The bedtime story is a time-honored tradition; across the world, parents share cherished tales with their children as part of the evening ritual, and eventually the children grow up to do the same for their own sons and daughters.
A good bedtime story can be crucial for creating a nurturing sleep environment… but more than that, bedtime stories can play an important role in any child’s imaginative formation and personal development. That’s what makes it so important to not only read bedtime stories, but to carefully select stories that inspire. This can be especially challenging when choosing stories for a daughter, if only because female protagonists are comparatively hard to come by.
Why are Bedtime Stories so Important?
But first things first: Why are bedtime stories so meaningful?
For one thing, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that reading a story to your little one can increase the odds of a restful night’s sleep. We typically don’t think of kids as being “stressed out,” but they can get wound up just the same as adults do. A good bedtime story can help mediate that stress, especially when it is part of an altogether calming, gentle, and consistent bedtime routine. The steadiness of the routine, combined with the intimacy of being read to, helps assure kids that all is right in the world, preparing their minds for sleep.
So bedtime stories are good for sleep… and in turn, sleep is invaluable for child development. In fact, the benefits of a good night’s rest are both psychological and physical. “Studies have shown that kids who regularly get an adequate amount of sleep have improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, and overall mental and physical health,” notes one researcher from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. “Not getting enough sleep can lead to high blood pressure, obesity and even depression.”
Finally, bedtime stories can facilitate your child’s intellectual and cognitive formation. For example, having stories read aloud allows kids to develop more robust vocabularies. Researchers have also suggested that reading to your kids helps expand their capacity for empathy, making them better able to understand other people’s needs and perspectives.
Female Representation in Children’s Books
The challenge that parents will encounter, and especially parents of young girls, is inadequate female representation in children’s books. The Minnesota Journal notes that girls are portrayed much less frequently than boys in children’s books, and often in gender-stereotypical terms; for example, many children’s books fall back on cliched portrayals of girls as nurturers, naifs, or damsels in distress; only boy characters are permitted to be valiant, bold, or fierce. Sadly, this is a long-gestating problem. The same article notes that, between 1900 and 2000, there was very little change to female representation in children’s books.
This matters for a number of reasons. For one, kids tend to identify with characters of their own gender; a lack of female representation means less opportunity for little girls to connect with the stories they hear, or to see themselves in the characters they hear about. In an article posted by the Norman Rockwell Museum, critic Joshua Heinsz says that in children’s stories “the cast of girl characters is often minimal, lacking dimension and suppressed under the roles of the boys. This therefore subconsciously teaches young boys that they indeed are the more important roles in society.” Fortunately, there has been a shift over the last ten to fifteen years to emphasize empowering and inspiring female leads in children’s books and bedtime stories.
Best Bedtime Stories
For parents seeking bedtime stories that center around the experience of girls, here are a few titles that are bound to inspire.
Grace For President
Written by Kelly DiPucchio
This title helps explain the American electoral system in ways that kids (and probably their parents!) will find genuinely helpful. Crucially, it also features a compelling and multi-dimensional female protagonist, whose ambition to be class president is a far cry from the typical, more demure presentation of young girls.
Louise Loves Art
Written by Kelly Light
Louise is a young, creative girl who lives a rich imaginative life, and who is intent on producing her own timeless masterpiece. Her story is a stirring reminder of how enriching creativity can be… and of the importance that artistic expression can play in the lives of girls and women.
Not All Princesses Dress in Pink
Written by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple
Not all girls like wearing pink. Not all girls want to be princesses. And not all princesses look alike. These are just a few of the important lessons your little one will absorb from hearing this witty, lively book.
The Princess Knight
Written by Cornelia Funke
Looking for a kid’s story where the female protagonist actually does get to be as brave, as tough, and as thrill-seeking as the boys? If so, then this tale of a determined young knight-in-training will be just the ticket.
Good-Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Written by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli
This anthology includes 100 stories that catalog extraordinary women from the past and present. Also included are 60 illustrations from female artists all over the world. If your daughter loves these tales, there are some follow-up volumes available, too!
Dangerously Ever After
Written by Dashka Slater
Tired of the same old princess cliches? This book flips them on their head, providing little girls with a princess role model who is more interested in taking risks and having adventures than she is being anyone’s damsel in distress.
Written by Brian Pinkney
This stirring tale of strength and determination features a female protagonist who’s preparing to test for her next martial arts belt. It’s a wonderful spin on the sports story, a genre that is all too often dominated by fellas.
Written by Myra Wolfe
Speaking of conventionally boy-dominated genres… here’s a feisty tale of a pirate girl facing down her one true fear: Bedtime! This one is really funny and full of excitement!
Written by Cynthia Chin-Lee
This anthology contains 26 stories highlighting the lives of truly remarkable women. You’ll find writers, artists, political leaders, and athletes. If you want to inspire your little girl with some real-life stories of amazing women, this book is a must-add to your home library.
Written by Sara O’Leary
A rich story of imagination, This is Sadie will remind your daughter that it’s alright to dream, and good to think outside the box. This celebration of creativity and storytelling may even inspire your little girl to start spinning her own tales.
Written by Karen Beaumont
For smaller kids, here is a fantastic little board book. Though delightfully silly, it packs an important message about owning who you are, and acknowledging all the things that make you you.
Written by Robert Munsch
Too many kids’ books portray girls who need to be saved from monsters, dragons, and other bad guys. Here, we have a little girl who stands up for herself, valiantly facing down the dragon all on her own. A true classic!
Last Word From Mattress Clarity
There’s so much that you and your child will gain from spending time reading together each night. Recommit yourself to the routine of bedtime stories… and consider some tales that will offer inspiration to the girls in your family. If your child is still having trouble sleeping after bedtime stories, check out our Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Sleep and our list of the best mattresses for kids!
Andrew is a Charlotte, NC native who learned the importance of a good night’s sleep in college after too many late nights in the library. Today, he helps connect Mattress Clarity’s array of resources with people looking to get a better night’s sleep. He enjoys researching the links between sleep and health, nutrition, and exercise as well as finding practical ways for people to improve their sleep quality.