If you close your eyes and imagine your childhood bedroom, you can likely picture your favorite storybook or other popular bedtime stories you enjoyed. The one you asked your parents to read to you over and over, the beloved book that became deeply creased, tattered at the edges, and worn with love. That story spoke to you and transported you far beyond your bedroom walls.
Scholars can’t pinpoint the origin of storytelling, but we know it’s the earliest form of communication humans have. Cave drawings became oral traditions, then written documents, printed, and typed narratives passed down from generation to generation. The act of storytelling, whether in popular bedtime stories, paperback form, picture books, television screens, podcasts, or digital platforms, captivate and link us together.
Reading to Children Activates Their Imaginations
One study found that when adults read aloud to preschool children, the areas of a child’s brain that handle mental imagery and narrative comprehension activate. That means that storytelling almost literally lights up and grows little imaginations as children work to create and interpret their understanding of the stories they hear.1
A lot has changed since you were a child, sitting in your bedroom and hanging on every word your parents read to you, your eyes slowly growing heavier with each page. But bedtime stories continue worldwide, and the brain-boosting benefits have remained the same. Ever wonder what popular bedtime stories and books are most often plucked from bookshelves across America or the world each night?
Research conducted by UK-based personalized baby brand My 1st Years set out to learn just that. Researchers analyzed Google data to reveal the number of searches for over 370 children’s books in 181 countries over the past year, to discover every country’s most popular stories and the most loved children’s books worldwide.2
The 3 Most Popular Children’s Bedtime Stories Worldwide
1. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
This 1865 novel, written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll spins the unbelievable story of a girl named Alice falling through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by odd and surprising creature encounters. Numerous film adaptations, theatrical performances, ballets, and countless works of scholarly analysis continue to draw inspiration from this bedtime classic. Complex language and a nonsensible plot woven into rhythmic poems can delight kids with funny sounds and silly images.
British author Neil Gaiman’s novella “Coraline” was first published in 2002 and quickly captured the imagination of people all over the world. The dark fantasy features a young girl named Coraline who moves into a new house with her family. She intends to explore when she discovers a mysterious door that has been closed off. When the door is left ajar one day, the creepy adventure Coraline embarks on within the other side forces her to grow courage and eventually find beauty and magic in everyday life. Common Sense Media, a website that helps caregivers and parents make more informed decisions about media, recommends “Coraline” for kids eight and older.4
3. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”
This timeless 1964 story written by British novelist Roald Dahl centers on Charlie Bucket’s dream for a brighter future and his love of candy. His adventure begins when he finds one of Mr. Willy Wonka’s precious Golden Tickets and wins a whole day inside the mysterious chocolate factory. Little does he know the surprises that are in store for him and his family!
Other notable stories that made the world’s most searched-for rankings include childhood classic “Winnie the Pooh,” A. A. Milne’s heartwarming tale about a bear and his friends within the Hundred Acre Wood; and “The Gruffalo,” Julia Donaldson’s adventure of a mouse who encounters a terrifying Gruffalo on a woodland walk.
The 3 Most Popular Bedtime Stories in North America
Closer to home, the overall top pick in the U.S. may surprise you:
Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” came out on top with 286,520 searches for it across North America.
2. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
A close runner-up was “Alice in Wonderland” with 199,400 searches.
The 1968 classic “Corduroy” by Don Freeman rounded out the list as the third most popular bedtime story in North America with 185,510 searches – the sweet story written and illustrated by an American writer and cartoonist features a department store teddy bear waiting for someone to select him. One day, a little girl wants to buy him, but her mother points out that he is missing one of his overall buttons. That night, he explores the store, searching for a button. While he doesn’t find one, he finds friendship and a home.
The Most Frequently Featured Authors of Popular Bedtime Stories
The two most frequently featured authors in the rankings were J. K. Rowling and Roald Dahl.
All seven of Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books made the top 50, and six of Dahl’s charming children’s books (including “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”) rank as some of the most loved around the world.
Why Bedtime Stories Remain Household Staples
Fostering personal identity, forming strong connections to the characters within the pages and the adults sharing the stories, and strengthening imagination are three of the top reasons why bedtime stories continue to matter, according to the nonprofit Pajama Program, which provides sleep health education and materials for better bedtime routines since 2001.3
Regarding what the world reads to kids, classic favorites aren’t fading from the spotlight. More than 80% of the top 50 picks were published before the 21st century. Classic stories like Cinderella (published in the 1600s) continue to stand the test of time and win the hearts and imaginations of children everywhere.
Whatever book you read to your little one tonight, enjoy the time to unplug and unlock your imagination together. Who knows, maybe a childhood staple you loved can become a new family favorite all over again. Here’s to hoping the world you walk into excites you and your little one.