When our baby was born, she was given four copies of Goodnight Moon, including one in Spanish. It’s a classic for a reason: the pictures are charming, there’s a sweet mouse to hunt for, it has a lulling repetitive quality and it signals bedtime, that glorious moment when parents can have a glass of wine.
For months, we alternated each night between the old lady whispering hush and the equally ubiquitous Madeline and her gang of two straight liners. In an effort to mix things up, I spoke with experts at New York’s most beloved bookshops for suggestions on new modern classics for bedtime or, really, anytime.
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers
Young Duncan discovers that not only have his crayons gone on strike because they’re overworked and tired of the same projects, day in, day out, but now they’re not even speaking to each other because industrial action can be stressful. It’s a modern classic because: A highly original way of looking at problem solving and how to be sensitive to people’s feelings.
Who to buy it for: Young artists, aspiring diplomats, and future negotiators.
Goodnight Already by Jory John and Benji Davies
Overtired Bear wants nothing more than to get under the covers with his pink bunny and drift off to sleep for weeks, even months. His neighbor Duck, however, is bored and desperate to hang out. It’s a modern classic because: Bear’s grouch to Duck’s chatterbox dynamic mimics bedtime around the world. Plus Bear in his robe is a sight to behold and it’s laugh-out-loud funny, according to Chris Lenahan at the Corner Bookstore.
Who to buy it for: Parents at the end of their ropes and/or insomniacs.
Thank You and Good Night by Patrick McDonnell
In the sweetest book I discovered while researching the modern classics, a stuffed bear, elephant and rabbit have a sleepover, complete with a dance-off, a funny face contest and a midnight snack. It’s a modern classic because: It has a gentle message about being thankful at the end of the day for all one’s adventures.
Why to buy it: It perfectly captures the intense friendships that occur between stuffed toys and their children.
Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
A little boy loves to give hugs. He’s literally a Hug Machine, and no one is too big, too small, or too spiky for a life-changing hug from this little fellow. By the end of the day, he’s pooped from all that hugging and ready to be hugged himself. It’s a modern classic because: A simple but deep story, and pizza is also involved.
Who to buy it for: The sensitive souls in your life.
A Visitor For Bear by Bonny Becker & Kady MacDonald Denton
A misanthropic bear is trying to make his breakfast in peace but a “small and gray and bright-eyed” little mouse insists on intruding, and to everyone’s surprise a friendship blossoms. It’s a modern classic because: It ticks all the boxes with its lovely illustrations, comfortingly repetitive text, and odd-couple pairing.
Who to buy it for: Anyone whose favourite part of Goodnight, Moon is spotting the young mouse and/or anyone who loves breakfast.
Ten Little Fingers & Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox & Helen Oxenbury
From the Australian writer Mem Fox, a sweet book about what unites us all, using the ear-pleasing refrain of each “of these babies, as everyone knows, had ten little fingers and ten little toes.” With charming, old-fashioned illustrations of plump babies from around the world. It’s a modern classic because: Important (but not preachy) message about how we’re more alike than we are different.
Why to buy it: The “big reveal” at the end won’t make you sob, unlike Robert Munch’s wonderful, though wrenching, classic Love You Forever.
Little Owl’s Night by Divya Srinivasan
Our hero, Little Owl, meets all sorts of nocturnal creatures as he roams through the forest on a foggy night. As dawn breaks, it’s time for Little Owl to go to bed. It’s a modern classic because: Atmospheric drawings and stylized animals transport readers into the dense, dark forest.
Who to buy it for: Nighthawks, young or old.
Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin
In this lush, quirky bedtime read, exquisitely dressed children ride giant bunnies and kittens to Dreamland, a place where “maps are made of starlight.” It’s a modern classic because: Unexpected rhyming couplets will remain fresh after the 20th reading.
Why to buy it: As Book Culture’s Annie Hedrick says, “smart kids appreciate good literature from a young age.”
Sometimes I Like to Curl Up In A Ball by Vicki Churchill & Charles Fuge
Fresh and silly rhymes chronicle a little wombat’s busy day all the way to bedtime. It’s a modern classic because: Bedtime is inevitable, but unlike Goodnight Moon, there’s no existential crisis lurking with that blank ‘Goodnight, Nobody’ page, says McNally Jackson’s Cristin Stickles.
Who to buy it for: Small children obsessed with exotic animals.
Gossie & Gertie by Olivier Dunrea
The daily antics of two goslings offer a meditation on the dynamics of best friendship — when to follow, when to lead, fashion choices and, of course, sharing a meal. It’s a modern classic because: Gertie’s new-found independence reminds us all to be our own person.
Who to buy it for: Your BFF’s new baby and anyone you know who is a bit bossy.
Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle & Jill McElmurry
Animal sounds, street noises, and cheerful, old-fashioned illustrations come together in a tale of a truck stuck in the muck and the farm animals who band together to get it back on the road. It’s a modern classic because: Adults can endure it long after the 66th reading. If the whole family loves it, even better news because it’s the first in a series that also includes a sticker book, holiday versions, and a Spanish version.
Buy it for: Anyone. McNally Jackson’s Cristin Stickles says she can’t imagine a board book section without it.
Alison Schwartz is the founder of www.onclarendonroad.com, a private library curation service. She lives in New York with her family.