Things You Might Not Have Known About Goodnight Moon

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd

I have read this book at least once per night since Eliza was three months old. And I have not gotten sick of it-- that is the magic of Goodnight Moon for you!

During my four-month study, I have managed to notice a few things about this dear old classic. Here is my current list:
  • You can hunt for the mouse in every scene.
  • The moon rises higher each time it’s in the window.
  • A copy of Goodnight Moon is on the nightstand, all green though.
  • A copy of Runaway Bunny (by the same author and illustrator) is on the bookshelf, also all green.
  • The socks on the rack disappear when we say goodnight to the mittens on the rack. This was surely to avoid the oddness of looking at socks *and* mittens while bidding goodnight only to the mittens. (The socks get their turn with the clocks.)
  • The red balloon is sometimes visible in the corner of the room, sometimes not. I imagine it floating around the room, phantom-like.
  • The teats appear to have been edited out of the cow jumping over the moon—they seem to be painted over, sometimes not so well. Since I work in publishing, I imagine some executive-level person being uncomfortable with the teats, and the art having to be corrected. Who knows!
  • The cow jumping over the moon appears in the Three Little Bears painting, too.
Now if I put on my "children's book editor" hat, I can tell you a few other things I notice... If you can bear with me...
  • The word "goodnight" actually does not (yet) exist as one word in English. It is two words according to Websters (and therefore to the proofreaders of the world). You would think the sheer force of Goodnight Moon would have forced Websters to concede. But alas. (There are lots of similar situations, where common usage has married two words and Websters insists that the union is not legal. Rain forest and shoe box are examples. Or, sometimes Websters allows two words that are commonly married to be joined with a hyphen, kind of like a domestic partnership. "Good-bye" is in this camp. Issues like these force copy editors and proofreaders to wear down a lot of pencils.)
  • There is no punctuation in Goodnight Moon. No periods to end sentences. Nothing. I suppose a copy editor could look the other way because it's poetry.
And about the art. . .
  • You know how there is a limited palette of colors? Goodnight Moon was published so long ago (1947), it was before our normal four-color printing process came along. So, each of those colors was its own color plate. It looks to me like they had a red plate, a blue plate, a yellow plate, and a black plate. I bet the green was made by printing the yellow on top of the blue. So, imagine the page being composed of several layers of tracing paper, one layer for each color. Everything that was red on the page would have been rendered by the artist in black on the "red layer." Then the red printing plate would have been made out of that layer. So, you would have only seen the scene in color once it was printed... Not an easy way to illustrate a book! (Now, fyi, Goodnight Moon is printed on a normal four-color press. It's much more expensive to print it the old way now.)
  • A longtime veteran in the children's book world, Christopher Franceschelli (who founded Handprint Books), told me that the reason the book has alternating color spreads and black-and-white spreads is because that was a common money-saving technique back when GM was published. So, instead of printing the whole book in color, they printed only half of it in color. Impressive how they made it seem completely intentional (as if it was done for visual variety and pacing), alternating between quiet vignettes and full-room scenes!
Eliza is calling me now... Better go! Goodbye for now! (Or Good-bye!)

Don't Mess with Brown Bear

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
by Bill Martin Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle

This is one of those perfect "first books" for baby. The repetition, rhyme, rhythm, and short text are ideal for reading aloud to a baby. The art is wonderfully vibrant and simple--bold colors and big shapes on plain white backgrounds. When you put this art and text together, you have something that pleases baby's eyes AND ears-- and really holds her attention.

Each page goes like this:

Red bird, red bird,
What do you see?

I see a yellow duck
looking at me!

This text became so familiar to my daughter that when we hand her a yellow rubber ducky in the bath, we say, "Yellow duck, yellow duck, what do you see? I see Eliza looking at me!" She loves it! We also do "I see mama looking at me" and "I see dada looking at me" when we look in the mirror. Endless fun to be had with "what do you see" and "looking at me"!

So, of course, given Miss E's excitement with this text, I went out to get a sequel. I have looked at all three (Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? and Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You Hear?). And the winner is . . .

Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?
by Bill Martin Jr, illustrated by Eric Carle

This is actually the most recent of the sequels, published in 2007, forty years after Brown Bear was published (in 1967). Brown Bear was actually Eric Carle's first book (though the art on the current board book cover, shown at the top of this post, is revised art he did for the 25th anniversary edition).

What I love about Baby Bear is that it holds true to the two things I love about Brown Bear: 1) The wonderful rhythm of the text and 2) The simplicity of the art. I think both Polar Bear and Panda Bear mess with the formula too much.

Panda Bear is particularly atrocious when it comes to the rhythm. Because it is trying to feature endangered animals, the text becomes encumbered, as many of the animals have names that are too long to work in the rhythm (which is meant for a two-syllable animal name -- or maybe three syllables if one can be swallowed a bit!). Here is an example of the terrible rhythm:

from Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?

Come on! Green sea turtle? Macaroni penguin? Talk about awkward mouthfuls! As the notion of "endangered species" is completely lost on my baby (and on most of the readership, really), I take the liberty of editing the text as I read it. So, Eliza just hears: "Turtle, turtle, what do you see?" And "I see a penguin strutting by me." I recommend that to anyone who wants to salvage Panda Bear. This book could have been great if the names had been done in short form. The full names of the endangered species could have been featured on an explanatory spread in the back (for the upper end of the readership, and for adults!).

Anyway, back to Baby Bear-- the art is also more like Brown Bear in that the backgrounds are kept pure white, so there's plenty of stark contrast. Panda Bear has some painted backgrounds (and squiggly line backgrounds like the one above) that can cause the animals to get a bit lost.

One small critique of Baby Bear-- they could have chosen a few more non-brown animals! Even in keeping with the North America theme, there's room for a yellow or green animal... And I also have to forgive the author for this stumbler: "I see a striped skunk strutting by me." ("Striped skunk, striped skunk what do you see" then follows... not so easy on the read-alouder!)

So, anyway, if you love Brown Bear and want another one, I'd say try Baby Bear next, as it's the closest sibling. Then try Panda Bear with edits. As for Polar Bear, well, that's up to you. I left that one in the store myself, as it departed a lot from the formula ("what do you hear" instead of "what do you see", and I didn't love the text). It's more of a cousin than a sibling...

Anyway, those are my musings on bears for this morning!

Another Side of Richard Scarry

I am a Bunny
by Ole Risom, Illustrated by Richard Scarry

If you are most familiar with Richard Scarry's art from "Busy, Busy Town" and his various books about "things that go," this book will show you a whole other side of his talent. It has lush, painterly nature scenes in which a little bunny, Nicholas, plays with butterflies, watches birds and frogs, and takes in the changes of the seasons.

The trim of the book (tall vertical) gives each scene an a sort of grand theatrical quality. You know how opera scenery can be so big and grand that the actors look small? These tall nature scenes with a little bunny in them have a similar grandeur to them. And yet they are still so sweet. The bunny's expressions and poses are adorably childlike. Here is my favorite:

(I am no butterfly expert, but it seems that he has taken care to depict real butterflies. Same appears to be true of the birds on other pages.)

My baby seems to study the scenes; since Nicholas wears the same bright outfit in almost every scene, I think she is noticing him. Once she develops language it will be fun ask her, "Where's Nicholas?"

The text is very simple-- nothing special, but very easy and sweet to read to a baby. Just one simple sentence per spread. It is really a perfect introduction to the seasons. I can't recommend it enough! (And I thank the colleague who recommended it to me!)

A Book We Love as Much as Goodnight Moon

Like so many of her fellow babies, my daughter was given more than one copy of Goodnight Moon. Both copies were baby shower gifts, and we kept both, thinking one could stay at grandma’s house. I knew it would be an essential book.

And it is. We read Goodnight Moon every night—there is something very special about it, no doubt. It has the perfect rhythm and vibe for bedtime.

I heard recently that Goodnight Moon has had the honor of “most-returned book” at Barnes and Noble, clearly because of its status as a go-to baby gift. That’s why I’m happy to recommend ANOTHER good baby bedtime book for those who want something different.

It’s a Chronicle book (I'm an editor there, but this is not one of my books). I happened to bring it home one night, and now we read it every night, right after Goodnight Moon. It is…

I’ll See You in the Morning
by Mike Jolley, illustrated by Mique Moriuchi

It has lovely rhythm and rhyme, and it also has a sweet, reassuring message. Here is an excerpt:

So close your eyes
And go to sleep
By the light of the moon above.
I’ll see you in the morning,
In the light of the sun,
My love.

Here is a video of me and my daughter reading it:

So, if you get tired of saying good night to nobody and good night to mush…or if you’re just looking for another sweet bedtime book, try this one! It gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from me and my family. (My husband even says he likes it *better* than Goodnight Moon… sacrilege!)