Top 100 Picture Books #4: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
#4 Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947)
Well, it’s a classic for a reason. – Joanne Rousseau
This one I can still recite even though I last read at least 10 or more years ago. Again a classic that will endure and delight for a long time to come. – Christine Kelly
My daughter had this book read to her every night from the womb until she was almost 3. When I think of perfect bedtime stories, this is at the top of the list. – DeAnn Okamura
Time and again my readers would tell me that they loved this book 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) is Awakened by the Moon by Leonard Marcus, the definitive Margaret Wise Brown biography. 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 the delightful book of poetry Food Hates You Too and Other Poems by Robert Weinstock contains 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.
The New Yorker called it a “hypnotic bedtime litany.”
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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