Growing Reader


Sweet Dreams: Non-Scary Bedtime Books for Independent Readers

by Katherine Reynolds Lewis

Photo credit: Teresa Short, Moment Collection/Getty Images

There’s nothing like winding down with a book at bedtime to ease into a good night’s sleep. Unless the plot contains a nasty monster, unexpected death, or other spooky surprise that could send your little one — or even your bigger child — scrambling into your bedroom for a middle of the night cuddle.

Fortunately, there are plenty of wonderful books that will entertain your offspring without giving them nightmares, beyond the well-known crowd pleasers like Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Beverly Cleary, and Judy Blume. This list includes funny, suspenseful, thought-provoking reads that are kid-approved for a sound sleep.

  • Growing Reader (Ages 6–8)

  • Mercy Watson to the Rescue

    by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

    Your child will giggle over the escapades of Mercy the pig as she seeks the delights of buttered toast and sugar cookies, heedless of the chaos she leaves in her wake. If the first book is a hit, your child will enjoy the entire series featuring this porcine wonder.

  • Mrs. Noodlekugel

    by Daniel Pinkwater, illustrated by Adam Stower

    The magical Mrs. Noodlekugel could go toe to toe with Mary Poppins, in the spells she casts and the adventures her charges embark upon.

  • Magic Tree House Series

    by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca

    Children who like adventure and suspense will enjoy following Jack and Annie through time and space, learning about history and other cultures through their enchanted tree house. The vast majority of the books in this series are tame enough for even the most squeamish reader, although some kids might want to skip the titles about ghosts and ghouls.

  • Sideways Stories from Wayside School Series

    by Louis Sachar, illustrated by Adam McCauley

    Your independent readers will get a chuckle from this whimsical series by Newbery-winning author Louis Sachar about a mixed-up school whose thirty classrooms were built one on top of each other, instead of side by side. The students’ antics are only surpassed by their teachers’ shenanigans.

  • The Fabled Fourth Graders of Aesop Elementary School

    by Candace Fleming

    Just as ludicrous are the fourth and fifth graders of Aesop Elementary, whose capers always manage to teach a lesson. As children look ahead to the end of their elementary years, they’ll identify with this lively crew.

  • Recipe for Adventure Series

    by Giada De Laurentiis, illustrated by Francesca Gambatesa

    Any parent of a picky eater will appreciate this tour of the cuisines of different cities, including Naples, Paris, and New Orleans, in the wake of siblings Alfie and Emilia, whose aunt Zia sparks their magical travels. Each book includes two recipes you can try.

  • Tween and Early Teen Reader (Ages 11–13)

  • Oh My Godmother: The Glitter Trap

    by Barbara Brauner and James Iver Mattson, illustrated by Abigail Halpin

    Imagine hearing the voice of a popular girl in your head, as you try to navigate the shoals of middle school. Misfit Lacey has what might seem to be the next best thing: a popular girl’s fairy godmother trapped in her hair.

  • Everest Series

    by Gordon Korman

    Middle school readers devour almost anything Gordon Korman writes — the Swindle series, the 39 Clues series. The Everest series combines the high stakes of the youngest team to attempt to climb the Himalayan giant, without the terror of some of the 39 Clues books. The fierce competition and realistic characters will draw in even a reluctant reader. Warning: One climber dies in book three, but the event is well signaled, so any squeamish readers can stop before it happens.

  • Tell Us We're Home

    by Marina Budhos

    Class differences and the immigrant experience form the center of this story about three eighth-grade girls in a wealthy suburb who happen to be the daughters of their classmates’ maids and nannies. An accusation of theft threatens to divide the friends and displace them in the school community.

  • Scat

    by Carl Hiaasen

    Miami Herald columnist Carl Hiaasen brings adult-like rollicking, Everglades capers to a teen audience with a quartet of animal-themed novels. In Scat, the school’s most feared biology teacher disappears during a school trip to the swamp, causing students Nick and Marta to investigate.

  • Savvy

    by Ingrid Law

    This funny, gripping tale centers on Mibs Beaumont and her family, each of whom possesses a magical power that matures on their 13th birthday. But when an accident strands Mibs’s father in a hospital far from home, she sets out to save him, along with an odd collection of companions, in this 2009 Newbery Honor Book. The sequel, Scumble, focuses on Mibs’s cousin Ledge discovering his talent, and is just as enjoyable.

  • Holes

    by Louis Sachar

    Some authors can truly inhabit a child’s perspective. Louis Sachar brings that talent to the teen experience, following Stanley to Camp Green Lake on work duty, and through the adventure that follows.