I never read Goodnight Moon — written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd. I was not what you might call “actively parented,” and so bedtime stories were not a thing at our house. Most children stories I’ve read during my life have come after growing-up (or at least growing older– not sure I ever “grew-up”).
So anyway, when I was thinking about how I wanted to take my Braille studies to the next level (beyond just memorizing the alphabet and keywords), I thought– what about reading a children’s book? And when I checked for Braille books at my local library, the folks there just happened to have Goodnight Moon, and I recognized the name from numerous nostalgic references overheard throughout the years.
What to say about the story? Obviously, it must work, or else the book would not have remained so beloved for so long. However, I found nothing especially marvelous about the writing. Nevertheless, I have some guesses as to why children and parents so love this book.
First off, it’s about going to bed. It probably puts the kid in the right frame of mind, and makes him or her feel better about bedtime knowing that other children all over the world– even little bunnies– eventually have to go to sleep.
Secondly, the book makes bedtime seem so comfortable and warm and safe. Can’t you just feel the little tyke’s eyelids getting heavy?
Thirdly, the story is hardly a story at all. It just a series of “goodnights” to a variety of objects. But part of the brilliance is that the objects are things which would be familiar to a child. So there is little thinking or excitement to keep the child’s mind over-actively engaged, and the soon-to-be-slumberer can begin to drift away to the– somewhat monotonous– rhyming sounds of the adult’s voice.
Speaking of the rhymes… they are for the most part pedestrian, sometimes forced. For example, Brown seems to have said “goodnight air” because she needed a word to rhyme with “where.” On the other hand, there is a witty little “goodnight nobody” line that I’m sure has made many a child (and adult) smile.
But it is the artwork that really sets this book apart. Clement Hurd is Van Gogh for kids. In fact, I’m pretty sure I saw Van Gogh’s famous window in one illustration for a family of bears. And the colors, dominated by loud reds and greens, are stolen straight from Van Gogh’s palette.
Hurd illustrates every panel with wit and verve, and this makes the book perfect for multiple readings– which any parent knows is the fate of every enjoyed children’s book.
Apparently, a favorite game for many children and parents to play while reading the book is “where’s the mouse?” Hurd has inserted a small mouse in different places throughout the book. In the Braille version, in fact, the game has become so much a part of reading the book, that the editors put a little tactile dot on the mouse whenever he shows up so that blind children can also play the game.
I won’t go into all that Hurd is doing in these works of art. I will say that– without making the illustrations seem the least bit busy– he infuses into each illustration numerous visual witticisms. I got a chuckle out of the disappearing and reappearing balloon– why it is or isn’t in the room is anybody’s guess! Maybe Hurd just needed a splash of red color in this corner or that.
Hurd makes it look so easy to illustrate the slow darkening of the room as the sun goes down that on my first reading I didn’t really notice that he was having to recolor very precisely to give the appearance of lengthening shadows– and this was before any computer program would have been around to do the luminosity calculations for him.
One final note that I found poignant… According to the editors of the Braille version of Goodnight Moon, many blind people to whom the book was read as children did not know that the character referred to in the book as the “old lady” was actually a grown-up rabbit– obviously, the children couldn’t have seen Hurd’s portrait of her– ears and all.
And that thought leaves me ending this post with an unexpected sadness… for I am reminded that– though the Braille-ification of Goodnight Moon is a great service for sightless children all over the world and for generations to come, most of them will never have the opportunity to see the treasure of Hurd’s illustrations.
We all have our burdens and our blessings… but most of us have a lot more blessings than burdens, and we should take more time– more deep and heartfelt time– to be thankful for these blessings, big and small. Perhaps a good time for this would be while we’re going to bed, when we’re casting a glance out the window at the beauty of nature in the pale moonlight… Goodnight, Moon.