Why the unconventional bedtime story Goodnight Moon lasts 75 years

good night moon was a limp bite.

Margaret Wise Brown’s now-classic picture book about a rabbit that says goodnight to everything it sees — bears in chairs, a red balloon, the bowl of mush, and, of course, the moon — slowly found a home on bedside tables when it was published in September. 1947.

With its simple language, soothing rhythm and bold colored illustrations of the Great Green Room by Clement Hurd, it was a departure from the moralistic fairy tales and fantasies in vogue at the time.

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

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

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

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

“At the same time, she was part of her time and children’s books were seen as second-rate in terms of artistic achievement in general, and the books for babies were on the low, low end of that spectrum.”

Understanding the needs of children

Brown was a poet of “temperament,” according to Marcus, and had ambitions to write for the New Yorker. However, she struggled to write for adults, the biographer said.

When she happened upon what is now known as the Bank Street College of Education, she found her place, he said The Sunday Magazine.

Bank Street taught progressive approaches to child rearing and championed the idea that books had a place at the very beginning of children’s lives.

There Marcus wrote stories for kindergarten students and collected feedback from the children themselves. It was their worldview and desires that influenced the stories she told.

LISTENING | Leonard Marcus on Margaret Wise Brown’s Life and Career:

The Sunday Magazine6:21How the unconventional Goodnight Moon became a childhood classic

The writer once said that kids were looking for “some beautiful big adult words to bite into”, wrote Anna Holmes in the New Yorker.

“While she brought the Bank Street pieces into her understanding of children and youth, she also brought in her own upbringing and love of literature,” said Paul.

In good night moon, Brown eschewed the fantastical worlds of then-contemporary children’s literature and instead embraced the usual elements of a young person’s world (although her defining work no doubt contains some quirky elements), experts said.

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

Reflection of cultural views

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

Anne Carroll Moore, an influential librarian who headed the children’s section of the New York Public Library, withheld good night moon from the collection. A review by the library described it as “unbearably sentimental,” and it wouldn’t hit shelves in the system until 1972.

“The library philosophy was really rooted in the realization that it’s important to protect children from the harsh realities of life,” Marcus says.

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

“These kinds of concepts about children play a pretty big role in what is written for children,” 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, Rogers says.

Maurice Sendak’s Where the wild things are a “deep psychological book” acknowledging children’s fears and trepidation was also controversial when it was released in 1963.

While libraries ran out of stock good night moon It first gained popularity 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 you can put a child to sleep as easily as you can by reading this little classic,” the Wall Street Journal reported.

“It was the beginning of a popular movement in support of that book, which essentially went over the heads of the librarians who were the self-proclaimed experts and arbiters of the time,” Marcus said.

The New York Public Library acknowledged in a 2020 article that, had it not been for the librarian’s decision to preserve good night moon off the shelves, it is would probably have been the library’s most borrowed book.

Brown’s Goodnight Moon was praised for its simple language, sleep rhythm and bold illustrations by Clement Hurd. (Harper Collins)

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 eventually written.

Several of her manuscripts were also published posthumously.

More than seven decades since the groundbreaking good night moon was released, experts and readers say Brown’s work holds up.

good night moon stands as an example of mixing literature with what children need, Paul says, noting that many of today’s children’s books, like leveled readers, are more focused on teaching the structure of language and literacy, but rather on teaching the structure of language and literacy. written in an unnatural way.

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

Even in a world where seemingly boundless books exist, good night moon remains a bedtime staple.

“It’s often given as a book to read to children, still, along with the much smarter, more sophisticated, postmodern, interactive series of books and a myriad of topics that are now available,” Rogers said.

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


Interview with Leonard Marcus produced by Sarah-Joyce Battersby.

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