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12 Bedtime Books That Will Actually Make Your Baby Sleepy

Photograph by Twenty20

The cozy ritual of reading bedtime stories is one of my favorite parts of motherhood. When we're cuddled up in the glider, my baby's warm body snuggled on my lap, all seems right with the world. In the early days, she may not have understood the words, but I think she liked the sound of my voice and the lilting cadences of the stories. Now, at 13 months, she's the one pulling favorite books off the shelf, handing them to me with great urgency, turning the pages and pointing to pictures. The only problem is getting her to power down that curious little mind and go to bed! So at nighttime, I make sure to end our reading sessions with a bedtime story designed to make her sleepy. And I have to say, they really help—especially with the lights dimmed. Here are a dozen of our favorites:

1. Pajama Time, by Sandra Boynton

"The moon is up. It's getting late. Let's get ready to celebrate. It's pajama time!" With rhymes as catchy as song lyrics, "Pajama Time"makes the bedtime routine seem fun and inviting. I've got this one memorized, so I'll often recite it while I'm wrangling the baby into her PJ's on the changing table. It's higher energy than the other stories on this list, so consider this one your pre-bedtime warm-up.

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2. Time for Bed, by Mem Fox and Jane Dyer

"It's time for bed, little mouse, little mouse. Darkness is falling all over the house." On each page, we see a mama animal and her baby cozying up for nightime. The repetition of "time for bed" (and later "time for sleep") rhythmically lulls baby, while making clear that every being in the animal kingdom has a bedtime and needs rest. Subtext: That's just the way it is, so don't fight it, kid.

3. Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

"In the great, green room there was a telephone and a red balloon." There is something so comforting about saying goodnight to all the objects in the room, from an innocuous pair of mittens to the more mysterious "noises everywhere." Kids' imaginations run wild at night, and dark shapes and shadows can become monsters. By identifying everything, we take away the scariness. (That weird picture on the wall? It's just bears sitting in chairs, honey bun.) Sometimes after I read this classic to my baby, I'll turn out the lights and sing goodnight to some of the things in our nursery.

4. Hush Little Baby, by Sylvia Long

"Hush little baby, don't say a word. Mama's going to show you a hummingbird." Though based on the classic lullaby, "Hush Little Baby" makes an important change to the words; instead of buying baby various gifts such as a mockingbird and a diamond ring, this mama comforts her baby with simple joys from nature and home, such as a harvest moon, a shooting star, and a song played on the banjo. You can read it or sing it and you may even be inspired to make some additions to your bedtime routine—like checking out the sunset and listening for crickets.

5. In the Tall, Tall Grass, by Denise Fleming

"Crunch, munch, caterpillars lunch." A little boy peers through the tall, tall grass and spies a caterpillar eating. But the caterpillar (which can be spotted on every page, Where's Waldo-style) is just the beginning of this adventure in nature, where we meet hummingbirds, beetles, moles and more. The gorgeous illustrations and spare descriptions are pure poetry, but what makes this a great bedtime book is the gentle transition from day into night, as the bats come out and finally the moon. Good night, tall, tall grass.

6. Good Night New Baby, by Adam Gamble, Mark Jasper and Ruth Palmer

"Good morning newborn baby in your mother's arms. Are we ready to share a wonderful day?" Part of the popular "Goodnight Our World" series, this story follows a newborn baby home from the hospital and greets all the people and things in baby's life, like the nursery, stroller and adoring grandparents. At the end of baby's day, the entire family is gathered around the crib, watching over their sleeping little one—a comforting image right before light's out.

7. I Love You, Goodnight, by Jon Buller, Susan Schade and Bernadette Pons

"I love you like I love blueberry pancakes!" A mama mouse compares her love for little mouse to all the best things in the world, ascribing loving feelings to animals, plants and even footwear ("I love you like boots love splashing in puddles"). Scenes move gradually from day to evening, with baby mouse glimpsing a full moon before being tucked into bed. The last words are "I love you, good night," making this book a seamless segue to the crib.

8. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, by Sherry Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld

"Down in the big construction site, the tough trucks work with all their might." But even trucks have to turn off their engines and rest up for another day of playing outside—a perfect metaphor for busy kids. Each construction vehicle, from cement mixer to bulldozer, gets its own sleepytime send-off. Delightful for babies and toddlers who love things that go "Vroom."

9. Sheep Go to Sleep, by Nancy Shaw and Margot Apple

"Winking fireflies light the way, as sheep stroll home to hit the hay." The sleep are having trouble falling asleep, so a trusty collie helps them out with blankets, hugs and a drink of water, just as a mama would. Like the other sheep books in this series, the author uses advanced vocabulary and funny rhymes to tell a simple story, making this a book that will grow with baby into toddlerhood and beyond.

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10. Goodnight Gorilla, by Peggy Rathmann

"Goodnight gorilla. Goodnight elephant. Goodnight lion." In this well-loved book with few words but a funny story, a gorilla snatches the zookeeper's keys and frees each zoo animal from its cage right after the zookeeper says goodnight. What happens next is pure comedy, with everybody sleeping in the wrong place—but hey, at least they're sleeping!

11. The Going to Bed Book, by Sandra Boynton

"The sun has set not long ago. Now everybody goes below..." The usual Boynton crew of expessive animals (hippo, bunny, cat, moose) are living on a boat together. We follow their bedtime routine above and below deck, ending with the moonlit vessel rocking them all to sleep. A little simultaneous rocking in our glider chair goes a long way towards dreamland.

12. Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book, by Karen Katz

"My tired little baby, do you need a kiss?" Thus begins a kissing countdown, from 10 teeny toes to one sleepy, dreamy head. It's a wonderful book for teaching counting and body parts while encouraging lots of kisses and cuddles. The story wraps up with baby snug in bed, feeling very loved, making this one of our best-loved bedtime stories. Nighty night!

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