Shhh! Gentle tales can put kids to sleep


May 20, 1994|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Sun Staff Writer

Is "Goodnight Moon" making you loony? Does the phrase, "And a comb and a brush and a bowl full of mush," run 'round your brain like some Lite Mixed Variety tune piped into the dentist's office?

Maybe it's time to experiment with some new bedtime fare. Oh, don't desert the great green room of Margaret Wise Brown's classic. Just supplement "Goodnight Moon" with some other books that have a going-to-bed theme. Here are a few of the newer ones:

* My favorite is "Good Night, Gorilla," by Peggy Rathman (G. P. Putnam's Sons, $12.95, 36 pages, ages 1-4). After sharing it with a giggling toddler, you'll wonder why more picture books don't have a sense of humor.

The text is incredibly simple. A sleepy zoo keeper is making his last round, saying "good night" to each of the animals as he walks past the cages. First on his route is the gorilla, which surreptitiously snatches the key ring from the zoo keeper's belt.

The gorilla unlocks his cage and follows the keeper through the ** zoo. As soon as the keeper says, "Good night, Elephant," the gorilla uses a color-coded key to release the elephant. The same thing happens with the lion, hyena, giraffe and armadillo, who fall into line behind the gorilla.

Soon they're all tiptoeing behind the keeper as he walks to his house, opens the door and heads down the hall to his bedroom. When he climbs into bed next to his sleeping wife, she stirs and says, "Good night, dear."

Imagine her surprise when each of the animals, curling up for the night in her bedroom, responds, "Good night." On the next page, actually a double-page spread of inky black, all we see are the whites of her frightened eyes.

She flips on the light, and the animals flash sheepish grins her way. But she gets up and leads them back to their cages anyway. Everyone settles into the right cage -- the elephant with his Babar doll, the armadillo with his stuffed Ernie from Sesame Street. Everyone, that is, except gorilla. Kids will cheer his great escape, sensing that it just might be a nightly occurrence.

* "Good Night!" written by Claire Masurel, illustrated by Marie H. Henry (Chronicle, $12.95, 32 pages, ages 2-6) is about nighttime rituals. As a little girl gets ready for bed, she gathers up all her dolls and stuffed animals.

There is no doubt who's in charge. "Silly Oscar," she tells the clown doll. "It's not time to play cards! It's time to go to bed." Her stuffed dragon can't watch any more TV. Her rag doll can't read any more books. This little girl is giving the orders, and kids will enjoy sharing her sense of empowerment.

* When dogs dream, their legs pumping like pistons, are they catching squirrels and nabbing rabbits? Naw. "Dreaming" by Bobette McCarthy (Candlewick Press, $12.95, 32 pages, ages 3 and up) stars a salty dog who dreams of sailing the ocean blue.

His wicker bed is transformed into a rowboat:

Awash and away,

I drift through the night,

Through mizzle and moonlight,

Through darkness, through light.

Eventually he drifts back to the seaside home of his human family, where a little boy has been waiting for him to wake up.

* There's nothing like cuddling up with your kid to read a slow, sleepy story, and then waking up three hours later cramped in the corner of her twin bed, a book on your nose and a crick in your neck.

Kids who live for those nights when they outlast their parents will enjoy "A Quiet Night In," by Jill Murphy (Candlewick Press, $12.95, 32 pages, ages 3 and up). The Larges -- a family of elephants that debuted in Ms. Murphy's "Five Minutes' Peace" -- are celebrating Mr. Large's birthday.

Mrs. Large gets all the children ready for bed early so she and Mr. Large can enjoy a quiet dinner by candlelight. But before they retire, the kids talk Dad into reading them a story.

He conks out, and they persuade Mom to finish the book. She's snoring a few pages later, and the kids are quite happy to tuck her in next to Dad on the couch. After all, Mom and Dad did want a quiet night in.

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