I was dressing my 10-month-old son on his bedroom floor the other evening when he started reaching up. I saw his fingers brush the edge of the orange cover of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, which was on the edge of the second-lowest shelf. Once he was fully clothed in pajamas, I sat him up and pulled the book off the shelf.
“In the great green room,” I began, setting him on my knee.
He stopped squirming and clapped his hands together, ready for his story.
My son was 3½-months-old when my mother sent him Goodnight Moon for Christmas. At that point, it was one of the five children’s books that was not 16,000 miles away in storage. I read it to him every night for months.
At first, I thought I’d get tired of reading him the same story every night. After all, at four months, I know he wasn’t really listening or looking at the pictures. Reading to him was a struggle for a few months, especially when he started “eating” the books (literally taking a bite out of one book). But nights like the other night, nights when he is excited to read, reinforce the need to keep reading.
Besides, I’ve found that I love to read Goodnight Moon. Yes, every night the little bunny says goodnight to the same objects in his same green room in the same order. But it is a different experience every night. Some nights I point out the toys in the pictures. Some nights we read slowly. On some squirmy nights we read very quickly. Some nights we read backward because my son wants to turn the pages himself.
The words are simple, and the rhymes are lilting and gentle. Goodnight Moon is a lullaby.
Goodnight noises everywhere.
I recently purchased Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer. I have only just begun to read it, but so far I enjoy it very much. It is a textbook about children’s reading, and, as the subtitle states, Lerer is following the child-aged reader through history, rather than the writer, as many such books do.
As I read the introduction, I felt shivers of excitement as he talked about the power children’s literature can have on a child’s life. Lerer wrote:
Even the most ordinary prose becomes magical when read aloud at bedtime. And even the simplest-seeming of our children’s books teaches something elegant and deep.
Then he quotes Leonard Marcus’ thoughts about Goodnight Moon. Marcus wrote the following in the biography of Margaret Wise Brown (and this makes me want to read the biography):
Goodnight Moon is a supremely comforting evocation of the companionable objects of the daylight world. It is also a ritual preparation for a journey beyond that world, a leave-taking of the known for the unknown world of darkness and dreams. … [I]t is partly spoken in the voice of the child, who takes possession of that world by naming its particulars all over again, addressing them directly, one by one, as though each were alive, and bidding each goodnight. … The sense of an ending descends gradually, like sleep.
Lerer expands the same concept to all of children’s literature: that cataloging and recognizing the familiar are our children’s regular stepping stones into the world of the unfamiliar.
I happen to like looking at things deeply and figuring out why we like what we do and why some things are more appealing than others. That’s the English major in me, I guess.
You, on the other hand, may think that this is reading far too much into a simple children’s story.
Regardless, I hope you take the time to sit down and read something to your child. If you don’t know where to start, I’d suggest Goodnight Moon. That’s what we’re going to read, again, tonight.