Why the unconventional bedtime tale Goodnight Moon endures 75 years on

good night moon was a sleeper hit.

Margaret Wise Brown’s now-classic picture book about a rabbit who says goodnight to everything he sees – bears on chairs, a red balloon, the bowl of porridge and, of course, the moon – was slow to find a home on bedside tables when it so was published September 1947.

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With its simple language, soothing rhythm, and richly colored illustrations of Clement Hurd’s Great Green Room, it was a departure from the moralistic fairy tales and fantasies of the day.

Margaret Wise Brown is the author of Goodnight Moon and many other children’s books including The Runaway Bunny. (Consuelo Kanaga/HarperCollins)

“It feels like a kind of incantation,” said Lissa Paul, director of the PhD program in interdisciplinary humanities at Brock University.

“One of the things that makes this such an eternally beautiful book is that it captures the rhythms and cadences of bedtime perfectly.”

Despite the fact that good night moon has sold more than 40 million copies and continues to top the bestseller lists. When it was first published 75 years ago, it represented a new concept in children’s literature.

“I think deep inside [Brown] understood that what she was doing was meaningful and that she was reaching out to young children in a way that probably had never been seen in books before,” said Leonard Marcus, author of the biography Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon.

“At the same time, it was part of her time and children’s books were generally considered second-rate in terms of artistic achievement, and baby books were on the lower, lower end of that spectrum.”

Understand the needs of the children

A “temperamental” poet, according to Marcus, Brown had ambitions to write for the New Yorker. However, she struggled to write for adults, the biographer said.

When she accidentally ended up at what is now Bank Street College of Education, she found her niche, he said The Sunday Magazine.

Bank Street taught progressive approaches to educating children and favored the idea that books had a place in children’s lives from the very beginning.

While there, Marcus said she wrote stories for students in kindergarten and solicited feedback from the children themselves. Her worldview and desires influenced the stories she told.

HEAR | Leonard Marcus on the life and career of Margaret Wise Brown:

The Sunday Magazine6:21How the unconventional Goodnight Moon became a children’s classic

The writer once said that kids look for “some great big words for adults to bite into.” wrote Anna Holmes in the New Yorker.

“Although she brought the Bank Street plays to her understanding of children and childhood, she also brought her own upbringing and love of literature to the table,” Paul said.

in the good night moon Brown eschewed the fantastical worlds of then-contemporary children’s literature, instead embracing the usual elements of a young person’s world (though her defining work undoubtedly contains some whimsical elements), experts said.

“Part of what made her work so special was the emotional truthfulness,” Marcus said.

Reflect cultural views

Despite its popularity with children, good night moon was considered a bad choice for children.

Anne Carroll Moore, an influential librarian who headed the children’s department of the New York Public Library, held back good night moon from his collection. A library review described it as “intolerably sentimental”, and it did not appear on the system’s shelves until 1972.

“The library philosophy is really rooted in an awareness of the importance of protecting children from the harsh realities of life,” Marcus said.

Children’s books often reflect cultural views of the time they were published, says Theresa Rogers, a professor of education at the University of British Columbia. They also tend to focus on innocence.

“Those kinds of concepts about kids play a pretty big part in what’s written for kids,” she said.

I still read it to my grandchildren, I read it to my children – and it stands the test of time.– Theresa Rogers, Professor of Education

But just as there are prevailing views, there are also competing views, says Rogers.

Maurice Sendaks where the wild things are A “depth psychology book” that acknowledges children’s fears and anxieties was similarly controversial when it was published in 1963.

While libraries were out of stock good night moon It gained popularity in its early days when two psychologists known for their syndicated advice column praised the book in the early 1950s. The authors wrote that “it seems almost illegal that one could hypnotize a child to sleep as easily as possible by reading this little classic,” reported the Wall Street Journal.

“It was the beginning of a grassroots movement in support of this book that essentially went over the heads of the librarians, who were the self-appointed experts and arbiters of the day,” Marcus said.

The New York Public Library conceded in a 2020 article that it was not up to the librarian to keep them good night moon off the shelves, it would probably have been the library’s most borrowed book.

Brown’s Goodnight Moon was celebrated by Clement Hurd for its simple language, soothing rhythm and bold illustrations. (HarperCollins)

Bedtime staple to this day

Brown died in 1952 at the age of 42. Before her death, she had been writing notes about a possible Broadway musical that Marcus believes she would have ultimately written.

Some of her manuscripts were also published posthumously.

Over seven decades since groundbreaking good night moon published, experts and readers alike say Brown’s work stands.

good night moon is an example of mixing literature with what children need, says Paul, noting that many of today’s children’s books, such as

“All sorts of words that people don’t use about literacy, education, are words contained in Margaret Wise Brown and in the feelings Margaret Wise Brown generated – ideas of love, desire, observation, caring, attention to the way This language actually communicates that there is something you love and want to share with someone else,” she said.

Even in a world where seemingly unlimited books exist, good night moon remains a staple before bed.

“It’s still often gifted as a book to read to children, along with the much smarter, more sophisticated, post-modern, interactive range of books and wide range of subjects that are now available,” Rogers said.

“I still read it to my grandkids, I read it to my kids — and it stands the test of time.”

Interview with Leonard Marcus produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby.

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