Top 100 Picture Books Poll Results (#2)
#2: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947)
260 points (41 votes, #9, #6, #4, #2, #1, #4, #1, #1, #9, #1, #9, #4, #4, #4, #7, #3, #5, #8, #9, #8, #7, #10, #3, #2, #6, #1, #7, #3, #5, #3, #10, #3, #4, #5, #1, #3, #2, #4, #6, #5, #2)
I was never much taken with Goodnight Moon until we had Luke. It wasn’t on my radar as a child and, when I was working as a teacher, I considered Clement Hurd’s illustrations dated and the text boring. But the book, which was one of the first we read to him, charmed Luke when was he was tiny. He still loves to read it, and both the illustrations and the text, which I now consider poetic, grew on me by leaps and bounds. Our copy is a board book version that’s seen better days and we’ll probably have to buy another one for the new baby. After repeated readings of this book, I developed a fascination with its author Margaret Wise Brown, and went on to read the excellent biography of her, Awakened by the Moon, by Leonard Marcus. – Stephany Aulenback
I didn’t know this story as a child, but I’ve read it to my own children far too many times to count. On the surface, it seems to be a book about nothing, but just as Seinfeld was (on the surface) “a show about nothing” which actually dealt with universal issues, so too is this book one that children everywhere can relate to . Okay, that sentence really needs a lot of editing, but it’s late and the midnight deadline for submission is looming. You understand what I’m trying to say, right? – Lori June
Okay, a personal note. My son was a terrible sleeper as a baby. I think this book saved my sanity. It was a life raft I clung to in a haze of sleep deprivation. It was so soothing. It seemed to say, every time, "it’s going to be all right." – Chris Rodas
I actually only started appreciating this in the past couple weeks, when it suddenly became one of my 2-year-old’s Favorite Books Ever. Reading it OVER AND OVER, rather than making me sick of it, made me notice exactly how cozy and comforting the rhythm of the book IS. And I love the odd little touches, like how he ends up saying goodnight to way more things than just the things mentioned in the first part of the book (and yet not the telephone), and how the big color spreads seem to show the same scene over and over but there’s always something different happening if you look close. – rockinlibrarian
This book was read to me as a child and its value is far more obvious to me after having a child. The language is soothing, gentle, calming and so is the green room. Another benefit of this book is it allows people to extrapolate and create their own bedtime goodnight traditions. We are actually going to see the musical and it’s being performed at an exceptional children’s theatre: Seattle Children’s Theatre. They’ve scored the play and the music is terrific. I will note, however, that my son notices the book’s imperfections and that used to distract from the soothing nature of the story! For example, a doorknob is missing on the little toy house in one picture and he used to remark upon that! – Samantha Vamos
Ah, hell. This book is, really, the soundtrack to bedtime, can’t escape it, though I try. – Laurel Snyder
I’ve posted more of these quotes from my readers than usual because I believe that taken as a whole they say a lot about why this book remains remembered. Do you see how none of them really said that this was a book beloved of them from their own childhood? Time and again my readers would tell me that they loved it because of what it did to their children. In March 1953, this book was spotlighted in Child Behavior, a syndicated parental-advice column with what I consider the sentence that defines this book. "It captures the two-year-old so completely that it seems almost unlawful that you can hypnotize a child off to sleep as easily as you can by reading this small classic." And millions of parents walk around feeling guilt free.
A description of the plot (such as it is) courtesy of The Christian Science Monitor: "A little rabbit bids goodnight to each familiar thing in his moonlit room. Rhythmic, gently lulling words combined with warm and equally lulling pictures make this beloved classic an ideal bedtime book."
The reference book I should really have on hand for this (and don’t) was mentioned already by Stephany. Awakened by the Moon by Leonard Marcus is the definitive Margaret Wise Brown biography. However, I do not own it as I was never a Goodnight Moon fan (oh yeah, I said it!). In lieu of that, we shall have to look at other books instead for our info. 100 Best Books for Children makes note of the fact that when Clement Hurd first illustrated this book he made the boy and the grandmother human. This was changed into bunnies at a later date. And at editor Ursula Nordstrom’s suggestion the udders on the cow also became less anatomically correct (which is strange considering that Nordstrom would later defend the very human anatomical parts found in In the Night Kitchen).
Nothing popular is without controversy. Even something as sweet and innocent as Goodnight Moon. In the case of this book we have two controversial topics to refer to. #1 involves illegitimate children and an unworthy heir. #2 is the case of a missing cigarette.
Let’s look at #1 first. I’d consider the pedigree of this story sketchy, were it not so bloody well written. Apparently the article Runaway Money: A Children’s Classic, A 9-Year-Old-Boy And a Fateful Bequest appeared in The Wall Street Journal, though the sole copy I can find online appears on the reporter’s website. The long and the short of it is that Margaret Wise Brown willed a neighbor’s child as the benefactor of some of her books. Amongst them, Goodnight Moon. And for this particular kid, there couldn’t possibly have been a worse gift to give. It’s fascinating. Particularly when you get to his dubious claims regarding Ms. Brown’s relationship to himself.
Controversy #2 – Clement Hurd and his penchant for the smokes. Cast your minds back to 2005. An innocent time. A time when Harper Collins decided that maybe it would be a good idea to remove the cigarette from illustrator Clement Hurd’s photograph. CNET News said of the image, "Now, it looks like Hurd is trying to get someone to repay him 20 bucks." Even Clement Hurd, Thatcher’s son who gave permission for the removal, said of the picture that it, "looks slightly absurd to me." The New York Times did a piece on the change and capped it off well. "And the publisher may have inadvertently created a collector’s item: The next editions of ‘Goodnight Moon’ will likely feature a different photograph of Mr. Hurd, without a cigarette in hand."
Karen Karbo wrote an amusing riff on the other dangerous elements in this book as well (ex: "Balloons cause more choking deaths among 3- to 6-year-olds than any other toy. Suggested change: Digitally remove.")
Recent children’s books have found themselves unable to resist poking a bit of fun in this old classic. I refer of course to Michael Rex’s wonderful Goodnight Goon, which came out in 2008 to wild laughter around the country. And this year we’re seeing a delightful book of poetry called Food Hates You Too and Other Poems by Robert Weinstock. The poem "Mom" displays the usual Goodnight Moon set-up, albeit with hungry insects rather than bunnies. I shall take the liberty of writing out the poem in its entirety here: "I ate your father. Yes it’s true. / That’s what we praying mantids do. / His last words to me were ‘Adieu. / If only I could eat you, too’." Love it.
Read the full book here.
Or page through it here:
The New Yorker called it a "hypnotic bedtime litany."
Previous Top 100 Picture Book Posts include:
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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