Written by

Chris Gonzales


Johnny McClung

Reading books before bed is one of the best ways for parents and their kids to create fond memories together while instilling a love of stories in the young ones.

Below you’ll find a handful of recommendations on bedtime-worthy chapter books that aren’t already on every “classic children’s literature” list you’ve ever read.

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The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon »

This captivating modern fable tells the story of a kindly witch who decides to raise a human baby girl after accidentally feeding her moonlight, causing her to be filled to the brim with magic:

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge–with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

This entrancing book has everything you want in a fairy tale: spellbinding sorcery (both light and dark), well-spun prose, unlikely heroes, a bit of mystery, a good deal of tragedy, strong morals, self-discovery, and yes, love.

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The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi.

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi.

The Search for WondLa »

The Search for Wondla, written by Spiderwick Chronicles co-creator Tony DiTerlizzi, is the first book in a three-part series. It starts with a curious young girl raised by a motherly robot in a subterranean bunker, who finally gets her wish to see the world aboveground — only to find that it’s not at all what she’d imagined:

When a marauder destroys the underground sanctuary that Eva Nine was raised in by the robot Muthr, the twelve-year-year-old girl is forced to flee aboveground. Eva Nine is searching for anyone else like her: She knows that other humans exist because of an item she treasures—a scrap of cardboard on which is depicted a young girl, an adult, and a robot, with the strange word, “WondLa.”

Tony DiTerlizzi honors traditional children’s literature in this totally original space-age adventure—one that is as complex as an alien planet, but as simple as a child’s wish for a place to belong.

Wondla is a modern-day sci-fi take on Wizard of Oz with a hint of Alice in Wonderland, full of strange alien creatures and landscapes, like an entire forest of trees that move about on land of their own will. There are also fantastic illustrations throughout to hold your kid’s attention all the more.

Get the first book in these formats:

The Uncommoners #1: The Crooked Sixpence »

If you’ve read the Harry Potter series and the thing that fascinated you most was thinking about all the strange and magical objects you could buy in Diagon Alley, then Jennifer Bell’s The Uncommoners series will be right up your…well, alley.

Starting with The Crooked Sixpence, these action-filled books are about a pair of siblings who stumble upon a hidden society where everyday objects can do incredible things:

When their grandmother Sylvie is rushed to the hospital, Ivy Sparrow and her annoying big brother Seb cannot imagine what adventure lies in store. Soon their house is ransacked by unknown intruders, and a very strange policeman turns up on the scene, determined to apprehend them . . . with a toilet brush.

Ivy and Seb make their escape only to find themselves in a completely uncommon world, a secret underground city called Lundinor where ordinary objects have amazing powers. There are belts that enable the wearer to fly, yo-yos that turn into weapons, buttons with healing properties, and other enchanted objects capable of very unusual feats.

But the forces of evil are closing in fast, and when Ivy and Seb learn that their family is connected to one of the greatest uncommon treasures of all time, they must race to unearth the treasure and get to the bottom of a family secret . . . before it’s too late.

When I first read that description, the “toilet brush as a police officer’s weapon” thing made me think this would be a sillier tale than it ended up being. In fact, there are some moments within the first book — mostly involving a particular alarm clock that comes up later on — that are downright creepy.

In any case, I can highly recommend these books.

Get the first book in these formats:

Granted by John David Anderson.

Granted by John David Anderson.

Granted »

A lot of fantasy books — of both the kid and adult varieties — take themselves a little too seriously. John David Anderson’s Granted is an antidote to all that, telling the silly yet heartfelt tale of a wish-granting fairy-in-training whose first day in the field goes decidely awry:

Everyone who wishes upon a star, or a candle, or a penny thrown into a fountain knows that you’re not allowed to tell anyone what you’ve wished for. But even so, there is someone out there who hears it.

In a magical land called the Haven lives a young fairy named Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets. Ophela is no ordinary fairy—she is a Granter: one of the select fairies whose job it is to venture out into the world and grant the wishes of unsuspecting humans every day.

It’s the work of the Granters that generates the magic that allows the fairies to do what they do, and to keep the Haven hidden and safe. But with worldwide magic levels at an all-time low, this is not as easy as it sounds. On a typical day, only a small fraction of the millions of potential wishes gets granted.

Today, however, is anything but typical. Because today, Ophelia is going to get her very first wish-granting assignment.

And she’s about to discover that figuring out how to truly give someone what they want takes much more than a handful of fairy dust.

The dog character, Sam, is worth reading the book for alone.

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The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau.

The City of Ember »

The City of Ember is essentially dystopian sci-fi for kids, although not quite so bleak as it sounds. It’s about a pair of friends living in Ember, an underground city built over 240 years ago as a last refuge for humans. Unbeknownst to the citizens of Ember, the power source that allows the city to function is about to reach the end of its life:

Many hundreds of years ago, the city of Ember was created by the Builders to contain everything needed for human survival. It worked…but now the storerooms are almost out of food, crops are blighted, corruption is spreading through the city and worst of all—the lights are failing. Soon Ember could be engulfed by darkness…

But when two children, Lina and Doon, discover fragments of an ancient parchment, they begin to wonder if there could be a way out of Ember. Can they decipher the words from long ago and find a new future for everyone? Will the people of Ember listen to them?

There are four books in the series (three main ones and a prequel), each full of mystery and intrigue.

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Forgotten Fairy Tales of Brave and Brilliant Girls »

We’ve all read those stereotypical fairy tales where the princess is rescued by a knight or some such. There are so many of these stories that we — meaning mostly guys like myself — often lose sight of the fact that girls and women very rarely get to be the ones doing the rescuing.

Not so with Usborne’s Forgotten Fairy Tales of Brave and Brilliant Girls. Collecting eight largely forgotten yet empowering fairy tales from around the world, these beautifully illustrated stories feature smart and adventurous heroines who don’t sit idly by while things happen to them — they’re the ones who make things happen:

Once known, now largely forgotten, these empowering fairy tales have been brought together to inspire a new generation of readers. Discover heroines who outwit giants, fight evil, awaken sleeping princes and, of course, live happily ever after. With a foreword by Kate Pankhurst, author of Fantastically Great Women who Changed the World.

I actually like the description on Goodreads better than the one on Amazon:

Stories include a sleeping prince rescued by a princess, sisters who fight a goblin to rescue a bear, and a young girl who outwits a giant to save her family. A collection of feminist fairytales, forgotten over history, for the modern reader. Perfect for fans of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, Jessie Burton’s The Restless Girls, and Kiran Millwood Hargrave’s The Way Past Winter. Featuring gorgeous illustrations in a beautiful hardback edition, this is a perfect Christmas gift.

And here’s some info from the official press release about who was involved in the making of the book:

Researched by Usborne staff writer (and resident fairy tale expert), Lesley Sims, the stories are traditional fairy tales from across Northern Europe, and include a sleeping prince rescued by a princess, sisters who fight a goblin to rescue a bear, and a young girl who outwits a giant to save her family. The team tasked with rewriting these stories for children today includes – as well as Lesley – Susanna Davidson, Rob Lloyd Jones, Andy Prentice and Rosie Dickins. Each story is accompanied with beautiful artwork by illustrators Isabella Grott, Alessandra Santelli, and Maria Surducan.

This will make a lovely addition to any parents’ bedtime story collection — and yes, that includes those who only have sons.

Get the book in one format:

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place »

If your kids are the type to appreciate humor of a dryer, more British variety, then I can heartily recommend Maryrose Wood’s The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series. Taking place in 19th-century England, the series is about a trio of siblings who were raised by wolves before being found and adopted by the extremely wealthy Lord Fredrick.

He and his young wife Lady Constance soon decide that the job of raising these wild children is too much to handle, leading to the hiring of a plucky teenage governess named Penelope Lumley, a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females:

Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.

But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance’s holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?

The five-book series begins with The Mysterious Howling, and personally speaking, my family has found the audiobooks to be the most enjoyable way to experience them.

Get the first book in these formats: