Listening to a bedtime story is always a wonderful way to end the day. It helps calm children down and transition them to sleep.
That’s not the only benefit of listening to stories though. Kids develop listening skills, build concentration, vocabulary, auditory perception and lots more.
Choosing the right story for your child’s level will help them reap all the benefits.
Great bedtime stories for toddlers are those that have lots of repetition, simple language, rhyme and engaging images.
Here is a list of some of my favourites, with links to Amazon as well as read-alouds on YouTube, so your toddlers can see the pictures while listening to the story.
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1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, is one of the cutest stories for toddlers. My daughter used to request it night after night.
A tiny and hungry caterpillar pops out of an egg and goes in search of food. He eats through one apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday and five oranges on Friday.
On Saturday he devours everything from ice cream to pickles, then eats a leaf on Sunday. The caterpillar builds a cocoon and stays inside until a beautiful butterfly emerges.
This story introduces children to the days of the week, counting in sequence, and life cycles, making it a great choice for young kids.
2. Monkey Puzzle
Monkey Puzzle, by the popular author Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Sheffler, is about a monkey who has lost his mom in the jungle.
A butterfly tries to help him find his mother but keeps finding the wrong animals, based on the description that the monkey gives the butterfly. The butterfly doesn’t realize that the monkey looks the same as his mom because the butterflies children – the caterpillars – don’t look the same as her.
Toddlers enjoy shouting out “No, no, no! That’s an elephant.” or “No, no, no! That’s a frog.” every time the butterfly gets it wrong.
This story has lots of rich and descriptive vocabulary.
3. The Tiger Who Came to Tea
The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a story that author Judith Kerr made up for her daughter when she was almost three, which was then published in 1968.
The author grew up in Nazi Germany and endured much as a child, always fearful that her Jewish father would be captured. Some have wondered whether the uninvited guest – the tiger who takes everything from them – alludes to the times. Her family story is a touching one. [source]
The Tiger Who came to Tea is about a little girl called Sophie who’s having tea with her mum when there’s a ring at the door. It turns out to be a tiger, who invites himself in for tea and lands up eating and drinking everything they have.
He eats all the sandwiches, buns, biscuits and cakes, and drinks all the milk in the milk jug and all the tea in the teapot.
He goes on to eat the supper that’s cooking in the saucepan, the food in the fridge and everything in the cupboards. He drinks all the milk, juice, beer and even the water in the tap!
4. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is one of a series of similar books by Laura Joffe Numeroff, and is illustrated by Felicia Bond.
It tells the sequence of events that occurs if you give a mouse a cookie until it comes full circle and the mouse asks for a cookie again.
To sum it up, if you give a mouse a cookie, he’ll ask for a glass of milk, a straw and a napkin. He’ll check in the mirror for a milk moustache, trim his hair and land up sweeping and washing the floors.
He’ll then want to nap and listen to a story, draw pictures from the story and hang his picture on the refrigerator.
This will remind him that he’s thirsty and asking for a glass of milk will surely make him ask for a cookie again!
Toddlers love listening to what the mouse does and they can also start to predict the sequence of events from the pictures.
5. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is another great book by Eric Carle, who has written a series of wonderful toddler books. It is co-authored by Bill Martin Jr.
This book is written in simple language and has short, repetitive phrases that young toddlers can say along with you.
It opens with “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? I see a red bird looking at me.” The next page asks “Red Bird, Red Bird, What do you see? I see a yellow duck looking at me.”
Toddlers can learn the colours and memorize simple phrases while looking at the brightly coloured illustrations.
Listen to the story, which also has animal sounds to go with the story.
6. The Paper Dolls
The Paper Dolls, by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb, is a touching story about a young girl whose mother helps her to make a string of paper dolls.
The paper dolls go on adventures, which the young girl acts out while pretend playing.
Your kids will enjoy listening to the names of the dolls as they chant “We’re Ticky and Tacky and Jackie the Backie and Jim with two noses and Jo with the bow!”
It’s hard not to get emotional reading about the passage of time and how the girl grows up into a mother who helps her own little girl make some paper dolls.
7. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, by Dr. Seuss, is a fun rhyming book for younger kids. In typical Dr. Seuss style, it is filled with funny phrases and nonsense words, and plays with rhyme throughout.
Here’s an example page:
Bump! Bump! Bump!
Did you ever ride a Wump?
We have a Wump with just one hump.
But we know a man called Mr. Gump.
Mr Gump has a seven hump Wump.
So…if you like to go Bump! Bump!
Just jump on the hump of the Wump of Gump.
That’s a mouthful, but so fun to listen to and excellent for developing auditory perception and rhyming skills, which are important pre-reading skills.
In fact, I recommend reading Dr. Seuss books (and Julia Donaldson) if you want to prepare your children from an early age to become good readers, along with reading them poems, singing nursery rhymes and playing listening games.
8. Oi Frog!
Oi, Frog! is by Kes Gray and Jim Field and is the first book in the funny series of Oi books.
In the book the cat yells “Oi Frog! Sit on a log”, but the frog doesn’t want to sit on a log because it’s uncomfortable.
He asks if he can sit on a number of other objects but they’ve all been accounted for: cats sit on mats, hares sit on chairs, mules sit on stools, etc. He is unimpressed when he finds out at the end that dogs sit on frogs!
This series of books is also perfect for teaching rhyming.
9. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt
We’re Going On a Bear Hunt, by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, is a fun toddler bedtime story because it’s full of actions and is sung more than read.
A family go on a bear hunt but must go swishy swashy through long grass, splash splosh through the river, squelch squerch through the mud, stumble trip through the forest, hoooo woooo through the snowstorm and tiptoe, tiptoe through a cave!
This story will teach your little ones positional language, as well as onomatopoeia.
10. Ten Minutes to Bed: Little Monster
These final three books are going-to-bed stories that might help put your toddlers into a sleepy mood.
Ten Minutes to Bed: Little Monster is one of the Ten Minutes to Bed series written by Rhiannon Fielding and illustrated by Chris Chatterton.
These cute stories tell all the adventures that the characters get up to in the countdown to bedtime, which always ends with them winding down and getting ready for bed as the time gets closer.
I like the Little Monster book because it does a good job of making monsters seem cute and less scary for young children.
11. Good Night, Harry
Good Night, Harry, written by Kim Lewis is a sweet story about Harry, an elephant who gets ready for bed with his friends Lulu the sheep and Ted the teddy bear, but he struggles to fall asleep.
He tries to read books, hang his clothes, clean his room and do all kinds of exercises, but he still lies awake, worrying.
His friends eventually help him to get sleepy by singing a song and counting the stars as they sit together and look out the window.
Sleepyheads, by Sandra J. Howatt and Joyce Wan, is a simple board book about sleep for young toddlers.
There are sleepyheads everywhere – a bird cuddled in a nest, a bear in a cave, and inside the house there’s a puppy beside the fireplace and a baby sleeping in his mama’s arms.
Looking for more stories for kids? Here are four funny stories about animals and four 5-minute bedtime stories.
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