May 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Are Bedtime Stories Going the Way of the Dinosaurs? | First Steps

Dino_readers_revOne of my greatest memories is reading the same, mundane book over and over again, night after night, to my firstborn over a decade ago. And yes, after the 179th reading, it was hard for me to muster the energy and enthusiasm to proclaim “Oh look, a red ball!” each night. But Nicholas identified with the little boy in the book, who loved balls and did bear a sort-of resemblance to my then-toddler. And so I kept reading. And reading.

Now my babies are 13 and 15, and their noses are more often buried in the screen of their smartphones than the pages of books. So when The Guardian posted a recent article titled “Bedtime Story is Key to Literacy,” it got me thinking. Why do we stop reading to our children? Is the bedtime story a dying breed?

According to British children’s writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, it just might be, with disastrous effects. Boyce, who won the 2004 Carnegie medal for his debut children’s book, Millions (HarperCollins, 2004), stated in the article “the joy of a bedtime story is the key to developing a love of reading in children…They’re being taught to read [in school] before anyone has shared with them the pleasure of reading – so what motivation have they got to learn?”

In an interesting twist, a February 2015 survey conducted in Britain by the GPS company TomTom revealed that “of 1,000 parents of children aged one to 10, 34 percent never read a bedtime story to their children, with 29 percent blaming late working and 26 percent the daily commute.” As a commercial tie-in, the company began a campaign offering a free story book for nighttime reading with the purchase of a TomTom Go 5000 navigation system, including this tagline: “We know your time is precious, especially if you are a busy mum. Spend less time on the road and more time doing the things you love—like tucking your little ones in with a bedtime story.”

My interest is piqued when non-literary companies, such as TomTom, market their product as a parenting device designed to cut down on parental stress, so that parents can focus on the important things in life, like bedtime stories. Guilt factor notwithstanding, the message is important. We need to continue reading to our children, well past the age when they themselves become independent readers. One of the most intriguing non-fiction books that I’ve read over the last five years was Alice Ozma’s The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books we Shared (Hachette, 2011). When she was in fourth  grade, Alice and her father made a pact that he would read aloud to her for 100 consecutive nights. At the end of the pact, both realized they wanted to continue—and Alice’s father kept reading out loud to his daughter every night, without fail. The day the streak stopped was when Alice left for college. Yes, college.

Libraries are wonderful incubators for the story. We share them in storytimes, sometimes at night with little ones who arrive in feeted pajamas and clutching beloved stuffed animals. The children will always be there for the stories. It is the parents that we need to turn into lifelong storytellers.

Start a page on your website or library blog of “favorite bedtime tales” and offer patrons the ability to suggest stories. Create a bulletin board display of a large, cozy bed, where the “quilt” on top is comprised of the front covers of beloved books perfect for reading out loud. Bookmark bibliographies for the circulation desk that can subtly be slipped into every book that is checked out during a specific week or month. All of these things can send home that important message of sharing books well beyond the early literacy years.

As for my own two, now towering over me as my “man-children,” as I lovingly refer to the boys I can no longer cuddle and pick up on my own: I’m digging up that tattered copy of a book about a toddler boy and his fascination with different types of sports balls. And then, we’ll have a family vote on which chapter book we are going to read out loud, together. Please share your suggestions with me. I only have two years left to get a lot of stories in before the college years.

Lisa G. Kropp About Lisa G. Kropp

Lisa G. Kropp is the assistant director of the Lindenhurst Memorial Library in Lindenhurst, NY, and a forever children’s librarian.

Building Literacy-Rich Communities
Hosted by Library Journal and School Library JournalStronger Together is a national gathering of thought leaders and innovators from across the country who will share where and how partnerships between school districts and public libraries are having success. Join us May 10–12 at the University of Nebraska Omaha, as we explore the impact these collaborations are having on the institutions, communities, and kids they serve.


  1. I too enjoyed reading to my three sons. I share with you the time when my middle son, who was in 5th grade, told me he was to old to sit and listen to stories I was reading. So I read to my 6 year-old and would glance up and see my son standing out in the hallway listening! He wanted so badly to come in and listen but just couldn’t do it. We are NEVER to old to be read to. I can’t imagine not reading to my children. If society gets to this point we are all doomed. I love sports, but if parents would wait longer to start all of these activities, and stay home and cuddle, talk, play, and read to their children, we would have happier children! Not to mention less stressed parents.

  2. Chris Gifford says:

    My husband & I read to our son though middles school. Captain Underpants was always a family read. We’d pile up in the biggest bed & take turns doing the “filp-o-rama” pages. On vacations I would read aloud to everyone in the car. As most families do we quote our favorite books and movies to make points. These are great memories!

  3. Try the King Arthur legends retold by Gerald Morris. We started with The Squire’s Tale. Some of the books are laugh-out-loud funny.

  4. The three toymakers. Fabulous read aloud. Author is ? Ursula Moray Williams if memory serves.

  5. Stacey Brown says:

    My dad read to me every night until 8th grade. We “finished” with Sherlock Holmes. I treasure every book we ever read together and have become a life long reader. Reading to your kids is key!

  6. Catherine Dreher says:

    My son and I enjoyed sharing the Redwall series and The Grey King series. I never read fantasy on my own, but it has long been his favorite. It’s nice to have that something special to share, the knowledge that he shared his favorite genre with me. We both worked hard to make characters’ voice and pronunciations work, especially those Welsh lines. We’ll share the fun forever.

  7. Elaine Betting says:

    Try Lord of the Rings! My 10-year-old and I are on the Two Towers and these are definitely books that are meant to be read aloud. Just make sure you read ahead a little and get your pronunciations of the Elvish down before you try it with the kids! :)

  8. Jodi Thompson says:

    I read an article recently for working parents that stressed the idea that if you could not read at night, due to late work schedules, have a read aloud while everyone is eating breakfast. The article discussed a family that still reads together every morning before school and the oldest child is in high school. What a great way to stress the importance of reading as well as family time and starting the day with a healthy breakfast!