bedtime picture books for little ones with big imaginations

There's a delicate balance that bedtime books must strike: they should be entertaining and spark the imagination... but only so much. After all, the little ones being read to need to fall asleep! These two titles, one newer and one a couple of years old, have loads of imagination packed into them, but also, in their own uncanny ways, tell the story that it's nighttime, and it's safe to go to sleep.

nasla's dream book cover
At bedtime, a mysterious yellow dot appears above the top of Nasla's wardrobe--the new home for her toys now that she's decided she's too old to sleep with stuffed animals. Could it be Timboubou the elephant, or her hippo with the broken foot? As a wondrous, dreamlike world with dancing moons and swinging elephant trunks emerges from the shadows, she longs to sing and reassure her toys, but she worries that dancing and singing at night is not allowed. When her fear grows too big, she finds comfort in the secret charm under her pillow and falls asleep. The surreal imagery of
Nasla's Dream beautifully depicts the imaginary world of a young child learning how to become independent.

In Cécile Roumiguière's picture book Nasla's Dream, illustrated by Simone Rea, a young girl named Nasla has decided she's too old to sleep with her stuffed animals – but she is still a little bit worried about the mysterious yellow dot that shows up in her room once the lights are turned off. Her imagination takes several turns, supposing what the dot might be: her stuffed turtle? An elephant? A squid? All the while Nasla reminds herself that nighttime is not the time for singing, talking, or playing, but for sleeping. And eventually, she falls asleep.


Roumiguière’s text takes the authentic twists and turns that minds do when deprived of stimuli in the dark, right before bed (especially imaginative young minds), but it is Rea’s stunning oil paintings that really distinguish this book. The surrealist style is deeply weird and yet somehow comforting: each page spread pictures exactly the sort of thing the brain conjures up while dreaming – ripples in the floorboards, ghosts with long arms, a box with tentacles, and a playful moon, to name a few! The background of all of the pages is black, with vivid colors painted over top or details picked out in primary colors. This is a beautiful, strange book, and it has an unusual appeal. It’s not wholly heartening, and yet it’s also not eerie – it’s just right for bedtime.


Recommended for: little ones ages 3 and up, for bedtime storytelling, and especially for young ones who are always dreaming, either awake or asleep.

the night box by louise greig and ashling lindsay book cover
When a little boy opens the Night Box, darkness swoops out, a fox uncurls, and a thousand stars sparkle and shine. Night flows freely then, cavorting and exploring, caring for all its creatures until morning comes, and it’s time for Night to rest again.

With its soothing cadences and air of quiet wonder, The Night Box is sure to charm any sleepy listener who wonders what happens between sunset and sunrise.

I originally picked up Louise Greig's The Night Box, illustrated by Ashling Lindsay, because it was exceptionally pretty, with a whimsical art style and hand-lettered title (and if we're being honest, because of the fox on the cover!). What I found when I read it was a lovely book all-around, with evocative prose, beautiful word choices, and a message about the day ending, the night beginning, and the rhythms of that shift at dusk. The title refers to the metaphor/personification of nighttime living in a locked box, and being mischievous and kind when it is "unleashed" and chases away the day. Nocturnal animals come out to play while others bed down, and the pastoral scenes are gorgeously detailed by Lindsay.

This book is destined to be great bedtime reading, especially to reassure little ones that the dark isn't something to be feared, but to be welcomed. It may not help children already convinced of monsters under the bed, but the comforting and thoughtful text and detailed and whimsical art are sure to be a hit with parents and kids alike.

Recommended for: bedtime story fodder, readers of all ages who want to chase away nighttime's bad reputation, and anyone who appreciates a gorgeously-illustrated picture book.

Fine print: I received a finished copy of Nasla's Dream for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

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