Bedtime stories are a deep part of our culture. They are an intimate time where our children are assured, taught lessons, and given vivid characters by which to grow their imagination.
There are many great bedtime stories out there but we endeavored to find the top 10 bedtime stories of all time. These books are all available for purchase online and also probably at your local bookstore. You’ve probably heard of most—but likely not all!
What Makes A Good Bedtime Story?
When we set out to create a list of the best bedtime stories we considered several different factors. Each of these factors is relevant to reading bedtime stories whether you’re laying on your favorite mattress reading to your child or are crammed into coach on an international flight.
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First, we considered how applicable each story is to modern life. For example, The Little Hero of Haarlem might leave many kids wandering what a Dike is—and you not wanting to broach the particulars of the evolution of language just yet.
Second, we considered the time it would take to tell these tales. While many parents love to read their children to sleep, few care to read 3 hour-long sagas on a regular basis.
Third, we considered the overall moral fiber. Some stories are entertaining but won’t necessarily help teach our children anything. We’re not talking hard math here—we’re talking about life lessons!
Our Favorite Bedtime Stories
Below you’ll find a list of each of our favorite bedtime stories with just a little bit of description—but no spoilers! Without further ado, we present our top ten bedtime stories of all time!
1 Goodnight Moon – By Margaret Wise Brown And Clement Hurd
Goodnight Moon is among the best bedtime stories for kids ever told. It’s written in short poem form to describe the bedtime routine of a rabbit that is, arguably, postponing his slumber as long as possible. Through his endeavor to properly drift to sleep, he wishes every object within sight good night until finally resigning that there is nothing left to say except “Goodnight Moon.”
Pros: Short and to the point, peaceful and related to sleeping, beautifully-illustrated.
Cons: Pretty generic and might get old quickly.
2 The Very Hungry Caterpillar – By Eric Carle
The Very Hungary Caterpillar is a lovable tale of the journey of a caterpillar which takes place full of pages consisting of beautiful and engaging popups. This book is among the best kids bedtime storybooks from the early 2000s and can be read over and over again.
This book was featured front and center at nearly every bookstore and middle school book fairs across the United States for years and has sold millions of copies worldwide since. This book is great to help exposure basic concepts of growing up and counting in a fun and engaging way.
Pros: Simple and short, beautifully illustrated, exciting popup format, helps reinforce basic concepts like aging and counting.
Cons: Maybe a little short for those that need to wear down their little hellions before they’ll drift away.
3 Where The Wild Things Are By Maurice Sendak
Where the Wild Things Are may be the most well-known modern bedtime story. It entails a story of a boy named Max who is sent to bed early after dressing up in a monster costume and causing chaos among the household. Max finds that his bedroom has transformed into a mysterious land where wild creatures roam freely and have all sorts of fun.
After a while, Max finds that he misses his family and chooses to return home—where it finds a warm dinner waiting for him. This book hits all the high notes and can be an enjoyable read for adults and children alike. It is much more enjoyable than the 2009 Movie adaptation produced by Tom Hanks!
Pros: Stimulates imagination, describes bedtime as fun, reinforces familial bonds, perfect length.
Cons: None, it’s perfect!
4 Winnie-The-Pooh By A A Milne
The class tale of Winnie-the-Pooh gave way to one of the most dynastic children’s tale franchises in modern history. This classic tale of Christopher Robbins and the lovable animals of the Hundred Acre Woods in a lovable and amusing series of adventures.
The bear, famous for getting his head caught in beehives, went on to share his adventures in movies, television series, and many other books but the original still pulls the heartstrings of kids and adults of all ages. This is another timeless tale that relies on amusement and imagination to engage readers.
Pros: Imaginative, funny, well-rounded, very light and pleasant, has tons of supplemental things such as toys and cartoons to add to it.
Cons: Illustrations are a bit dated, too long for a single reading (~170 pages)
5 Bear Called Paddington By Michael Bond
This classic tale marks the first appearance of Paddington Bear which would later go on to make as many as 20+ appearances in children’s books written by author Michael Bond. Paddington is a bear from the deep forests of Peru which peddles about wearing a large floppy-brim hat, an overcoat, and carries a suitcase which has secret compartments.
This tale is a great way to expose children to the concepts of other cultures, the benefits of travel, and different customs from other cultures. This story is full of fun little quirks to help keep attention spans focused.
Pros: Fun-loving tale, about a stuffed bear, paints the world in a positive and adventurous light, many tales to expand the story with.
Cons: A bit dated, takes place in specific locations, too long for single sitting read (~176 pages)
6 The Cat In The Hat By Dr. Seuss
This title needs little introduction, being part of the incredible selection of stories from children’s book savant Theodore Suess Geisel. The Cat in the Hat details the highly-imaginative account of a cat who appears to a pair of siblings upon their mother’s leaving of the house.
Throughout the day the Cat, along with his companions Thing 1 and Things 2, proceed to wreck the house while the kids (and their talking pet fish) object repeatedly. This book was written with the purpose of being a more exciting and engaging primary for basic reading skills. Arguably, ever Dr. Suess book belongs on this list but in an effort to be fair to others we forced ourselves to pick just one.
Dr. Suess was arguably the most prolific children’s writer of modern history and his books tell stories and teach lessons that can be heard on different levels during nearly every phase of life.
Pros: Imaginative, well-illustrated, characters appear in more stories, it’s Dr. Suess.
Cons: Surely you weren’t expecting any.
7 The Story Of Babar By Jean De Brunhoff
The Story of Babar is the classic French tale of an elephant that leaves the jungle after his mother has been shot by hunters. Babar then proceeds to travel to civilization where he experiences many of the wonders of modern (1937) life and all that it entails. After leaving the city with cousins Celeste and Arthur Babar returns to the jungle to find that his father has died after eating a poisonous mushroom.
Babar is then crowned king of the jungle and goes on to apply his worldly wisdom to help his tribe survive. This book is a fun-loving tell but also told from a voice of days passed. The recurrent theme of death might turn some parents off this title but we suggest giving it a try before altogether dismissing it. This book sparked a dynasty of related books, movies, and even cartoon shows to supplement the original tale.
Pros: Exposure to global awareness, concepts of family and friends, coming of age story, nice length of 56 pages.
Cons: Themes of dying, poison mushrooms (maybe a good lesson)
8 Corduroy By Don Freeman
The Tale of Corduroy Bear details the adventure of a stuffed bear in a department store. At the beginning of the story, a mother and daughter come across him, and the daughter begs the mother to buy him. She is refused the bear and the mother notes that he is missing a button from his suspenders.
That night, when he has the store all to himself, Corduroy bear adventures to different areas on a search of his missing button. On his journey, he discovers things about his home he had never known before. The tale ends with the little girl using her piggy bank money to return to the store and buy the bear the next day. This classic tale was first published in 1976 and has been voted as one of the best children’s books in the world on more than one occasion.
Pros: Short, very visual, adventurous, lovable ending.
Cons: Maybe a little too short, illustrations a bit dated.
9 Love You Forever
Love You Forever has been among the most emotional children’s books ever written (mostly for parents) and chronicles the experiences of a young son and his mother throughout the boy’s life. The book details different changes in appearance and behavior by the boy while still always receiving a bedtime story read to him by his mother at the end of the day.
Towards the end of her life, the mother becomes too weak to sneak into her [now grown] son’s room so the son returns to his mother to recite one of the most common lullabies she would sing to him. For children, this book helps expose them to concepts of life’s cycle and help better illustrate that their parents are there even when they might act like fools.
For adults, this book will turn you into a water fountain more times than not so you may want to desensitize yourself before reading it to your kids the first time and start early enough to call your own mother after you’re done—or you won’t be able to live with yourself.
Pros: Great for kids and adults, introduces basic concepts of life’s cycle, helps show how kids change as they grow up.
Cons: Lower on the imagination scale, not super applicable to fathers or daughters.
10 Charlotte’s Web By E.B. White
Charlotte’s Web is a classic tale of a pig named Wilbur and a spider named Charlotte. In an attempt to prolong the pig’s life, Charlotte weaves praising words into her web to convince the farmer the pig shouldn’t be slaughtered.
Wilber then journeys to the fair, accompanied by Charlotte and Templeton the rat—who proceeds to cement the word Smörgåsbord into the minds of readers. Charlotte weaves the message into more webs at the fair which in turn convinces fair judges to award the pig enough recognition for the farmer to justify his keeping Wilber alive.
Charlotte passes away at the fair but not before weaving an egg sack which Wilbur returns to the barn with. This book is the best-selling kid’s story of all time and has sold tens of millions of copies worldwide since its first release. The 1973 Hanna-Barbera Animated Movie also gained a tremendous amount of recognition throughout the years as well. This book is a must-read for kids and parents of all ages and never grows old.
Pros: Classic story of an underdog (pig), love, the continuance of life, and companionship.
Cons: A bit too long for a single sitting read.
This list was put together in an effort to distill down much longer lists of classic children’s tales for parents to make a slightly less overwhelmed choice. These are all classic tales that are as timeless as they are impactful to us. Stories from Dr. Suess tell us of grand adventures and our innate potential while stories such as Love You Forever remind us of the beauty of life’s cycles.
This list of children’s books is by no means to be considered comprehensive but rather a jumping-off point for those looking to get away from often peculiar modern tales. For a more complete list, we suggest checking out the National Education Association’s Teacher’s Top 100 Books for Children. This list isn’t limited to bedtime stories but has many in there that will help kids of any age drift peacefully into never-never land (we forgot Peter Pan!)