How To Tell A Bedtime Story


And off-topic: can writers please stop dropping the names of the bands they play their kids?

The beef: the author, Ligaya Mishan, describes storytelling as “part of a lengthy bedtime ritual that includes a bath, a massage, Radiohead, a kind of sari-esque half-swaddle, a slow dimming of lights, the recorded sound of the ocean, and me singing “Over the Rainbow” over and over (or, in the dead of winter, “California Dreaming”) while marching up and down with her in the dark.”

This, mind you, after last week’s self-conscious NYT nod to Death Cab for Cutie! Okay, moving on. The author was inspired by Lemony Snicket’s tips for crafting such a tale, which includes naming villains after old enemies and letting the child choose the title. These are worthy tips, but as any babysitter worth her salt knows, just the tip of the iceberg. In general, a formula is a good idea. For instance, all my grandmother’s stories features a pair of children named Johnny and Susie who, on rainy days, found their basement transformed into a long corridor filled with doors. The doors might contain “Candyland,” “farm,” or “birthday party,” depending upon the adventure you fancied. My father’s stories all starred a precocious baby experiencing the world via hilarious antics. I have adapted both of these scenarios to good effect, subbing in necessary heroes and heroines, and occasionally including elements of old musicals. Formulas are good because the story has a definite timeline and ending – usually with all protagonists ending up in their beds – and can’t go on forever. My stories also tend to involve a lot of music from the Alford Lake Camp songbook, but this point is negotiable.

Not everyone is cut out for storytelling. I remember once hearing an ex-boyfriend tell the most terrifying tale to a group of children, involving the Spanish Inquisition, alchemy, and Coenobitic monasticism (he was a historian, but still.) My grandfather seemed to only know one story, “Jack and the Beanstalk.” And I’ve known others who borrowed shamelessly from the plots of Disney movies. The point of the story is, of course, to calm a child to sleep, and ideally to give them engaging dream fodder, but it should be entertaining to the teller as well – otherwise, what’s the point? They’re distinct from reading a story because the child can be the star and the heroine and have a few moments of being the center of the universe before bed. While listening, naturally, to Animal Collective and early Moby Grape. Like ya do.

How To Write A Bedtime Story [New Yorker]
Tell Me More [Daily Candy]

Related: Moderation And The Modern Mom [NYT]

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin