Our first guest blogger, as I toil away at grading my students' amazing final portfolios, is my dear friend Cyd. Here she is:
I can't remember exactly when it happened, but sometime around the time that Rebekah, my oldest, was weaned (at 15 months), we started our routine of books before bed. It wasn't much earlier; prior to that she wasn't too interested, and once we were upstairs in the nursery and in the rocking chair she wanted just to nurse and go to sleep (she's always loved her sleep, that one). But at some point, when the nursing went away, the books came in.
For a long, long time we rotated between five: the classic Goodnight Moon, Sandra Boynton's Going to Bed Book and Pajama Time, Todd Parr's Otto Goes to Bed, and Kate Banks's Close Your Eyes (illustrated by Georg Hallensleben).
So much has been said about Goodnight Moon (some of it on this blog) and there's not much more to say. It is, in many ways, a perfect book. The quiet rhythm of the words, the incredible detail of the illustrations -- every day my daughter would point out something new in the pictures that she hadn't noticed before, even though we read it over and over again. It is such a satisfying putting-to-bed book.
Of course it feels like everybody with young children knows Sandra Boynton too. Maybe the biggest problem with Sandra Boynton is that she is so prolific. Where does one even start with her? Which ones to buy? I'm a big fan of Barnyard Dance, but these two bedtime ones are also good places to begin. You can't really read Pajama Time!; you have to sing it. And while I wouldn't call it a lullaby -- it's more of a rollicking good ditty -- it does end with a nice and final "Good night. Sleep tight" that is the perfect precursor to lights out and a good-night kiss.
Otto Goes to Bed is one in a series of Otto-the-dog books (my children are also particularly fond of Otto Has a Birthday Party, in which Otto's birthday cake, made himself with ingredients including shoes and a cootie bug, explodes when he takes it out of the oven). In this book, Otto doesn't want to go to bed, but finally realizes that bedtime is fun "if you dream about all your favorite things." I don't particularly like books where the children (or dogs) don't want to go to bed; although I know that many children can identify with this, Rebekah always did like going to bed and I didn't want her to get the idea that this was not the norm. (In contrast, her sister, Ellie, who is 2, has always hated sleep and I need nothing to reinforce her feelings about bedtime!) And I'm never sure how much children understand the concept of dreams anyhow (the other night, Ellie woke up crying and when I asked her if she'd had a bad dream she said, "Yes, yes, bad dream!" but then when I said, "Ellie, what is a dream?" she looked at me quizzically and said, "I don' know!"). Not to mention you can't exactly make yourself dream about what you want to dream about. But Rebekah and Ellie have no such quibbles with the book. They love it, and I don't mind reading it over and over.
By far my favorite, though, is Close Your Eyes, which was given to me by my friend Lauren, whose twin boys (now 13) loved it when they were little. For about a year and a half, although we rotated through the others, this one was a constant: we read it twice a day, every day, before nap and before bedtime. It's the story of a little tiger who doesn't want to go to sleep and comes up with a myriad of excuses ("but if I close my eyes, I can't see the sky! I can't see the bird with the blue feathers!"). His mother gently reminds him of the power of imagination ("you can see all kinds of birds with different feathers") and at last he confesses what is really at issue: "I'm scared." His mother reassures him that she will be there in the morning, offers him pleasant things to dream about, and nestles close to him as he finally closes his eyes.
I can take issue with this book in the same ways I take issue with Otto Goes to Bed: it reinforces the idea that children don't like going to bed; it suggests you can determine your own dreams, etc. But in this case none of it bothers me at all. The language is poetic; the relationship between the mother and baby tiger so real and warm; and the illustrations (by the artist who illustrated Mommy Hugs and Daddy Kisses) are lush and beautiful. Eighteen months, twice a day -- that's equal to about 1,100 readings, and I was still sad when Rebekah decided she was ready to move on to other things. She still lets me read it to her once in a while, and I'm hoping Ellie is close to hitting her phase of being obsessed with it.
Thank you, Cyd! And goodnight to all.