Too many kids dread bedtime. Not surprisingly, too many parents dread it too. What should be one of the best parts of the day – the final chapter – can be an all-out battle, especially when sleeping away from home. Often, the trick to a successful tuck-in while camping isn’t promising one more s’more. It’s reading the right bedtime story. From classics starring Little Critter and Curious George to newer stories like “Goodnight Campsite” and “Brave Little Camper,” here are a few highly recommended books to add to your library.
As the owner of a popular toy store in New Mexico, Keri Piehl knows what kids like. Her first go-to book for camping with little ones is this tale by Vera Williams about a canoe trip. The story is told from the perspective of a kid but explains everything from how the family prepared for their trip, what they packed and how they chose their route. Then, the reader gets to come along for the trip. “The family has a few minor mishaps along the way,” admits Piehl. “But that’s all part of the adventure.”
This entry-level field guide is a great book for older kids who are curious about the environment. “No matter where kids camp, they are sure to find a tree in their area from the book,” says Laurie A. Couture, a public speaker on child behavior. The book, which is written be Patricia S. Daniels, includes the official trees of all 50 states, a quick tree ID guide and facts about everything from how a forest grows to what kids can do to help with conservation efforts.
This cute book by Melanie Watt is perfect for kids who are afraid of the dark or struggle with anxiety in different environments. They’ll relate to the main character, Scaredy Squirrel, who overcomes his fear of camping and even gains an appreciation for it while venturing into the woods to find an outlet of all things. “It lets kids know that there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to camping and it can actually be fun,” says Shawna Newman, Founder & Editor-in-Chief at Active Weekender.
Jean Craighead George’s book about a boy in New York City who flees the chaos of the city to live in the woods is such a classic it’s often in elementary school teachers’ curriculums. A chapter book, and the first in a series of five, it’s best for older kids (and those who don’t have a propensity to run away). New York City based anthropologist Professor E.A. Burlingame recommends it since it’s a great introduction to survival skills and teaches a respect for nature.
Shannon Serpette, Chief Editor at Mom Loves Best and former camp counselor, used to read this book by Margret Rey to her girl scouts. “It’s educational but it doesn’t feel preachy or boring,” says Serpette who chalks up a lot of the story’s appeal to Curious George’s familiar face. The book touches on important subject like fire safety and not wandering off, but it also features the monkey’s signature shenanigans.
“We read this to our daughter every night in preparation for her camping trip her dad,” says Amy, founder of The Postpartum Party blog. Starring everyone’s favorite undetermined rodent, Little Critter, Mercer Meyer’s story has an impressive 4.8-star average rating from more than 1,200 reviews on Amazon. In the story, Little Critter’s mom waves Little Critter and his dad off as they go on a camping trip. The two “critters” bond while canoeing, fishing and sleeping in a tent.
“I introduced this book to my preschooler, and he loved it,” recalls Tim Fox who loves this book inspired by “Goodnight Moon” for a number of reasons. First, it emphasizes RV camping. Author Loretta Sponsler actually wrote “Goodnight Campsite” after not being able to find RV-specific children’s books. Second, it includes a fun campsite bingo game the whole family can play. And what if your little one has a hard time paying attention? Fox says the hide and seek squirrel activity throughout the story is great at keeping even the most antsy kids engaged.
Another great interactive book to bring camping is this interactive nature guide by Storey Publishing that comes highly recommended by Ginna Neel of the Kid Book Nook. Neel loves it because it’s packed with activities, stickers, checklists and even a magnifying glass that helps kids get a closer look at the things they find while camping. At $10 it’s one of the pricier books on this list. But it’s a great investment when you consider the hours of G-rated entertainment it will provide.
Japanese-born author Allen Say pairs hand-painted illustrations with his beautiful yet simple prose in this kid-friendly story about the benefits of spending solitary time in nature. “I thought my son would be dreadfully bored on our camping trip, but ‘The Lost Lake’ really got him into adventure mode,” says Barbara Nevers, founder of the parenting advice website, NeoLittle. Nevers highly recommends it for kids who think they’d rather play with an iPad than explore outside.
With its buttons that play night time forest noises, this book is great for toddlers and even babies. ‘It’s helpful for kids who have never camped overnight as the Brave Little Camper is about to spend his first night in the forest too,” says Stacy Bressler who blogs at the Crazy Outdoor Mama. “He describes the sounds he hears so that kids can become familiar with what an overnight camp experience might be like.” Another thing to appreciate about this story? It takes place while trailer camping so RVs kids can relate.
Why is this 32-page book about a young bunny named P.J. such a must read? According to Diana Hansen, camping expert at Let’s Camp S’more, it’s because it “smashes stereotypes.” In the book, P.J. and his friends learn that sometimes girls can make for better, or at least braver, campers than boys.
Katie Jackson is a writer and media specialist based in Montana’s Big Sky Country. Living and working everywhere from New York to Nicaragua, Katie is no stranger to adventure. When she’s not traveling the world (or writing about it!) she’s busy chasing after a Leonberger named Zeus. Follow Katie’s travels on Instagram @katietalkstravel.