Rachel Bomberger is the Internet marketing manager at Eerdmans. She loves reading, writing, and bedtime stories.
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By day, I read and work primarily with books for grown-ups. I enjoy this. I enjoy delving deeply into times and places far removed from my own small corner of the universe. I enjoy learning exciting new words and concepts. I enjoy feeling my mind expand as I work to comprehend ideas and perspectives that I have never before considered.
By night, however, I read kids’ books. Lots and lots of kids’ books.
We start with a pile of board books that is as big as my two-year-old can carry (and sometimes bigger). We then move on to the nonfiction books the five-year-old loves: books about sharks and dinosaurs, creepy-crawly bugs and ancient knights in armor. We go from there into the narratives my seven-year-old most appreciates: fairy tales and family stories, and one chapter of whatever longer book we’re reading (right now it’s Ramona the Pest). Then we finish up with a Bible story, say our prayers, and swap our last hugs and kisses, and I sneak downstairs as the children float away to dreamland on a sea of words and pictures.
In honor of Children’s Book Week this week (and as a rare treat for myself), I’m letting a few of these treasured bedtime stories cross over into my workday, as today and tomorrow I count down my Top Ten Family Bedtime Read-Alouds from EBYR.
10. Questionable Creatures
Pauline Baynes is the first, middle, and last reason I brought this book home. The late Ms. Baynes created the illustrations for a small part of Middle Earth and every last bit of Narnia, and I adore her work.
My son has no idea who Pauline Baynes is, but he adores this book. It’s full of unicorns, minotaurs, manticores, mermaids, and scores of other “questionable creatures,” all described and sumptuously illustrated according to the way that medieval minds — particularly those that penned the classic “bestiaries” — perceived them. (NB: those medieval minds had some wild imaginations.)
Admittedly, this fascinating little book contains a few images that I’m not completely comfortable with my sensitive five-year-old staring at endlessly. (Who knew hyenas could be so creepy?) With a heavy heart, then, I must confess that this book does occasionally spend a little time “lost” among the uppermost shelves of the bookcase.
But it’s way too cool to stay there for very long.
9. Garmann’s Summer
My husband spends his days as a rather traditional sort of pastor a rather traditional sort of church. For our children this means (in practical terms) that, while our congregation may be light on puppet shows, it is rich with sweet old ladies — each one like a grandma to them, with their purses full of Tootsie Rolls and starlight mints and their hearts full of love.
Given this, it’s not too surprising that the children and I love Garmann’s Summer. We love it because Garmann thinks about the same sorts of things they do (losing teeth, starting school, itchy mosquito bites, how many spots are on a ladybug). We especially love it, though, because the aged aunts who come to visit him in the story — Auntie Augusta, Auntie Borghild, and Auntie Ruth — remind us so much of all the dear “grandmas” we know in real life.
So often, old people in picture books come across as a.) scary, b.) funny, or c.) not actually all that old. Garmann’s aunties come across as more scared than scary, more fun than funny. They’re genuinely old, but they’re also genuinely human. What’s more, their relationship with Garmann feels straightforward, easy, affectionate — and real.
(This book might even have made it higher on the list, were it not for one page that I’ve never yet been able to read aloud without dissolving into tears.)
8. Brigid’s Cloak
Me: Which Bible story shall we read tonight, kids?
Children: Mary and Baby Jesus!
Me (in my head): Again?!
Me (out loud): Okay! The Christmas Story! Again! Hooray!
If my kids had their way, they’d live in the second chapter of Luke — with the shepherds, the angels, the stable, the animals, and (especially) the Holy Mother and Child — all year round.
Brigid’s Cloak lets them do just this. It offers a fresh retelling of one of the classic stories associated with Ireland’s Saint Brigid — a story in which, as a young girl, Brigid is transported in a vision back to Bethlehem on the night of the Savior’s birth, where she offers her cloak to the shivering Mary.
My kids love that this version of the Nativity is told from the perspective of a pious, freckle-faced, redheaded girl who is visually rendered in such a way that she looks very much like someone they might know. I love that (for once) the Nativity story is not being told from the perspective of a donkey.
7. Not Yet, Rose
My oldest child has long been fascinated by all things obstetrical. At the grand old age of four (when last I was great with child), she would spend hours flipping through my battered copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, stopping every time she got to a picture that needed explaining.
It’s been nearly three years since her baby sister was born — and we’ve since given away that old copy of What to Expect — but time hasn’t stopped her enjoying picture books about babies and childbirth as much as ever. Thus, every time that Not Yet, Rose makes its way into our bedtime lineup, I know exactly who is responsible.
My daughter loves the feeling of mounting anticipation she gets as the birth gets nearer and nearer. She loves thinking and reading about the miracle by which “baby in Mommy’s tummy” becomes just “baby.” She loves the cute little bundle of joy that is inevitably the happy result of these events.
I’m not always so gung-ho about her obsession, since read-alouds of these highly favored “baby-being-born” books so often end with her asking, “Mama, when are you going to have another baby?”
Thankfully, Not Yet, Rose offers me just the right response: “Not yet, sweetie.”
6. Peter Is Just a Baby
Peter Is Just a Baby has many of the same features that make Not Yet, Rose such a hit with us: warm and true-to-life family dynamics, relatable child characters, cute anthropomorphic animals.
To its great credit, it also features a lot of other nice things as well: a birthday party, ice cream at the beach, at least one pink tutu, (absolutely zero pregnant mothers), and a grandma who’s teaching the big sister who narrates the story to speak French. (Fret not, non-Francophiles: a handy pronouncing glossary is included in the front matter.)
My children may not have a French grand-mère or a baby brother, but they do have a pesky little sister and an Opa who delights in teaching them snatches of German. Can you say Gesundheit and Guten Appetit? Close enough.
Be sure to stop by tomorrow to discover the top five books on Rachel’s list of Top Ten Family Bedtime Read-Alouds.