I'm very fortunate to have boys who seem to have a natural love of being read to - and bedtime is where we do the bulk of our reading. We splurged a couple years ago (I consider it a splurge - my husband says it's a necessity) and bought a large rocker/recliner for each boy's room. Come bedtime, we trade, each taking a munchkin, propping them up on our knee in their respective rooms, and read through some bedtime favorites. (More on why we don't read together later).
Because bedtime storytime is so important to us, I've literally spent dozens of hours combing through amazon reviews trying to find the next bedtime gem - I've compiled a list of my favorites (and I would wager my three year old's favorites) below. These are picks we've had for a while and that would likely be good strong choices for any child age two through about five - but especially little boys. They're in reverse order of what I would buy in a pinch - least favorite/effective being first at #10 to most favorite/effective at #1:
#10 Have You Seen My Dinosaur? by Jon Surgal
Henry (my three-and-almost-a-half-year-old) LOVES this book. It's not my favorite, although I have to admit it's got a fun Dr. Seuss-like cadence to it. It is pure whimsical fun. What I love about it is how incredibly happy it makes him to have it read to him.
#9 The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
This is my guilty pleasure - and I think Henry (and Bobby) have picked up on my silly obsession with it. I can remember timing myself in grade school as to how quickly I could read through various Dr. Seuss books, this being a favorite - so when we read it, I draw on that practice and we have a rollicking good time.
The other thing I love about it (other than it's obvious vintage charm) is the way the nameless little boy in the story and his sister Sally grow from being complacent observers of chaos into kids who take action to fix the mess foisted on them by the trouble-making cat - and how the cat, called on his bullyish tactics, comes back after realizing the trouble he caused to help clean up.
My husband hates it.
#8 Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
I love Virginia Lee Burton's books - and especially Mike Mulligan. If you're not familiar with the story, Mike is a steam-shovel operator who never goes anywhere without his charming steam shovel, Mary Anne. They do a lot of work and our proud of all they do but face the problem of becoming obsolete when newer technology comes around. They eventually get one last hurrah in the job of building a new town hall in a small town - and ultimately prove their worth. The illustrations are beautiful and the whole story is instructive as to the development of the country.
Like many of Burton's books, the story's message is that there may be value in things we deem obsolete, and that you be kind to and respectful of the contributions made by those who came before you.
Hubby thinks this one is too long. It's longer than many picture books, but I haven't had any trouble keeping my preschooler engaged. There's enough going on in the illustrations that he's never turning the pages on me, and I like being able to sometimes just read the one book instead of four.
#7 Otis by Loren Long
Otis is an adorable story about an adorable little old tractor. Very much in the spirit of Virginia Lee Burton, Loren Long tells a story about a little tractor who has a beautiful soul that feels forgotten after his farmer brings home a brand new big yellow tractor, but finds renewed purpose after he and only he is able to save the life of the beautiful little calf who has become his best friend. The illustrations are wonderful, the story is simple, but timeless. I've just started to read this to my one and a half year old, who also seems to love it.
#6 Steam Train, Dream Train
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site, which I've ranked #1. Steam Train, Dream Train is a definite "get you sleepy" story that takes you along as circus animals load the dream train up for it's journey to a good night. The rhythm and rhyme are fun and the illustrations are playful and lovely to look at. Henry loves animals, so this is a natural fit.
#5 Pete the Cat by James Dean (no, not that James Dean)
My husband loves this one.
#4 Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
I have this memorized - don't even need to look at the pages while I'm "reading" it - which is a good thing, because it's one of those books both my boys can't seem to keep their hands off of...they turn the pages, grab it from me and point to things, make the animal sounds, anything you can think of....
It's a lovely little story with a solid rhythm that tells of a little blue true named "Blue" who is nice to everyone and is the only one to help the rude dump truck who gets himself stuck in the mud. Because Blue helps, the other characters do, too - which teaches the dump truck that "a lot depends on a few good friends" or, in other words, it doesn't pay to be rude.
The "other characters" are all animals and the story is rife with animal sound conversations that are lively and easy to read. It's a wonderful book that is just repetitive/predictive enough that a toddler can remember what comes next and play "fill in the blanks" with you - a great first step into developing their own reading chops.
#3 The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
When Henry was two, he accidentally tore a page out his copy of The Little Engine That Could. He was devastated. I was a very good mommy and taped the page back in as perfectly as I could, but you could still see a few spots along the tear and the tape was pretty evident. The next time we read the book, he panicked when we got to the page he had torn and had a complete emotional meltdown. It was so sad.
That all being said, this is a definite favorite - ripped page and all. The little blue engine is such a kind little blue engine - and the little clown and dolls and toys are so genuinely wonderful and concerned about the poor little boys and girls on the other side of the mountain that I firmly believe it's impossible NOT to love this story.
The underlying message that you can do anything if you put your mind to it and work hard, "I think I can, I think I can," is a great one to teach little ones. Again, the illustrations are timeless. Just a wonderful book.
#2 Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
It's a wonderful adventure for my little ones, with the snuggly ending of being home with mommy - it's also a good reminder for me after stressful days that sometimes little boys just can't help being wild things.
#1 Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Currently ranked #1 on amazon's list of books for kids with sleep issues, Construction Site, as we call it in our house, is a darling book. It follows along as all the big machines on a construction site realize it's getting late and settle in for a night of sleep. Each large piece of equipment is illustrated cuddling up with a blankey or a teddy or some such security item and they are all content to settle down and wait until the morning to continue their work. It's a lovely, non-threatening way to help a child calm down and not fight going to sleep. The prose is lyrical and rhythmic and it includes a series of "shhhhhhh" sounds that help lull the reader and listener toward sleep. This mommy finds herself yawning her way through the story - sometimes on purpose, oftentimes just because it does such an awesome job. And what little boy doesn't love excavators and crane trucks?