The story of my life – the hidden perils of picking the bedtime book

August 20, 2015

The perils of picking bedtime stories for your children

Think pre-sleep story time is a restful chance to bond with your child before bed?

Think again.

Like most households we have a bedtime routine of bath, story, bed. (Or in our case, occasional bath, story, story, multiple requests for water, hunt for the missing teddy bear, “get back into bed please”, story, “yes that’s lovely but it’s bedtime now”, shadow puppets, “OK one more story and THEN sleep?”, singing, sleep, awake, sleep).

But however long or short bedtime is, stories and books have always played a big part of it. But here’s where you can run into trouble. Choose the wrong book and bedtime the potential to be a thriller and not a fairy tale, often with a hidden plot twist at the end (usually along the lines of think I’m asleep? Think again!) It is rife with perils and potential pitfalls.

Here’s how the choice of bedtime story can be the difference between a terrible cliffhanger or happily ever after for all concerned…

Babies and bedtime stories

Story 1: Inappropriate reading material

We went through a phase where Eliza shunned all books in favour of…the latest takeaway menu that came through the door. I’m glad we moved on from this brief phase, as it’s kind of tricky to spin a good yarn from ‘vegetarian pizza’ or ‘number 57 chicken korma and rice’. And there’s nothing worse than talking about food when the dinner with your name on is waiting downstairs while your child shows no signs of sleep.

Story 2: The one that got away

Children love repetition, don’t they? And nothing more so than reading the same bedtime book again and again. But there’s having a favourite, then there’s reading the same thing forever. For what seems like the rest of your life. We were suffering from an acute case of RSI (Repetitive Story Injury) when Miffy Goes to Stay went on an extended vacation in the Hotel La Cupboard. Shhh, it’s still there now.

Story 3: Tears before bedtime

The Paper Dolls, oh The Paper Dolls! *wells up*. Julia Donaldson? Nice illustrations? About a young girl? It looked so innocent in the shops, and we were both looking forward to it. But I was caught out by the mention of the mean brother, the kind grandma who lives in her memory, the rapid passing of time when the girl grows up and makes the dolls for her own children….’Why are you crying?’ asks Eliza as I wipe away floods of tears. ‘And can we read it again?’ Night after night of emotional overload awaits.

Story 4: More tears before bedtime

Dogger. No sniggering at the back there! This Shirley Hughes classic was named in much more innocent times. This was a childhood favourite, and my mum sent me my copy when she found out I was pregnant. I sobbed for days after I re-read it.

Three years later, I thought it would be OK, until ‘Why are you crying, Mummy?’ It turns out the passing of time and the absence of pregnancy hormones hasn’t dulled the emotion.

Needless to say this is now a favourite, of course. I love it, but my breath still catches in my chest every time.

Story 5: Making it up as you go along

At the end of the evening we move on to ‘made up stories.’ Some made up stories are tame (Eliza goes to the seaside, Aunnaaaah and Elsa go skiing down the North Mountain) but it’s when we reach uncharted territory that it becomes troublesome. Her new favourite thing is The Avengers, her Dad’s specialist subject, about which I know nothing. It took a while for me to memorise the names of Iron Man, The Black Widow and the Hulk et al. Until one night the plot thickened. ‘Who is Falcon?’ I texted my husband from under the covers ‘She’s insisting he’s an Avenger…is she winding me up?’ Turns out she wasn’t. So hard to stay on track on unfamiliar ground. ‘Shall we have a made up story about Olaf’s babyccino in the cafe?’ I ask, hopefully.

Story 6: Cutting a long story short

Star Wars is still a firm favourite in this house, even more so when Eliza was given a Star Wars annual that told the story of all six films. This is another we had to hide under the pile, after reading it so often. Eliza soon sussed this out though, requesting ‘let’s have a made up Star Wars story!’ Which always turns out to be the story of Star Wars, in its six volume entirety.

The trouble is, the story of all six films is long, so in a bid to actually have my dinner, I try and be a bit creatively short. But she knows. ‘You’ve missed out Jabba the Hutt! Start again, Mummy.’ Every. Single. Time.

How’s bedtime story time in your house? Sweet dreams, everyone..

P.S. Everything I learned from Judy Blume books, IKEA spice rack bookshelves for children and a question.


  • Sarah Rooftops

    August 20, 2015 at 9:19 am

    Matilda’s still teeny so bedtime stories are just sing song noises aimed at sending her to sleep just now. A couple of days ago, I turned to a mums’ group on Facebook for more book recommendations because I’d read “The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name” roughly seventy million times already and it was driving me insane (it does work like magic, though – she rarely makes it past the letter T).

  • Jess @ Along Came Cherry

    August 21, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    We don’t do stories at bedtime anymore! We were always too tired and we both dreaded it plus the kids always ran around screaming and not listening anyway so we brought all the books downstairs. It’s made bedtime much easier! x

  • Cathy

    August 23, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    Our major bedtime stories issue at the moment is Cherry wanting eight billion stories before bed. I’ve started getting her anthologies as she wants so many, but now it’s ‘Can I have ALL the Oliver Pigs and ALL the Paddingtons and ALL the Charlie and Lolas….’ I swore to myself I’d never push her to learn to read and I don’t think she’ll be truly ready for a good long while yet but I have to say at times I do look forward to the day when she can read ALL THE BOOKS HERSELF 😉

    Bet I miss it when she can, though. Especially as V HAS to do whatever Cherry’s doing so she’ll probably learn to read at the same time despite being 20 months younger!

  • Elaine Livingstone

    August 23, 2015 at 9:19 pm

    chicken licken was read to death, son was allowed 3 books a night and many a night it was chicken licken 3 times, grew to hate that book.

  • Kathryn (@KatGotTheCream)

    August 31, 2015 at 11:07 am

    The take-away menu made me laugh. One of my son’s favourite books is a birthday cake decorating book! I still haven’t read the Paper Dolls yet – almost daren’t.

    On a side note, just read the new Judy Blume – have you? Would be interested to know your thoughts.. xx

  • Slummy single mummy

    December 1, 2017 at 9:46 pm

    Haha! My step-sister illustrated Paper Dolls so I will let her know she is to blame for point three 🙂

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