International Lullabies: French, English, & Spanish Bedtime Songs for Children

Of all the cultural treasures in the world, lullabies must be among the sweetest snippets of language and melody. In the short film collection Paris, je t'aime, one of the more moving five-minute stories (Loin du 16eme) featured a nanny singing a Spanish lullaby. The lullaby she sang is called "Qué Linda Manita" and it refers to the sweet little hands, eyes, and other body parts that God gave the baby.

I don't remember any lullabies from my childhood, but there is a song that I associate with bedtime. On a nightstand beside my bed was a lamp with wooden figurines on a seesaw. The lamp played a simple wind-up melody called Say, Say Oh Playmate. My mama taught me the words and wrote them in my baby book. (This American song goes back to the 1930s or earlier).

"Say say oh playmate, come out and play with me

Bring out your dollies three; climb up my apple tree

Slide down my rainbow into my cellar door 

and we'll be jolly friends forevermore."

  Jeune mère contemplant son enfant endormi  by Albert Anker

Jeune mère contemplant son enfant endormi by Albert Anker

When my daughter was born, I didn't know any French lullabies, so I sang her "Rock-a-bye Baby" in English.

"Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all."

The lyrics seem a bit disturbing, but I'd like to believe the song is about childbirth. (There's no strong historic evidence for this, however.) 

Fais Dodo classic drawing.png

Mostly of all, though, I wanted to sing to my child in French, so I bought a collection of classic French children's songs in book format: Mon Premiere Larousse de Chansons et Comptines. It doesn't include a CD, but it does include music notation and lyrics. (A newer and cheaper version is available at

From that collection, Fais Dodo became my chosen lullaby for my daughter. The song is sung from the perspective of a girl singing to her little brother ('Colas, short for Nicolas). She tells him to go to sleep; he will get lolo (milk) later, but right now mama is making cake and papa is making hot chocolate:

Fais dodo, 'Colas, mon p'tit frère,

Fais dodo, t'auras du lolo.

Maman est en haut, qui fait du gateau;

Papa est en bas, qu'il fait du chocolat...

When my daughter was an infant, we had an Italian exchange student living with us, and she laughed at how frequently I sang Fais dodo in the car to soothe my daughter, who hated being strapped in her car seat!

Dodo, l'enfant do (Sleepytime, The Child Sleeps) is another French lullaby I recently learned. The main chorus is very simple: 

Do, do, l'enfant do,

l'enfant dormira bien vite,

do, do, l'enfant do,

l'enfant dormira bientôt.

And my new favorite French lullaby is La petite poule grise. It is about a little hen who will lay an egg for a sleeping child. In each verse, the hen's color changes and she lays her egg in a different place. I wasn't able to find an mp3 file, but there is a YouTube video featuring the song.

I think modern generations are losing the habit of singing lullabies to children, but we also use technology to save and share songs for future generations. Do you know a sweet lullaby in another language? What routines did you use as you put your little ones to sleep?

Sweet dreams--faites de beaux rêves!