‘It’s where the seeds of a child’s love for books and reading are planted’: Katrina Charman on the magic of bedtime stories

Published on: 31 May 2019 Author: Katrina Charman

Katrina Charman, author of the brilliant Pyjamarama 2019 book Car, Car, Truck, Jeep, tells us why she treasures time spent sharing bedtime stories with her daughters and chooses her favourite bedtime picture books.

Katrina Charman and the cover of Car, Car, Truck, Jeep

Books and stories have always been big part of my life. My parents read to me from the moment I was born, and I developed a love of books and reading from a very early age which has never gone away.

I passed that love on to my own daughters and read them bedtime stories whenever I could. Even now that they are well past bedtime story age (although I don’t believe there should ever be an age where we grow out of reading bedtime stories!), I still read to them and with them whenever they ask.

The time spent with them laughing and gasping and reading along to stories, and pointing out the beautifully illustrated texts, has been one of my favourite things to do with my daughters and is always the best part of my day.

Although I know they will eventually grow out of wanting me to read with them, I hope that day is a long way off.

Because bedtime stories benefit not only the child, but the parent, too. They generate discussions about all kinds of issues and can help children talk about their own thoughts and feelings, and to develop empathy and sympathy with characters.

Most importantly, reading with your child builds bonds - even spending just ten minutes at the end of a hectic day is valuable time to spend with those you love.

My favourite bedtime stories

Although it was incredibly hard to narrow down, here are some of my favourite bedtime stories from my childhood and today.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

I was captivated by the illustrations in this book as a child, and although the text is relatively short, my children and I would pore over the beautiful pictures.

Where the Wild Things Are illustrations

Pictures to pore over: Maurice Sendak's beautiful illustrations for Where the Wild Things Are

Not Now Bernard by David McKee

There are so many layers to this book. I remember as a child feeling so annoyed on Bernard’s behalf that his parents were so neglectful! Then there was the sympathy I felt for the poor monster who was no better off than Bernard. As an adult reading this to my children, I always wondered what would come next – would the monster be ignored forever, or had Bernard in fact been turned into a monster by his parents’ lack of attention? Either way, it’s a top pick in our house.

The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business by Werner Holzwarth, illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch 

I came across this book before I had children, when I was training to be a teacher and it was always a hit with my students. Both hilarious and factual (what do different animals’ poos look like?), children love seeing the little mole get his revenge on the animal who poops on his head.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Actually, anything at all by Julia Donaldson. Writing rhyming picture books is not at all easy, and she is an absolute genius and expert in her field. I always get excited when I see that she has written a new book because I know it will be a winner.

Gruffalo Mouse and Mog

Bedtime classics: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's Gruffalo and Judith Kerr's much-loved Mog

The Mog series by Judith Kerr

Again, anything by Judith Kerr is a winner, but the Mog books were especially loved by my children. Goodbye Mog almost broke my heart but is a lovely, gentle way to introduce the concept of death.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

A classic that never gets old. I think what children love most about this book is the rhythm and repetition.

Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll, illustrated by Jan Pienkowski

My children loved all the books in this series and asked to read them again and again.

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

I loved this as a child, and it was one of my go-to books when I was a teacher to read at the end of the day.

Some tips for sharing books with children

Make it fun

Take turns making funny voices, sound effects, even singing and turning the story into a song.

Look at the pictures together

Talk to your child about what they can see. I love illustrated books which have hidden pictures for the reader to find. You can make it a game by asking children to find or count objects in the pictures.

Try something new

It can sometimes be a little repetitive when a child asks for the same story night after night, but don’t discourage them. Suggest another book similar to the one they love, perhaps find one by the same author. But if they insist on reading their favourite book for the hundredth time, don’t resist.

The books I look most fondly on now are the ones which hold the most memories, the torn, creased, well-thumbed pages of a favourite book.

This is where the seeds of a child’s love for books and reading are planted. When a child laughs and repeats the words with you until they can recite a book off by heart. These stories are what become the most cherished bedtime books of all.

Illustrations © 2018 Nick Sharratt. From Car, Car, Truck, Jeep by Katrina Charman and Nick Sharratt. Published by and reproduced by kind permission of Bloomsbury Publishing PLC.

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