there is no rush. Swaying rhythms can transform books into magical lullabies that essentially rock your child to sleep. The best way to find out if a rhythm is right for a bedtime story is to just read it out loud. You’ll find the rhythm there.

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Stephanie Lowe
Stephanie Lowe

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodTo covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. With his love of choo-choos, Hey Duggee and finger painting he keeps her on her toes.