Pre-bedtime entertainment has experienced its own archaeology of change since the radio dominated so many living rooms during the interwar period. Today, with the one-time 'family television set' already sacrificed to more individualistic distractions such as smartphones and other digital toys, it is no less common to spend quality time cuddling up to one's children on the sofa before the next episode of The Simpsons or in front of an animated film.


Despite the fact that my urban tribe and I certainly enjoy our iPhone amusements too, our bedtime reading still scores at pole position, with the traditional storybook in paper and text enjoying pride of place.

Indubitably most of us choose our kids' pillow lit according to what can strike a happy balance between cultivating a genuine appetite for adventure and what offers fun, light education that avoids being a pedagogical mouthful.


The very best among these storylines tend to give importance to grandparents, free time with mum and dad or to valuing friends, siblings, animals or the environment around us. Soft hints at responsible emotional management and the celebration of equality, social tolerance and diversity in our families and communities are also among the essential elements of any winning plot.

But aphorisms aside, when reality hits home we are perhaps more superficial than we are willing to acknowledge.

I'm not always as convinced that it is so important to me on a Monday night how much my Children are actually being taught from the content of a bedtime story - given that it is usually designed far less to amuse through dispensing action and special effects than it is to appeal more gently to the imagination. Indeed, whatever may be the qualities of the printed bedtime story book, I suspect that for many parents its greatest merit lies -paradoxically- in its dexterity in putting children to sleep.

Doubtless this plays some part in motivating tired parents after a long day's work to moderate their reading voice to a monotonous drone which soon has their kids nodding off out of sheer self-defence, a 'tactic' shown in the following Emily story:

Even if my youngest child dozes off sometimes within minutes of my reading to her, in my experience encouraging a relationship with books has assisted in communicating to her an idea of literacy which invites a sense of 'quest' and 'effort' which can be exciting in itself.


When bedtime storybooks are not simply downloadable from our pcs or just a quick click away then usually they have some prized place upon a bookshelf somewhere in the house.

We must rise from where we are to reach them, then physically find and open them to begin reading. They become those coveted stories we take out only at that special time before going to sleep. More importantly, as parents snuggle up to their children at bedtime it is often many hands that hold those books up to the light as they are being read: there is joint engagement, often questions are asked and discussed, and a climate of complicity prevails.


A last defence of the bedtime story, this time resonating more with the regular day-to-day life of ordinary families everywhere (and, I believe, no less relevant): as a father I have often found this 'night ritual' especially useful for its ability to signal closure to a child's day. The fact that it comes just before going to sleep also makes it instrumental in offering our kids an appreciation for order by which they feel secure and taken care of. This is why the bedtime story has its appropriate post-dinner slot after all the homework is behind us and everyone's teeth have been brushed.

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