Book Notes: Neil McFarlane’s A Month of Bedtime Stories

I don’t review the millions of kids’ books I read but I absolutely have to write about this wonderful book. It’s just $2.99 on Kindle, and worth 10 times that.

The book contains 30 longish stories that provide me and Klara with oodles of enjoyment. We read each story dozens of times, so I’m calculating that the book will take us at least to May.

The stories are told in the second person. A parent (who can be mom or dad) addresses a kid (who can be a boy or a girl). The kid has all sorts of amazing adventures but forgets them, and the parent narrates these magical events to the kid. This me-and-you structure in every story is absolutely genius for toddler audiences.

The best part, though, is that the author inserts in every story little tidbits that are very playful, very meta and addressed to parents. As every parent knows, toddler books are excruciatingly boring (I hate you passionately, Daniel Tiger, Fancy Nancy and Paw Patrol). An adult brain slowly dies through every painful rereading. But this McFarlane fellow clearly understands that and gives a bit of brain food to adults here and there in every story.

The stories have absolutely no didactic purpose whatsoever. And thank goodness and the kind, talented Mr McFarlane for that! One gets literally rabid after all of the utterly inane moralizing in children’s books. If you can’t just tell an interesting story that holds our attention because it has a cool plot, then don’t try to cover that up with stupid moralizing.

Aside from the gifted author of Llama Llama, the literary parents of the quaint old Bernstein Bears, and the absolutely genius author of Press Here books, the authors of toddler lit are the most annoying, dumb, talentless creatures I can’t wait to get rid of as soon as Klara outgrows them. Have any of you read the books about Biscuit? Or Clifford, the big red dog? The authors owe a huge debt to society.

It’s the parents’ fault. They hound any writer who’s not excruciatingly inane. Have you seen the Amazon reviews of the extremely cute Pout Pout Fish? Or some of the Bernstein Bears books? (Look at the reviews of Bernstein Bears Get the Gimmies if you want to lose faith in humanity). The Pout Pout Fish is criticized because a friendly fishie cheers up a sad fishie by giving him a kiss without seeking affirmative consent, which of course teaches toddlers to become rapists. Obviously. Also, trying to cheer up a sad fishie is in itself abusive because, once again, rapists.

McFarlane is British and has this very endearing, dry sense of humor that allows him not to care about being PC and well-liked by state school apparatchiks.

I can’t wait until Klara is old enough to enjoy books by Frances Hodgson Burnett, who is the best children’s author ever. I’m calculating it’s going to be about a year before she’s ready for those. In the meantime, I’m glad we have McFarlane.

25 thoughts on “Book Notes: Neil McFarlane’s A Month of Bedtime Stories”

  1. Have you tried the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems? My 4 yr old adores them and I find them fun to read if you get into the characters of the two friends. I think my favorites are “I will surprise my friend”, “Can I play too?”, and “We are in a book”. I also hate all the moralizing in children’s books and try to look for ones that are just plain fun or interesting. The Elephant and Piggie books do often address issues relevant to kids’ behavior, but they do it in such a delightful, fun way that for once I don’t mind. At the other end of things, we’re also very much enjoying The BFG by Roald Dahl (I’m reading it to my 6 yr old, who loves it, but my 4 yr old is listening in most of the time too).

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    1. I’m getting really great book recommendations here. Thanks! Will definitely check out Elephant and Piggie.

      It’s really weird about Roald Dahl, though. I have something very negative associated with him from my own childhood but have no idea what it is. So I’m actively avoiding him.

      I also really hate Hans Christian Andersen.

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      1. I’m with you on Hans Christian Andersen! But I love (most but not all) of Dahl’s children’s books, especially The BFG and The Witches. They are gruesome for sure, so if you read them too young or are particularly sensitive then I could imagine not enjoying them. The language in the BFG is brilliant and has my son in fits of giggles.

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          1. I vividly remember reading The Witches when I was about 8 or 9 and telling my Dad that he had to read it, it was so good. I think he did as well πŸ™‚
            I have bought the Neil McFarlane book to read to my children. It sounds right up our street, so thank you Clarissa for the recommendation!

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  2. Why don’t you read her old good classics?

    “When We Were Very Young is a best-selling book of poetry by A. A. Milne” the author of Winnie the Pooh.

    He also wrote “Now we are six” , a book of poems for older kids. I think I read Marshak’s translations of his poems and absolutely loved them.

    What about translations from Russian like Pushkin’s fairy tales or “The Hunchback Horse”?

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      1. Or try Janet and Alan Allberg.
        I could still recite the whole of Each Peach Pear Plum. Not sure if that makes it a great book or a nightmare for parents.

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        1. I love the Ahlberg books too, especially Peepo! For me, a large part of the enjoyment is the setting: northern England many decades ago. The house and everything in it remind me a great deal of my Grandma’s house πŸ™‚

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  3. May I recommend the book “Mother Bruce?” It’s about a bear whose breakfast eggs hatch into geese. I’m sure someone somewhere decided there was a moral to it, but I just found it entertaining.

    For what it’s worth, your local library might be of some help here. There’s a tool that can help called NoveList Plus — you can usually find it under “Online Resources” on library websites, and sign-in is usually just your library card number. They have a “read-alikes” function that suggests books similar to a book you select.

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      1. “a Russianism”
        Speaking of awkward de-cyrillization of German/Jewish(?) names, I recently came across a used book by the Wajner/Vajner/Wainer/Vainer brothers (with the Polish title ‘barrel of death’ – the Russian original is something like ‘racing vertically’) and remembered them mentioned here so I picked it up and am enjoying it a lot.

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        1. I’m very happy you like it! The Visit to the Minotaur is pretty deep, too.

          In the Soviet times, anybody who was a good writer had to hide in the police procedural or the sci-fi genres.

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  4. My family is into the fourth generation of loving ‘The Just So Stories’ by Rudyard Kipling, for young children they are wonderful. Some are about animals, some about people and most about both. His use of language is poetic and I still love it! My favourite stories are ‘the Sing Song of Old Man Kangaroo’, which is great to read aloud, really rhythmic, and ‘The Cat Who Walks by Himself’. Also the story about a little girl called Taffy who invents the alphabet.
    If you can get a copy with Kipling’s own illustrations, I think those add to the magic of the stories, they certainly did for me when I was little.
    I should warn you that some people may comment adversely because they have a problem with the author who was around in the British empire and wrote about India and Africa without always condemning everyone white. Most of these people haven’t read anything by Kipling. They don’t know that he wrote the Jungle Book, not Disney!

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    1. I loved Kipling when I was a kid. We had beautiful cartoons based on Kipling in the USSR. Really, really great stories. And I agree that the Kipling controversy is ridiculous.

      Thanks for reminding me about this author!

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  5. Rosemary Wells (esp. the Max and Ruby books) and Shirley Hughes. Also, Richard Scarry and Virginia Lee Burton. And the Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel!

    All things my girls loved. Oh, I do miss reading to them.

    I don’t think of myself as a very visual person, but I just realized that all the authors I named illustrated their own books, and the images are a key part of the pleasure I remember.

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  6. Just when I think I’ve sunk into utter obscurity, I become vertiginously famous again!
    (Thank you for such a nice review : )

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