May 29, 2009

Goodnight Moon -- More than a Classic

I was at a baby shower recently where the mom-to-be received a copy of Goodnight Moon. A guest behind me whispered, “I don’t get why kids love that book. I think it’s dumb.” I wished that she had been with me when our public library honored Goodnight Moon in 2007. It was the book’s 60th anniversary, and at a story hour kids were asked why the book is a favorite. From their point of view, this is why Goodnight Moon isn’t dumb:

First of all, there’s the little, white mouse. She silently scampers through the story, but grownups might not notice until a child points her out. You have to look hard to find her. You might miss that she’s snatching mush from a bowl on the bedside table or that she’s silhouetted in the moonlight on the book’s last page. Children see her right away. They wish that there were more pages in Goodnight Moon, so they could find the mouse again.

If you look closely, in the Great Green Room you’ll see kittens playing with balls of yarn. Grownups ask: "Don’t those kittens see the mouse? Why isn’t the mouse afraid of the kittens?" Children know the answer. According to a young boy named Benjamin, there’s a very good reason why the mouse isn’t afraid. “It’s a story, and in stories cats don’t actually eat mice.” The idea that children see the mouse when the cats don’t is another little secret in Goodnight Moon.

Children identify with Little Bunny in his blue striped pajamas. He’s tucked into bed, but just for a while. They notice that he climbs out from under the covers and fluffs his pillow. He sits with his paws wrapped around his bent knees, watching the kittens play. Children giggle when he says goodnight to – nobody! That’s because they understand that nobody goes to bed until they've exhausted all their excuses to stay up just a little bit longer.

Then there’s the old lady in the rocking chair. Who is she? Ask a child, and you might learn that it’s Little Bunny's grandma. She’s come to tuck him in. The old lady sits quietly in the rocking chair and whispers, “Hush.” Grownups don’t notice, but kids do, that Little Bunny is getting sleepy. Kids know that the old lady will stay until Little Bunny is sound asleep. That’s what grownups do, after all, when kids are afraid of the dark. The proof is on the last page where Little Bunny lies sleeping, and the old lady is gone.

Benjamin offered another observation. Don’t forget about the toy house. It’s there, tucked away in the corner of the pages. There’s nothing particularly interesting about it. “But, hey! Somebody left the lights on!” Children notice that although the bedroom is dark and the old lady is gone, there are lights on inside the toy house. They find those lights comforting.

Oh, and there’s one more thing grownups might not notice when they read Goodnight Moon. A five-year-old named Ashley pointed it out. “They left a fire burning in the fireplace, and nobody is watching it. That’s not safe; it’s dumb.”

Yes, Ashley, leaving a fire burning unattended is dumb, and Goodnight Moon is not. You know it, and so does every other child who’s recited the words: "Goodnight room, goodnight moon, goodnight cow jumping over the moon…"


To commemorate the 50th anniversary of this classic, the publisher, Harper Collins, invited readers to leave comments on their web site. I can’t end this week’s blog posting without sharing the following with my readers. It appeared on the Harper Collins site in 1997.

“I hesitate to send in a very personal story, but I want to share a different aspect of the power of this little book. It's power to comfort and to sooth bedtime fears with the warmth and security of the "great green room" on every page, has taken on an even more profound meaning in our family and our community. I have read Goodnight Moon to my two sons since the oldest was born in 1980. When I was 42, I found out that I was going to have a daughter. Goodnight Moon was Georgia's first and her favorite book. She kissed the kittens and waved to the moon. She begged all of us to read it to her, but it was our 10-year-old son, Walker, who was most often found sitting with her reading the story. Georgia died in 1994 in an accident on her second birthday. 500 people crowded into the church to comfort us and to comfort each other. Walker, who has learning disabilities and has had a hard time learning to read, got up to read Goodnight Moon. He was visibly nervous, but several pages in, he forgot all about the people crowded into the church, and he read unhesitatingly from the heart. A friend sitting beside the children's librarian from our public library, noticed her lips moving as she silently recited the words of this beloved book along with him. Later, we realized that she wasn't the only one. Of all the events of that week, of all the music, talk and readings at the funeral, it was Goodnight Moon that brought the greatest comfort. Thank you Margaret Wise Brown for this enduring book and thank-you Harper Collins for honoring it.”

Goodnight stars,
Goodnight air,
Goodnight noises everywhere.