The best books to reach for in the middle of the night

The Books I Picked & Why

Knee-Deep in Thunder

By Sheila Moon, Peter Parnall

Book cover of Knee-Deep in Thunder

Why this book?

This is a book I reach for if I wake up in the middle of the night, feeling worried or anxious, and I just want to go to another world. The lead character is a young girl who is brave and kind (but not perfect!) who enters a magical world by accident. This world turns out to be made up of many of the elements of our own world that we may not notice—ants, beetles, spiders, and other creatures (not all insects, but these insects are wonderful). They become part of a band of adventurers who face an epic hero's journey with a strong message about how to stand by each other, without being corny or predictable.

This is an older book, published in 1969 by a Native American author who draws on Navajo mythology. I recently re-read it myself, and it was one of those books that I couldn't wait to have the chance to read when I went to bedit will take you to a familiar place made strange, with beautiful illustrations. It is a timeless book.

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Grimms' Fairy Tales

By Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Book cover of Grimms' Fairy Tales

Why this book?

In the middle of the night, when I reach for a book to avoid a midnight worry-fest, I love to read fairy tales. The Grimms' Fairy Tales are wonderful because they are very short, and there is a huge variety of stories in these collections. I don't want to read for hours, I just want to read enough to go back to sleep and have some wonderful dreams. Now, many of the Grimms fairy tales are violent and deal with extreme situations, but for me, this is like cartoon violence—they make me think, sometimes they make me laugh, but they don't usually scare me. Also, these fairy tales have a lot of symbolism, transformations, and magic, and you will come across the original folk tales that have been re-told in a much flatter way by Disney, and it's always good to go to the source! Make sure to get one with great illustrations as well, there are many editions out there, and many of them are illustrated.

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The Bat-Poet

By Randall Jarrell, Maurice Sendak

Book cover of The Bat-Poet

Why this book?

I love this book because A) the illustrations by Maurice Sendak are beautiful, and B) It's a story about a bat who stays up during the day, when the other bats are sleeping, and writes poems about what he sees. It's a book for anyone who has ever felt misunderstood, or didn't fit in, and created art out of that experience. I think all writers feel this way, and probably most people at some point no matter what they do or create in the world. It's also a book about friendship, with a bat, a chipmunk, and a mockingbird, and all of the characters are so vivid and distinct. There are also some actual poems, written by the bat, of course, and as you're reading and looking at the incredible line drawings by Maurice Sendak you can see the world the way the smaller animals around us experience the world we share. 

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The Little Prince

By Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Richard Howard

Book cover of The Little Prince

Why this book?

This book is so famous, it may not need any introduction, but I reach for it in the middle of the night because the story of the prince, the rose, the snake, and the fox still speak to the heart of human relationships—and, of course, there are the wonderful pictures drawn by the author himself. Who can forget the picture of the elephant that only grown-ups think is a picture of a hat? This is a love story, an adventure story, and a story about friendship and forgiveness. I can read a few pages or half the book depending on how tired I am. I can also just flip through, looking at the pictures and reading random sections. It is very comforting in the middle of the night, like a visit with a dear friend who has a good story to tell you. This book will open your heart.

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Stuart Little

By E.B. White, Garth Williams

Book cover of Stuart Little

Why this book?

When I wake up in the middle of the night I want to re-read something that will make me feel safe, and the character of Stuart is so sweet and funny, and familiar, that I come back over and over and always find something new to love in this book. The pictures are also just right, with Stuart looking jaunty as he sails his boat in Central Park, or rides his mother's wedding ring up out of the bathroom sink drain. I'm a New Yorker, so I have a soft spot for stories that take place in New York, but it's also just a story about a wonderful little guy named Stuart. It's also a love story, and a coming-of-age story. It's not easy being a mouse born into a household of humans, no matter how much they love you. This is a book that is filled with hope, and perfect for everyone who has never quite fit in and longs for adventuresometimes I will only read the last chapter— one of the most beautiful chapters in American literature for any age.

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