My earliest memories of being read to as a child concern books about a specific subject. These were the books that my parents picked out to try to make me fall asleep and stay asleep. A relaxing tradition, I’d sit on their lap and they’d read to me. (It didn’t often work. I have been, am, and always will be an insomniac.) When my brother was born a few years later, these books again became a staple to our household. (They worked with him.)
I’m talking about bedtime stories. Bedtime stories influence us even into adulthood. These stories are remembered with fondness. I’ve already spoken about some bedtimes stories such as Goodnight Moon, and analyzed it so today, I’m just going to look at the way that bedtime stories are structured and written. There are several reasons why children are read these books. First of all, there is the idea that routine and structure helps a child. This can certainly be a good thing; they don’t feel anxiety over what their day will be like because they know what will happen, and they know it’s time to sleep after a story is read to them.
Many bedtime stories are simply about the routine of the child in the act of getting ready for bed. “A close look at the way bedtime story routines…taught children how to take meaning from books raises a heavy sense of the familiar in all of us who have required mainstream habits and values.” (Heath, 54) Seeing this recur in several stories shows just how normal bedtime is, not only for children or people, but even for animals, such as in The Napping House. The Napping House by Audrey Wood reminds me of The Mitten, as several animals go to sleep and get into bed. Again there is a mouse, but “on that mouse there is a flea…a wakeful flea on a slumbering mouse, on a snoozing cat, on a dozing dog, on a dreaming child, on a snoring granny, on a cozy bed, in a napping house where everyone is sleeping.” (Wood, 14) In Peter, Good Night there is a flipping of the Goodnight Moon story- as the bunny in Goodnight Moon says goodnight to the objects, the things outside of Peter’s window say goodnight to him. “The treetops swayed in the wind. ‘Good night,’ the trees nodded. ‘May your sleep be gentle.'” (Weir, 8) By ‘nodding’ the trees could also be ‘nodding off to sleep’ and getting rest, or they may be nodding in approval of his going to sleep. In any case, the emphasis on the surroundings outside, the moon, the trees, the birds; all indicate that night is a natural time and a time for sleeping.
Sleeping is a normal activity that everybody has to take part in to take care of themselves. The act of reading is clearly part of the routine, as mentioned in My Goodnight Book where “Daddy reads me a bedtime story. He lets me turn the pages for him.” (Wilkin, 6). The girl in getting ready for bed, is able to get dressed by herself, brush her teeth, and takes part in helping her father read to her, as she turns the pages for him as he reads. It is another step towards independence for her to experience being read to. “We seek what explanations, asking what the topic is, establishing it as predictable, and recognizing it in new situational contexts by classifying it and categorizing it in our mind with other phenomena.” (Heath, 54) Through this story, children can learn what to expect at bedtime, and it becomes predictable as they learn that reading a story is part of the bedtime routine.
The Napping House is repetitive as every page not only goes through the list of animal getting into the bed but ends with the same words “in a napping house where everyone is sleeping.” (Wood.) Those words can be expected, just like the act of going to bed after the story is read. When Mama comes home tonight is also a story with repetition. The first line of the book and the last line of the book are the same: “When Mama comes home from work, dear child when Mama comes home tonight.” (Spinelli, 1) The ending and the beginning have come to a full circle, the conclusion is satisfying, and there are no big surprises. “He already responds to rhyme and rhythm, alliteration and imagery, and through poems about things that fall within his observation, or that appeal to his inherent ideals, mother,…may lay the foundation of literary appreciation that will normally develop through his school…years. (Patricia) These stories are comforting because the use of language, alliteration, repetition and rhythm are already familiar.
These stories in their familiarity with rhythm and routine, help to relieve anxieties, soothe worries about the current day, and help to establish tomorrow as a new day.
- Spinelli, Eileen. When Mama Comes Home Tonight. New York: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 1998.
- Weir, Alison. Peter, Good Night. New York: Dutton, 1989.
- Wilkin, Eloise Burns. My Goodnight Book. New York: Golden, 1981.
- Wood, Audrey. The Napping House. San Diego: Harcourt Brace &, 2000.
- Uricchio, Bill. “Goodnight!” Web log post. BUNELS-Bulletin of the New England Library Scientists. WordPress, 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. <http://bunels.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/313/>.
- Writing Canvas. “Daily Prompt: Bedtime Stories~Favourite Childhood Book.” Web log post. Writing Canvas. WordPress, 21 Mar. 2013. Web. 30 Mar. 2013. <http://writingcanvas.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/daily-prompt-bedtime-stories-favorite-childhood-book/.>
- Heath, Shirley Brice. “What No Bedtime Story Means: Narrative Skills at Home and School.” Language in Society 11.2 (1982): 45-76. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.
- Patricia, Mary Joan, and S.S.J. “‘ In Readings about Children’s Literature.” Readings about Children’s Literature. Ed. Evelyn Rose Robinson. New York, N.Y.: David McKay Company, Inc., 1966. 239-248. Rpt. in Children’s Literature Review. Ed. Tom Burns. Vol. 117. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.