When I was teaching in a full-day preschool program, one of my favorite times of day was nap time. Not for the obvious reason (all the children sleep for a couple of hours and teachers get to catch up on paperwork), but because of the routines we had established in my mixed-age classroom. Each student was responsible for getting their napping mat, blanket, and comfort item and taking it to their designated spot to set up for sleep. The younger children needed help with putting on sheets and laying out blankets, and sometimes the older children would assist them. It was a point of pride to get the sheet fitted over the mat properly and they would congratulate one another on their efforts. Each child wanted to be “tucked in” in a different way — some with their blankets wrapped around them (“Make me a taquito!” they begged), some with their blanket laid gently on top of them (“Float it over me like a butterfly,” one girl instructed), some with it simply beside them. Before we dimmed the lights, each child would go to the library and choose a book to “read” on their bed before sleep. Another book would be chosen, sometimes by a child and sometimes by myself, to be read aloud when they were all settled and their own books set aside. We would choose books that were peaceful in tone, but interesting enough to generate some quiet discussion and eager anticipation of the ritual. The best part of the routine, in my opinion, was the nature of the reading. It differed from our usual booksharings in that the children were laying down in the dark, unable to see the book and examine the pictures. I would encourage them to close their eyes and see the story in their minds. One especially enthusiastic little boy would exclaim each day, “I can SEE it, Maestra! I SEE the pictures IN MY HEAD!” Magic. These were some of our perennial favorites.
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen. This classic is near and dear to my heart for personal reasons. As a child, I would go on walks at night with my dad, looking for owls in the woods near our house. This book is visually beautiful, but also a lovely, peaceful story with evocative language. If you haven’t shared this with a child, I encourage you to do so. It can prompt the most wonderful discussions and explorations (nature, night, winter, snow, hikes, etc.). Also try Jane Yolen’s How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?
Amos and Boris by William Steig. Call me sentimental (guilty as charged!), but I think this is one of the best books ever written about friendship, love, and courage. Amos is a mouse who is rescued by Boris, a whale. Years later, Amos is faced with the opportunity to help Boris. Who could believe that a small mouse could come to the aide of a whale, such a massive, noble creature? There are layers of gentle, moving lessons in this lovely book. William Steig has been a favorite of mine since I was small and I also had great success sharing and reflecting on his story of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble with this age group.
Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney. Little llama has trouble going to sleep alone in his bed and his mama offers him reassurance. Preschoolers who are away from their moms and dads for an entire day love the reassurance of knowing that their parents are thinking of them and loving them every moment that they are apart.
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams. This classic has stood the test of time so well. My students related to this structure of this family unit, the idea of saving pennies, and they loved hearing about a mother and about love. Terrible things happen in the story, but also wonderful things and preschoolers appreciate a true-to-life tale. This is a well-told story for any time, but it lends itself to snuggling up for nap.
How Do I Love You? by P.K. Hallinan. There is nothing more reassuring than drifting off to sleep knowing that you’re loved. This simple, rhyming book tells children that they’re loved on their “very best and very worst of days.” My students would request this one again and again. I recommend the bilingual version.
When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old’s Memoir of Her Youth by Jamie Lee Curtis. In my experience, children love to reflect on their youth. This book always prompts fun discussion, but it’s also just fun to listen to, like all of Jamie Lee Curtis’s books for children. Preschoolers will find much to identify with and mine always found it very affirming of their own routines and habits. When it’s no longer naptime, engage with some of her other titles including Today I Feel Silly and Other Moods That Make My Day, Big Words for Little People, and (my personal favorite), Is There Really a Human Race? (my nieces cannot get enough of the illustrations in this one).
A few classics that require no introduction, but should not be overlooked: Caps for Sale, Where the Wild Things Are,Harry the Dirty Dog, Little Bear, and of course Goodnight Moon, which most of us can recite by heart but truly stands the test of time for a soothing bedtime read.
What are your favorite naptime reads?