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Bedtime Reading, With a Catch

Review of The Giant Book of Bedtime Stories, edited by William Roetzheim. (Level 4 Press, 2007). Ages 2-92

As a young child, my favorite time of the day was bedtime, when my father would stand in the doorway of the room I shared with my sister, and tell us stories. The stories he told were fantastical and sometimes sent me to sleep with a shiver. When I was old enough to read, I sought out The Red Book of Fairy Tales and then the Blue and the Green and so on. But I never saw so many stories collected in just one book as I did when I opened The Giant Book of Bedtime Stories!

Many of the stories are accompanied by small, old-fashioned illustrations which, judging from the attribution at the start of the book, are the illustrations that accompanied these stories when they were published in the last century. Blanche Fisher Wright for example, who is listed as an illustrator, was the illustrator of The Real Mother Goose, first published in 1916.

Here are stories to enchant readers of any age, and are perfect for reading to children and sharing the pleasure with them, whether they be your own kids or your grandchildren. The author is proud of having collected all of Mother Goose's beloved rhymes--from the familiar to those you've probably never heard before--in just one volume. We all know the rhyme that begins "Jack be nimble…" But have you ever heard this one, titled "Teeth and Gums"?

Thirty white horses upon a red hill
Now they tramp, now they champ, now they
stand still.

Some of the most eye-catching and charming illustrations accompany a section of poems titled Animal Children. Each of these exquisite half-page pictures of animals is accompanied by a short poem about the animal. For the polar bear, a smiling ice-skating bear wearing a frothy green tutu is described as:

When little Miss Polar Bear goes out to skate,
She never is bothered by having to wait
Until mother wraps her all snugly in fur,
For those are the clothes
that she carries with her!

The Giant Book of Bedtime Stories also includes stories from the Bible (both Old and New Testament), fables, proverbs and other stories of international origin. Unfortunately, some of the versions of these stories--particularly stories from the New Testament--will be troublesome for Jewish and interfaith families. Readers should be cautioned that the story titled "The Story of the Empty Tomb" tells that:

After Jesus was taken before the high-priest where he was ridiculed and the people spat upon him, he was taken before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, who ruled over Judea. He heard their complaints but did not find any cause for putting him to death. But at last he yielded to their demands, although he declared that Jesus was innocent of all wrong.

While such a version offers a teachable moment for older children, this is not the place where one would expect to find repetition of a long-discredited story. As parents and book-buyers, we can exercise our right not to buy this book; we can buy it and ignore this story; or we can let the author know how we feel.

I have a few, minor quibbles--the book could be more clearly organized, for example, and it suffers from the lack of any index at all so that finding a particular story or author is a challenge. But why complain? Where else can you find such a package of pleasure for old and young to share together? For interfaith families, the question will be whether such an otherwise admirable collection should be disregarded because of the few offensive Bible stories.

Cheryl F. Coon

Cheryl F. Coon is the author of Books to Grow With: A Guide to the Best Children's Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges. Cheryl lives with her husband and children in Portland, Ore.

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